This year the Good Friday RR in Ancaster had the distinction of being the first Road Ontario Cup race of the season. There was a large field in all categories and the weather remained stable and reasonably mild for the entire day. Even those of us in the early bird E4 category hitting the pavement just after 8am were not too cold for comfort. The wind flittered in from the Northwest and made for a fast pleasurable ride over the front straight’s rolling parcours. The back stretch along Shaver rd favoured the stronger riders with it’s bigger climbs and headwind. Unfortunately the shelter along the first half of the Shaver rd stretch offered little reprieve and along this stretch the pace was often the slowest. Riders guttered to the far right and only the bravest/foolish would slip out into the wind along the yellow line, trading shelter for position.
A crash near the back of the bunch just as the race started (E4s, am I right?) meant the entire race was neutralized for most of the long front straightaway on the first lap. When things did get underway no one really seemed very enthusiastic about racing. A few brave souls tried their luck off the front in the first two laps only making it 20-30ft before sitting up. I made a point of staying in the top half of the bunch conserving energy and hiding in the draft. I had no intention of doing this the whole race but I also knew that nothing was going to get away early on a course like this with few corners (especially with the pace so slow and everyone riding on fresh legs). Occasionally I drifted backwards a little, once almost hitting the very back just to get a sense of who was in the bunch and deciding in my head who was weak and hanging on and who was bottling up energy for a rocket sprint at the end.
In my pre-race research I discovered that Grahame Rivers, as a fresh faced E4–he now rides in E1/2–, had won this race in a solo breakaway 2 years before. Youtube video shot by the GoPro of another rider showed him gracefully slipping off the front on the stretch heading into the fairgrounds. I decided that my strategy would emulate his but I didn’t expect it to be a near perfect copy. In the third lap as the pack was making its way on Shaver rd towards Book rd a series of attacks came. I had anticipated this having heard another rider indicate exactly where he planned to attack to his teammate and so I had moved up to the front of the group. I could tell he wasn’t strong enough to make the break stick but his teammate was looking good. With the right guys, we could have made a go of it. Unfortunately that attack never came and instead a few other riders tried to go. It’s always difficult to tell when a break is going to stick and so far in this race every rider to attack had sat up shortly after getting off the front. I decided that rather than waste energy trying to chase or go with the break I would wait and see if the attackers would sit up. If they did, we would catch them with no effort. If they kept going I could jump and bridge over. I was feeling very good.
A few attacks were unsuccessful but it wasn’t until I saw a rider from the To Wheels squad roll up to the front did I seriously think of trying to go with an attack. I wasn’t familiar with this rider but I do know several of his teammates in higher categories. I figured if he attacked I could go with him and once away I could drop some names, get on his good side, and make him more willing to work with me. Sure enough he attacked right as another group of attackers was caught, a textbook move. I went with him and the two of us were off the front. He jumped harder than I expected so it took a few seconds for me to get into a good rhythm. Unfortunately the wind was too much for just the two of us and the pack caught us.
My To Wheels compatriot dropped back into the bunch and I stayed near the front. I’m glad I did because just as we made the left turn onto Book rd, I heard the horrifying crunch of carbon fibre just behind me. The pack split in two. There was a moment of hesitation in the front group. A few riders looking back to get a glimpse of the carnage nearly caused another takedown. We were all brought back into focus when one rider yelled, “Go, go, we can split the group!” Some of us, including myself, hesitated knowing that in some circles it is considered poor sportsmanship to attack after a crash but we couldn’t let those without scruples ride away from us so the front group pressed forward in a grand surge. The rest of the pack would eventually bridge but by the time we made it back onto Trinity rd heading toward the fairgrounds, the whole pack seemed to have cooled off. The attackers had been pushing hard to make a gap while the pursuers were tired from the chase.
That’s when my breakaway happened. Coming over a small roller I coasted toward the front of the group. It was my intention to put in a handful of pedal strokes on the front and then pull off. When I started pedalling again I felt good so I just kept going not really pushing too hard but keeping a steady tempo. When I finally looked back just before the left turn into the fairgrounds, I had put a considerable distance between myself and the pack. The plan that I had set out before the race seemed fall into place perfectly. I rolled off the front with the same ease that I saw Rivers do on Youtube. I waited until I turned the corner and then got out of the saddle and launched as hard as I could. The fairgrounds consists of 4 sharp turns leading the riders in a square around the fairgrounds and back out onto Trinity rd for another lap. I knew that if I hammered through that section, because I was a single rider I could go through the turns at much higher speeds than a large cumbersome pack and I could put more distance between myself and them with less effort. And that’s exactly what happened.
As I made the right back out onto Trinity rd, I accelerated again and then settled into a strong aero position and readied myself for the long haul. If I could hold them off for one lap, I would win. It was not in the cards that day, however, and they eventually caught me. But by then I had earned the distinction of having the longest break of the day; and I did it solo. When the pack finally caught me, I could see that those chasing on the front were hurting and that made me feel good. And I did feel really good. It was at that moment that I knew if I could stay near the front and get a good position into the final turn, I would still have a chance in the sprint. I was grinning for most of the last lap. Even though I had just been out on a break my legs were feeling strong. I lead the pack through most of the headwind section on Shaver rd grinning like a school boy.
Things remained fairly tame until we turned back onto Trinity rd. That’s when the real contenders started to move up and the pace increased. Two riders–the two that would take first and second–had teammates to lead them out and they pressed forward in the final stretch of road leading up to the last turn. I managed to stay close and came out of the final turn in about 5th position. I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch the two leaders but that didn’t dissuade from giving it all I had. I found my line, dropped my head, tucked my elbows, and launched out of the saddle. In the final short stretch I passed two other riders and landed on the lowest step of the podium, but the podium nonetheless.
It was a great day. I went home that night and immediately sent in my upgrade request form. E4s are deadly.