Race Report – Paris to Ancaster 2011
Paris to Ancaster is over for another year. P-A is my favourite race of the year, and has been my spring ‘target’ for the past four years. What better motivation for all those mid-winter sweat-fests on the spin bike? Paris to Ancaster is a combination between a road race, a mountain bike race, a cyclocross race, and a mud slog. This year did not disappoint, with mud galore, and some interesting weather conditions to add to the fun!
Compared to last year, I went into the race with little motivation. My spring has been spent getting sick, half-recovering, then getting sick again. And since the weather has been a bit more, shall we say ‘spring-like’ than the last couple of years, my on-bike time thus far has been severely limited. Essentially, I went into the race with little motivation, and some doubts about my fitness level… not a great start!
Matty and I took a few days off work for the trip to Woodstock (and associated birthday festivities, as is the tradition) driving down to Woodstock on Thursday. We spent our early weekend relaxing, getting in a few short rides to make sure we had legs, and getting the bikes more or less dialed in to go for Sunday. That, and eating (thanks Mom!) Oh, and anxiously watching the weather forecast, which kept changing but was never less than ominous.
Sunday morning we were up and ready to roll. With everything packed up the day before, we had little to do except have breakfast, drive to Paris, get changed and ride to the start. The weather was not terrible, but the wind was very strong. Fortunately, it was from the West, which meant we’d have a tail wind for the majority of the race. Things were fairly dry, although we knew the course would be saturated from Saturday’s rain. We rolled to the start and had time for a quick washroom break before heading to the corrals. Since I had plate #87, I was able to go in to the first corral, which is reserved for the top 100 riders. Matt was not far behind, in the middle of the next group. Looking around before the start, I felt a bit out of place. Gleaming bikes, team kits… For some reason the head games were getting to me this year, more than ever. I think it comes back to the lack of motivation, and doubts about my fitness…that, and just not feeling like a ‘top 100’ rider at all.
The race started, and I realized just how nice it is to be with a group of experienced, fit riders. No sketchiness, all riders holding their lines through the first (fast, loose) corner, nice smooth accelerations.. nice! We screamed down the first hill and made the corner on to the rail trail. As with last year, I took a while to get warmed up. I was dropping wheels on the rail trail, and burning matches to close gaps that should never have opened. Damn! However, I was with the lead group. I had visual contact with everyone, and was slowly starting to get warmed up. About 500 meters from the first turn up the loose stoney hill at the end of that first rail-trail section, I got a stick caught up in my wheel/seatstays. DAMN! I tried to grab it while moving, but couldn’t. I had to dismount, and watch the lead group ride away. Major bummer. By the time I had dismounted, the stick was gone (seriously, how does that happen?) and I jumped back on and hammered the gas. I just managed to catch the tail end of the group as they ran up the hill. I dismounted as well and shouldered, passing a few pushing their bikes through the big loose rocks. Re-mount, full gas again and try to catch those ahead. Unfortunately, at this point the split had been made, and I never again saw the leaders.
Splintered groups from the remainder were spread out on the road, and I grabbed on to one for a bit of a rest. We were still cooking along, and hit a few sections of open road with the cross-wind hitting us, and it was insanely strong. It felt like I was leaning 45 degrees to stay upright. I started to feel good, and (like last year) realized that I was doing way more than my fair share of the work. When I wasn’t pulling, I felt like the group was going too slow, so I would keep moving back to the front to up the pace a bit. Things are a bit fuzzy at this point, but at a couple of points I had one or two riders willing to work, and together we started picking off groups ahead of us.
At one point, one of the guys that was actually doing some work looked over and said to me “$5 for your bottle?” – He had lost his off the start, and I had two, so I passed my second bottle over to him. It was a fair trade, as he was willing and able to work, unlike some others! I really don’t remember a lot of details for most of the race from this point forward; it was just full gas, on the rivet the whole way. I do recall that at one point we had a smooth gravel road and a full-on tailwind (40+km/hr) and I was spinning out my highest gear at a cadence of probably 120-130…insane! I’m fairly certain that is by far the fastest my ‘cross bike has ever gone, and it felt almost effortless! The same thing occurred on the second main section of rail trail, which I hammered through in a group of 5-6, sitting on the front for 90% of the way with a younger kid giving me a couple of 30 second breaks. We picked off a few more here, and by this point I was feeling really strong and motivated to push hard to the end.
As I said, many of the details are kind of fuzzy…but I do recall coming in to the last mud slide (Powerline Mud Slide) and dismounting preemptively. Running down the hill, a spectator yells “There’s a big hole there” just as my front wheel finds said hole and the bike comes to a complete stop. As I am trying to pull it out, the guy with my bottle comes screaming up behind me, slightly to the left–his front wheel finds the same hole, and he goes head over heals. He was up quickly, made a comment about it at least being a soft landing, and remounted while yelling something about getting ready to crash again. I finished running down behind him, then remounted.
By this point, there were no more groups. It was every man for himself. By the last section of gravel road that leads to the killer climb and the finish line, the snow started. I pulled off my glasses and shoved them in my pocket so I could see, and prepared for the last push up the hill. I had doubts that my legs would hold up, and on the first steep climb, the rider in front of me wavered and I had to swerve–losing all momentum. I dismounted and ran past, remounting when it flattened out. As ‘heart-break hill’ approached, I decided to just hammer it and see if I could make it. As with last year, I kept repeating to myself that it was only really steep from blind corner to blind corner, and that the rest was doable if you could just make that stretch. I gave it full gas, passing three additional riders, and cross the line just behind dude-with-my-bottle (who I now know was Doug Richards). I managed to sneak a glance at the clock as I crossed the line, and saw (somewhat to my surprise) that it said 2:02:something. What?!? Better than last year? No way!
I went and found Matt standing on the hill, and stood there with him (realizing just how cold it actually was out) as we waited for Matty to finish. He came in not too much further back, and I ran up the hill beside him to the line. We quickly got changed and in to the arena for food and warmth. While there, we managed to meet up with Carl, Shawn, Tom, Candace and Randy all at one point or another, which was great!
Final results? Not bad! Despite my thoughts going in, the adrenaline pushed me to a best ever time and placing. Total time 2:02:40, and overall 75th place (full results are here.)
Once again, a fantastic weekend, a great race, and some (unexpected) proof of payoff for the work I’ve been putting in all winter. Nice!