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OBC Grand Prix 2010

Yesterday was the OBC Grand Prix.  Since I am a big fan of suffering in hills, this race is one of my favourites, and since it’s close by, I made it a ‘target’ race this season.  Here’s my race report on how things went down this year in the Senior 3 race (after all, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves…)

I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:15am, and loaded the car for the 1:15 drive into Old Chelsea to pick up my race kit (numbers and timing chip).  Since no sane person was on the road at this hour, the trip was smooth sailing the entire way.  I was treated to a phenomenal sunrise after turning on to the 417, and took it as a good sign of things to come.  I flashed my race licence, signed my life away and picked up my race kit, and was out the door in less than 10 minutes including a pit stop.  Very well organized!

Drove in to P9, and parked, pinned my numbers, and got dressed.  I had timed things so I had plenty of time for a warmup, since I think I’ve been lacking in this department, and hoped a good long warmup would help my race.  I took a spin up to Camp Fortune (not all the way up the climb, but up to the gate to the ski chalet), did a few sprints to open up the legs, and then stayed mostly on the flat stuff–no sense in blowing up my climbing legs before the race started :)  I found Keli walking to the feed zone, so rolled along and chatted with her for a few minutes.  I arrived at the Start line with ~10mins to start time, and found a spot in the second row.  This year, Juniors and Senior 3 were actually separated instead of co-mingled, so I had a good look at who was in my group (larger than last year, with 82 starting, and 71 finishing).  The race started on time (as always with the GP) and the group took off at a reasonable pace.

The course goes uphill almost immediately after the start, with the base of Fortune Climb coming only 1.5km from the start.  The climb gains 135m in approximately 4.3km, with an average grade of 4%, and a max of 8%.  Nothing crazy, but painful enough!  Thanks to the wonders of adrenaline, the pace on the first lap climb seemed quite sane (27km/hr on the steep stuff, averaging 32.7km/hr on the entire climb).  I was fairly comfortable (as much as is possible in this situation) sitting in the front half of the pack and just riding at my own pace.  A spectator 3/4 of the way up the climb had a sign saying “If you can read this, you’re going too slow.” The remainder of the first lap was very uneventful, with a few screaming descents with speeds in the mid to high 70s (I maxed out at 77.)  I’m a ‘tentative’ descender, so often ended up at the back of the group by the bottom, but never far enough back to get gapped.

The second lap was a bit more eventful.  I decided to come to the front through the start/finish in order to be at the head of the group on the climb.  I put in a big effort to move up to 4th wheel coming through the start/finish, and most of the way to the base of the climb.  This turned out to be a bad idea, as I was soon suffering on the climb and losing ground quickly.  The sign this lap read “30km/hr up Fortune?  It’s as easy as your last girlfriend!” which at least brought a chuckle to the pain-filled climb.  The pace seemed much higher this lap (review of the numbers post-race disagrees, but it sure felt faster at the time!) and a good portion of the main group (myself included) was gapped and a break formed.  I realized this was NOT good at this point!  The newly formed ‘chase group’ rode the remainder of the climb at our own pace, but then got together to chase back.  It took us ~8km to catch the lead group, and I took a big pull for the last 500m or so to close the final gap on a hill.  At this point I had been in the ‘red zone’ since the start/finish to ~half way through the lap, so I was VERY thankful to catch back up to the group and then have a bit of a rest on the descents and a larger group to draft for the rest of the lap.  I didn’t recognize anyone in the ‘chase group’ but I’d like to say thanks to the guys who put in the efforts to help close the gap!

The third lap went by very uneventfully, and I actually began to feel GOOD as I noticed others really suffering.  The pace on the climb was very manageable this time, and instead of trying to get to the front or do anything ‘fancy,’ I just rode my own pace the entire time, which put me in the first quarter of the group by the top, exactly where I wanted to be.  The sign this time up read “Show me your Schleck!” and one of the riders had the energy (somehow?!?) to yell “Frank or Andy?” as we passed by.  I figured either would win the race no problem (yes, even Frank with his shattered collarbone), so it wasn’t really a useful question ;)  I should mention that throughout the race there would be a couple of guys dangling off the front here and there, but never far ahead, and no chase was ever formed to bring them back.  They would always get absorbed back into the group, so no one seemed too worried.  I’m sure there were also guys getting spit out the back on the climbs, but for the most part the group was sticking together.

The fourth (and final) lap I knew would be interesting.  I was expecting attacks on the climb, and perhaps some craziness near the finish.  I was mostly right on both counts.  As we rolled to the base of the climb, you could tell a few guys were really gunning to get positioned near the front.  I sat in the first quarter of the (by now much smaller) group and hoped I could match any attacks if they came.  Turns out there weren’t really any individual attacks (which would likely be suicidal anyway, with the climb so far from the finish), but there was a significant acceleration by the lead group at one point when we hit a particularly steep stretch. I was able to match the acceleration, and stuck with the lead group.  I’m sure quite a number of riders were shelled here, but I wasn’t looking back to find out!

With 3km to go, I was sitting ~12th or so, and heard the sickening sound of crushing carbon and crashing bodies.  Just ahead and to my right the group started to topple.  I swung left (almost onto the grass) and narrowly missed being hit by the bike of one of the riders that went down as it ‘kicked’ out towards me.  From the look of a photo I saw, it looks like at least 6 riders went down, and a significant portion of the group got caught behind them.  I looked around enough to realize that with 3km to go, there were perhaps only ~20 riders left upright and not significantly gapped.  Others noticed the same, and the pace went up immediately as we flew into the last descent.  Coming up to the finish, I was hurting, but knew that I had one more kick in the legs (although how significant that kick would be was questionable…)  I grabbed the wheel in front of me with 300 m to go, and suddenly he simply sat straight up and stopped pedaling!  I had to slow dramatically to avoid hitting him (while yelling some choice words if I recall correctly), since I was fully boxed in with no room to maneuver.  Sprint over for me!  As I crossed the line, I did a quick scan of riders ahead of me, coming up with a count of 25 or so :(

I rolled back to the car for my recovery chocolate milk and to refill my water, then back to the finish area to see if I could find Monica.  No such luck, so back to the car to get my cell phone and see if I could track her down.  Rolled slowly back to the start/finish, and finally spotted her close to the finish line.  I crossed, and joined her to watch the end of the other races.  Matteo had a huge win in the Senior 1-2 race; congrats Matteo!)  I was hurting, (legs were cramping standing in one spot…) so we spun back to the car veeery slowly.

A couple hours later, I received a text from Matt congratulating me on my sixth place finish.  I of course immediately called him to say that he must be wrong, since I had counted ~25 people in front of me.  He assured me that had me listed as 6th and the conclusion was that “SportStats doesn’t lie.”  Monica pulled up the results on her iPhone, and in fact it DID show me as 6th!  I still have no idea how this is possible, but I’ll go with it.  I guess the people I counted ahead of me were from a different group that we caught up to at the finish?  Who knows!  I clearly wasn’t thinking clearly enough to know at that point.  I’ll take the 6th place!  Rod came in second after a huge effort, chasing back after being caught behind the crash.  I knew I should have tried to stay on his wheel in the last few kms…but didn’t.  I guess I shouldn’t second-guess these things!  Well done Rod!

Things to work on?  Better positioning in the final few hundred meters.  I should NOT have allowed myself to get boxed in (or behind the sketchy guy that’s going to sit up with 200m to the line!)  I think I still need a better warmup (not longer in this case, since I had a full hour of warmup, but perhaps of a different intensity?) as I still didn’t start to feel really ‘good’ until half way through the race.  This seems to be a common trend.. I also should not have come through to the front on the second lap.  I have no real need to start the climb at the front of the group; I can just ride at my pace and if I’m feeling well, will work myself up to the front naturally.  Working hard on the flats to get to the front just wastes the energy I’ll need on the climbs.  Thanks to Karen, I had positive thoughts as the sprint approached, and if I hadn’t been boxed in, perhaps would have even had something to show for it.  I guess now that I can picture myself as a sprinter, I’ll have to ride like one in the final km and not get boxed in!  Time will tell how that theory plays out!

Some photos here and here.  All for now!  Back to ‘reality’- I need to catch up on what happend in le Tour! :)

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