I have been busy and I have been exhausted. Turns out things are harder when instead of fully committing yourself to one thing you largely commit yourself to many things: jack of all trades, master of none! But they asked for blogs, SO BLOGS THERE WILL BE! OR just blog. [update, this is a long blog, so blog went to blogs. because, Becca = wordvomit]
I haven’t been doing any huge training to gear me up for any big road racing, but I decided I needed to dive back into competition. Scouring the calendar, I noted that there are WAY too many good races in May. Large and small. I inquired about an event I had heard about but had never been to: Paris to Ancaster, a 70k point-to-point gravel-type event in Ontario, Canada. I know that quite a few of my cyclocross compatriots have been in the past and they pay out equally for men and women. The only downside, really, is that the race is a 9 hour drive from Concord, NH. Too close to fly, too far to look forward to trekking. Add to that no car-pool mates, working till 6PM on that Friday and 1st race of the season, I was a little stressed.
Luckily I still had a Scott Addict from CX season, so I bought a 36/46 ring set the week before the race (I race 34/44 max, usually 34/42 in the CX season. #grass) (also, mild foreshadowing for future blog) and she was ready to go! The forecast was for temps from 30-40F and rain, so I piled ALL OF THE CLOTHES into my car with my bike and headed to work on Friday. At 6:15PM I hit the road for Canada. I made it as far as Syracuse, NY before testing out how cheap I was willing to go on hotels, which left me only 3 hours of driving the following day to get to Paris, Ontario by 4PM for the first ever prologue criterium!
For the Criterium the men had heats all day leading up to the final, but, for the women there were only enough of us to warrant a final heat (there were only 8 or 9 of us). It was an international field, but the person to watch (for the weekend) was Leah Kirchmann from Team Sunweb; an impressive rider who just finished a block of Belgian classics. The crit itself was a ton of fun. The lap was 750 meters of mostly pavement including a fairly sharp turn that entered with a downhill, a grass section, a climb that led to a turn you could either stay wide and on pavement for, or hump up over a grassy shortcut, then there was a turn with a gravel downhill whose exit was either a poorly set-up pavement turn or a nice swooping turn over grass that involved hopping a curb for. Also, you had to run the same bike as you would be the following day for the gravel adventure (tire swaps were optional. Most men ran files, I rode my IRC mid tires).
The first lap was aggressive as we jockeyed for position into the “technical” sections, and the aggression stayed high until a few moves were made to thin the herd a bit. When Leah went, I tried to follow but got stuck deciding between plowing over a wooden stake and Hannah Rae Finchamp (Cliff) or yielding and letting Leah go. And Leah is not a rider I can bring back, even without 9 hours of car in my legs. Hannah stayed hot on my tail as I chased Leah, though, the gaps stayed constant and the three of us went 1-2-3 on the day, good enough for some CAD payout and an openers-worthy workout for the day ahead.
After Saturday’s crit and afterparty I headed to the Air bnb apartment I was sharing with Christine, ate a Vegan meal (after my post-race pulled pork from Camp 31 BBQ. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone crazy), and tried to get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping was a tall order, because all night the wind whipped and the rain pounded. Sooner rather than later I was eating my morning oats and trying to pull on the right combination of clothing to combat what I saw listed as a “Feels Like” temp of -1 (granted, that was degrees Celsius, but, it seems more impressive with the negative) with the possibility of rain.
P2A was a pretty cool event. It is point-to-point, and to get pampered, you need to get the “VIP Experience”. This ensures your bike gets cleaned after the event and you can either get shuttled from where you park at the end to the start before the race, or you can get shuttled back to your car at the start afterwards. You get better start parking, food before, and really good food after. THAT said, if you show up without the VIP Experience, you can still catch a shuttle from the end to the start to get your car, you can pay a few bucks for a bike wash, and there was awesome free food at the finish for the “gen pop” as well. Soooo…. You can’t go wrong unless you just don’t show up.
Everyone at the start was bundled in puffies and rain coats. We ended up missing the rain, and with it being dry I was worried I was overdressed but it ended up being perfect! I wore my Pearl Izumi Amy D edition mtb shoes, wool socks, bibs with Velocio overtights, a light long sleeved jersey, a Velocio mid jacket, Toko classic gloves and my Lazer helmet windshell [This the day before May. GO Figure]. If I should have changed one thing it would have been maybe no windshell on my helmet. The only thing that got cold was my toes towards the end of the ride, but I was able to zip and unzip my jacket to help with thermoregulation. I had debated wearing leg warmers instead of the heavier tights, however, when I went to pull on my leg warmers I realized that I had one leg warmer and one arm warmer. My dainty lady-legs were not going to find that acceptable, so that is how I chose the overtights, but they were not regrettable in the end.
Christine, who had done this race before, took me on a warm-up to see the first part of the race course: pavement that leads a right hander onto gravel, a few more turns and then entering a narrow-ish railtrail where people try to jockey for position before the first big bottleneck, a right-hand turn up a hill with some babyhead rocks. I was told that was a run for all but the luckiest.
We got to the start, and the top 20 entrants got call-ups. I don’t know how the top 20 were picked, but, I was one of them. And the women were called up first, despite our fears of being mowed down in the front row of a mixed-gender mass start. Luckily there was a headwind so no one was to antsy to go too hard. I started near Adam Myerson and it was enough for me to just stay near him through the first few turns.
I feel like I held my own against the men fairly well, better than I would have last year. But, there is always a catch. At the last moment before the start I decided to put my saddle bag on so that I could have some levers and Stan’s sealant just in case something happened. WELL. I apparently didn’t clasp it well, and within 3 minutes after the start, people are coming up to me to tell me that my saddle bag was dangling. UGH WHAT A HOT MESS! So here I am, riding like a packed sardine on a gravel rail trail with a few thousand of my closest friends, all racing to get ahead before the bottleneck, and I am reaching behind me tugging at my saddle bag. The rubber piece holding it to my seatpost wasn’t budging and I couldn’t focus well enough to unhook it. And it’s good I was half focusing because during this whole thing, there was a crash RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! I nearly ran over a wheel avoiding the whole thing. And all the while, I am losing spots as I am trying to pluck my dangler. At this point, Leah was holding strong at the front of the group, a few other women had passed me, and I was unsure how this whole thing would play out.
Luckily, at the right hander that turned into a run, I passed a few of the women who had just passed me and a few other men. I passed all but Leah shortly after that. I was fighting against the wind (20+ MPH headwind the whole time) for a bit too long, but I eventually came to a group. We were on some gravel roads, pavement, grass, cutting up a driveway, until we hit a single-tracky section. This really pulled the groups apart and I knew I could not get Leah after this. The gap was too large, the wind was too strong. As we were crossing a muddy field I saw others dismounting, so I hopped off my bike and somehow got a mylar balloon stuck in my drivetrain. In the middle of a farm field. A freaking party balloon. Oh, and my number plate was dangling half-off. I was a shit-show. Maybe literally, depending on the fertilizer in this mud. Coming out of the field, after causing some struggles with my passing compatriots, I took the time to unhook my saddlebag and stuff it into my back pocket (losing my rubber gripper in the process 🙁 ). Losing focus for a moment was dumb because I let the waiting-wheels ride off and I was left chasing in the headwind. It was maybe lucky, though, because soon thereafter, while weaving through more fields and yards, I was caught by a group that seemed to have their crap together, much moreso than I.
For an idea of what we are dealing with, here is a small gallery of images provided by Martin Reid for pedalmag.com
We ended up starting a rotating paceline. It had been a while since I have done one, and with new people it takes a while for me to find the flow, so hopefully I was being helpful. We would rotate until a more technical section came up, then we would all fend for ourselves, myself usually ending up in the back through this. Then, I swear they would attack at the entrance to a road, and I would chase chase chase chase. “Good job chasing on” They would say. “JUST FREAKING WAIT FOR ME” I would think. Instead I just pretended like it was NO BIG DEAL and I let the gaps open just to make sure I hit the correct amount of VO2 for the day.
After a few chases and doing my fair share of pulling I think we all committed to us being a team and we were in it together from that point on. We picked up a few here and there and lost a few here and there, but we were a good group!
I was getting time gaps to Leah. 2 minutes. Then, a minute and a half. I started to think, if she flats, I could get her! When the group was slow I wanted to charge ahead. When they were fast, I was thankful to have them. Because of the wind, I would be faster sitting with a slow group than working hard on my own.
Then, the light at the end of the tunnel. I think it was around 10k to go, and the beacon white jersey was off in the distance. They told me it was her. I charge to her, and joke “Now is where you just lay on the side of the road and cry and I charge ahead”. Looking back, that does sound insensitive, especially if you don’t know me and if you were half as cracked as I was, but I was trying to make a joke, reflecting my own feelings. We can’t win em all, I guess.
So, here I am, ditched my group to charge to my opponent, only to let her sit on my wheel up this climb. I swerve a little, she isn’t going anywhere. A group member catches us and I hop on his wheel. He wants me to pull through but I tell him I can’t unless she does.
Then we get overtaken by a group of men, all charging to enter a muddy downhill before us. I think there were two of these, but I can’t remember. I know I remember the power line, it was thick with mud that had been churned up by heavy machinery in the weeks leading up to the event. I was stuck behind some guys dragging their brakes. I promise them that no brakes is easier and I skitter passed, leaving Leah to fend for herself. This is where my CX skills pay off, because I gap her and charge on! (The video is not of me, but gives some entertaining context)
— Adam Poll (@adamlikesbikes) April 30, 2017
Then I see it: 2.5k to go! OMG 2.5 K IS A SPRINT I CAN DO THIS! I get out of the saddle and go for it! But, it was single track. This is NOT what 2.5k to go looks like. I am cross-eyed with tired and hurt. I end up dismount and running a small section, apologizing to the guy behind me. I was so cracked. We exit the single track and OMG HOW LONG IS 2.5 K!? I thought a k was a kilometer, but it turns out that a p2a k is like a country mile in Ohio. Way too long.
Then, the climb. I had a 34-27 but I wanted more. I was in pain. I looked behind me and didn’t see anyone sprinting after, but, I couldn’t be sure. Just dear god let me get to the top first!
And sure enough, I did. Though my number had completely fallen off so I tried to tell them I was #14 as I crossed. They weren’t expecting me because I passed Leah so late in the game.
But I had done it, first race back in it, and I had suffered and struggled and finally made it to the end, in first, my favorite place. 1st woman, 26th overall, just 10 minutes down from 1st dude. WOO HOO
Here are some interviews from us winners for those interested.
Oh, and look, the event makes local news! More than what many events in the US can say: http://www.chch.com/wind-weather-make-difficult-ancaster-paris-race/?utm_content=bufferbc9d1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
My Strava of the event
I went immediately to get a shower, dropped my bike off to get washed, partook in some free-post-race Indian food, did the awards ceremony, and got in my car to do the 9-hour drive straight home. PRO TIP: If you have a 9-hour post-race car ride, maybe pass on the free Indian food.
The atmosphere after the race really makes the event. There is music and food and friends. No one was in a rush to leave, so it makes it worth the entry fee. My thought on gravel events (if you aren’t in it for a purse) is, why pay when you could ride the roads for free? Well, you pay the money for events like this that not only drag you through private property you otherwise wouldn’t have access to, or think to try, but also, for the atmosphere before and after.
For anyone looking for an atmosphere like that, try the Kearsarge Klassic in September in New Hampshire! Snacks and coffee at the start, gravel century (with shorter distances available), rest stops along the way, and a post-race party with food and drink!