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Ascent Cycling Speed Weekend Report – I Guess We are Going to Call Ourselves a Crit Squad

recap by Eric Johnston/Ascent Cycling

August 02, 2017 (Cambridge, ON) – Prior to Cycle Waterloo’s nationally-sanctioned “Speed Weekend” in Ontario on July 28-29, I think it’s fair to say that as a group we have failed to race in a way that represented our potential. After this past weekend I think (praying) we have finally turned the corner.

In early June, I crashed and suffered my first-ever concussion which left me with lingering symptoms for weeks. After zero training for a month, and Simon [Fothergill] having to deal with several “please feel bad for me” text messages, I was able to get a couple good weeks of riding in and was ready for my return to racing. The previous weekend I decided not to race Ossington (July 22), just to make sure my brain was fully healed and ready for Cycle Waterloo’s Speed Weekend.

Ascent Cycling's Eric Johnston (middle) on the start line  ©  Mark Weymouth
Going into it I was not confident in my fitness at all, but was stoked to get racing again with the team. After attending the Midweek Crit and riding way better than I thought I would, I quickly raised my expectations. In the end I walked away from the weekend with my best racing to date along with the team’s collective results… funny how this fitness thing seems to work.

My girlfriend came and watched her first cycling races this past weekend and Cycling Waterloo set the bar pretty high. So high she instantly became a cycling fan and definitely thinks I am a way bigger deal than I really am. Needless to say I’m extremely nervous to take her to an empty industrial park crit. It goes without saying that the organizers have done a fantastic job with these events. They have been able to capture all the best things about bike racing – it is so rare that organizers are able to get the community involved and excited about cycling. Ontario has been yearning for events like these, and you can expect to see Ascent Cycling on the start line at events like this for years to come.

Friday, July 28 – Kitchener Twilight Grand Prix

As usual finding parking at a city criterium is never easy (yes I should continue reading the Tech Guide beyond the schedule page). I knew I was in the right place when the first guy I saw was the gentle giant Mikey Little, already kitted up and numbers pinned before the women’s race even started. The team finally found each other and had a chat about the night. Basically instead of going over how the race could potentially play out minute by minute (or likely not), I highlighted the heaviest of hitters on the start list which included Jeff Schiller, Ryan Roth, Ryan Aitcheson, Trevor O’Donnell, Anton Varabei, Jordann Jones and several others. As a team we decided these guys would be at the front of the bike race come finish time, so if we stay near them we’d subsequently also be joining them at the front – keep it simple. Anyway the race started and not much was getting up the road as this course was  less selective than the previous Kitchener GP course, but eventually Mikey got up the road for several laps and took the pressure off of us.

The team rode great position and never seemed to be caught on their back foot. Mike’s break eventually would come back and the pack continued to reshuffle itself, and with about 10 laps to go I was thinking the finish was destined to be a field sprint. That quickly changed when Simon rolled off the front with 4-5 other riders and the field did not respond. A couple laps later Ryan Aitcheson went across, followed by teammate and Ascent front runner Mark Brouwer. Now this break was starting to look dangerous. I was feeling alright still and decided to go find Schiller (remember our team meeting…this guy is always going to be at the front near the finish).

Sure enough with five laps to go Schiller delivered extremely spicy attack on an inclined section and Trevor O’Donnell and myself were now being towed across to the break by Schiller and Roth. I don’t like the phrase “sit on” but in this situation it was exactly what I was doing – yet this was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve been on a bike all year. Sure enough two laps later we were at the front of the bike race and it was evident that someone was going to win out of this group. I don’t really remember what went on in those last couple laps but all of a sudden we were at one lap to go and the crowd was going crazy!

Eric Johnston leads the bunch with Ascent riders in tow  ©  Bruce Earl
The pace slowed on the back straight and people started to look at each other. Just as that happened Mark started opening up an attack but had to dump speed when a couple riders yelled and swung over in his way. He still got off the front of the group but Schiller attacked seconds later. Perhaps I’m biased but it seemed that if Schiller had not attacked when he did Brouwer would have been rolling across the line with his hands in the air because when he attacked there was no immediate response as riders looked at each other. But seconds later when Schiller went there was no hesitation and everyone was on the gas. Schiller ended up holding it to the line as we scooped Mark up in the last corner and I was able to sprint for 4th with Simon coming in just behind in 6th. I have to give it to Schiller who seems to win the majority of bike races he starts…that is beyond impressive.

After the race we were stoked to finally see the team come together and have three guys in the winning split of 11 and finishing pretty high up in a stacked Ontario field. On the other hand we have to learn and understand that we had three guys in a group of 11 and were the best represented team in the front group. So then I asked myself should we be happy with 4th? On paper I would say no, as three guys out of eleven is pretty good odds, but also it would likely be a different story if Mark had won the race. This field was far superior to the majority of Ontario races and we have to look at the positives and build on the performances we now know our team is capable of. I will end by saying the whole team rode great and although we narrowly missed a podium or potentially a victory we have to be happy with this race. Finally, we also need to see this as a lesson of what we might accomplish the next time we have the best numbers in a small group late in a race.

Saturday, July 29 – Fieldstone Criterium of Cambridge and Ontario Provincial Crit Champs  

After being very pumped on the team’s ride the night prior, we suited up for another night of exciting crit racing. The race started off pretty tame as nothing was getting up the road too far and the pack seemed relatively glued together. After several attacks failed, Mark came flying up the right hand side on the finishing straight gaining tons of momentum in the tailwind.

Keith Brouillette  ©  Mark Weymouth
He was followed by Dan Doddy (who rode super strong all weekend) and then Kyle Boorsma from Toronto Hustle. A couple others may have been up there or close to getting there as the riders were all over the road and panicking. Aitcheson and Schiller were not happy with this and launched up the left side with no one responding. That left a break of five up the road and an unmotivated peloton behind. Right from the start of the breakaway it seemed the Hustle squad was uneasy. Their strength, numbers and success this season told us they were focused on the podium and a win. Yet even with riders up the road they didn’t seem too confident as several riders including Yuri Hyricaj were pumping out a strong tempo to manage the gap.

The break was hovering at around 30-40 seconds, Roth attacked the bunch and I responded as well as Ed Veal, and O’Donnell, as we formed the first chase group. Those three worked together and I sat on for the most part as we had Mark up the road and although he had lots of horsepower up there to deal with, I figured I would not win teammate of the year if I helped those three heavy hitters get up to the front of the race. After several laps we almost got caught by the pack and Hustle’s Anton Varabei came across to our group. Roth opened up a slight gap as the chase wasn’t working well and Varabei jumped across the gap fast and I took some risks in the chicane to stay with him.

Ryan Roth  ©  Lauren Daniells
Trevor and Ed hesitated and never caught back up to the three of us. Right away Anton told us he was working for Trevor and wasn’t going to help in the chase although Hustle now had no one up the road as their rider had been dropped from the break. I realized that I was the only U23 rider in the chase and started doing what I could to help Roth but that was minimal as I was suffering and couldn’t contribute much. Anton continued to sit on to “help Trevor” which seemed like a fine strategy to me as there was money and provincial titles on the line for U23s but wondered why he didn’t drop back to help Trevor move up.

Roth was obviously unhappy with his chase companions as I didn’t have the fitness to contribute much. He was doing 90 percent of the work himself but the gap to the leaders was not closing. This continued for several laps until Roth unhappily saw his chances fading when, with two laps to go, the leaders starting sizing each other up. We were 15 seconds back and it was getting too late to make the front group. Who knows if we could have closed the gap and tose final handful of seconds with Varabei working as well given his horsepower. I was still happy even if we didn’t catch the leaders but doubt I could have moved up as I was struggling in their wheels…still it would have been nice to try and help Mark move onto the podium.

With one lap to go I was leading our three-strong break and won the prestigious award for the “hackest” rider of the weekend as I crashed in the final 500 metres. I was looking back to see if the pack was closing in and hit the curb on the straightaway section. All weekend I had my cornering dialed so it wasn’t very fitting to crash on a straight away, so lesson learned the hard way – keep your head up. Thankfully most spectators had moved to the finish line and not many people got to see my flub and that I didn’t take anyone down with me. I was able to recover and stay ahead of the pack for 7th overall and the top U23 rider. That result earned me a bursary as the best youth rider which was graciously provided by Transit Petroleum.

See Mark’s comments below about his last couple laps in the breakaway, but he was able to ride in for 4th. Having narrowly missed the podium once again, it was hard not to be disappointed but in the end we all have to be happy with the past weekend. The team is coming together and it is awesome to see everyone having a stake in these results, and I can’t wait to build on this success. Thanks to the whole team for the support, and all of our sponsors as my Cannondale has now survived two fast crashes.

Mark’s Two Cents

Two years ago was my first crit, and my first Cat 1/2 race ever – the Kitchener Twilight Crit. I was hooked, although I tail-gunned the whole thing I was honestly lucky to finish.

This year was different, and I raced it hard. I went into the Cambridge Fieldstone Crit with the confidence of a solid performance the night before. I had been worried about doing Ontario’s Speed Weekend the same week that a co-worker was off, which meant I had to work both days before the Crits – six days on my feet didn’t seem like a solid lead-up to a  weekend of racing. On Saturday night for the Senior Men’s race I showed up with confidence from the night before. Yet fifteen minutes into the race I was questioning that confidence, which means there was one thing to do – attack! I was initially happy after spending one lap solo to find my breakaway companions, who bridged up, to be solid guys to roll with during a 90-minute long break.

The winning break Brouwer, Schiller, Aitcheson, Doddy  ©  Steve Shikaze
Then the reality sank in – this is going to be a long tedious night of riding in a circle with no rest whatsoever. The week caught up with me, and my legs felt ok but my mind was not in the game. I fought through it, and was extra motivated when the break went from five guys to four. It was a routine break, I never missed a turn except to change whose wheel I was on. With five laps to go I heard that Anton and Roth were bridging. Not realizing that my trusty teammate EJ was with them I started to worry.

There was really nothing to worry about, but I panicked. The break never stopped to look at each other until the second last corner. Again, I shouldn’t have, but I panicked and pulled yet my legs were feeling really good. They attacked me in the final corner and gapped me. I put my head down and went for my sprint. I closed the distance to Doddy and was very sure that I caught him at the line, but it was a tall order from my poor position and I would have to be content with 4th. Solid, but I definitely made some mistakes that cost me a podium spot. I’ll save those lessons for the next race.

Thankfully Eric picked up my spirits when I learned that he took the U23 win. We are going to see big things from this guy in the future, and I am so happy to see how cohesive and how strong our team raced against people who are more experienced and have more race days this year than I probably do in my whole time as a Cat 1/2 . I know the boys have my back when I’m up the road, and that everyone covered stuff while I was up there, and that is what having a team is all about. We learned a lot this week, and I hope like Eric that it is going to keep snowballing into more good results. Can’t wait till the next crits are here…until then I’ll keep focusing on how to do a better job at the finish.

Kitchener Twilight GP results here.
Fieldstone GP results here – photos here.

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