July 03, 2011 (Toronto, ON) – On Canada Day the 2011 Canadian Criterium Championships were held at the CNE Exhibition grounds in downtown Toronto. The marquee event of the day (as determined by the time slot) was the Masters B (40-49 year old) category, which was scheduled to begin at 3pm and last for 60 minutes. The event was delayed by 20 minutes. A total of 70 competitors mostly from Ontario and Quebec gathered for the event. There were five of us representing Wheels of Bloor and we had a clear game plan which involved setting the pace for the first five laps of the race (ten minutes).
Up to 24 hours before the race we were informed that the Criterium would be a points race whereby points were awarded to the first three riders to cross the finish line every 4-5 laps or so. But on race day the format was changed so that the race would be decided by the finishing position at the end of the race.
The good news for us was that our team trains on the race course every week, albeit in the opposite direction, so we definitely felt that the Criterium was being held on our home turf. In fact, I was able to ride my bike to the race which was a treat, especially considering how bad traffic was in the downtown core on Canada day.
The Exhibition grounds had been transformed into a race circuit in preparation for the 2011 Honda Toronto Indy, which kicks off next week. The Criterium course makes use of a 1.4km loop around the BMO soccer stadium. About half of the riders from our race warmed up to the east of the course in a section that was closed off to cars, where we could watch the Masters A (30-39) race develop on the back end of the course. A huge Canadian flag was blowing in a moderate wind within the grounds and the temperate was closing in on 30 degrees Celsius. I watched Peter Mogg (Novofit) put in a valiant effort gaining as much as a 12-second lead on the pack before getting caught with half a lap to go.
As soon as we saw the riders from the Masters A race riding by slowly we knew their race had ended and they were on their cool down lap, so we headed out onto the track and rode around the course up to the start/finish line. Radek Lukasik, Ian Scott, Wieslaw Matuszczak and myself took up positions across the start line with Bobby Mrvelj in behind us. The race announcer counted down from five and off we went.
I clipped into my right pedal without incident but somehow still found myself 15 riders behind Radek, who has an amazing ability to get clipped in and up to speed in no time at all. It took me until two thirds of the way around the course to work myself into the lead and then I maintained a high pace through the start/finish area. I kept working hard through the first five laps along with my teammates and then started to fade back into the peloton. I was told after the race that our team’s strategy effectively strung out the field and that everyone remained upright.
Rob Orange (Ride with Randell) took a long turn in the lead around lap 4 helping to keep the pace high. It was at this time that Dan Martin (Safeway) made his presence know for the first, but not last time of the day. Martin took a flyer off the front and I watched him move away with no response in my legs. Fortunately I was not the only one who did not respond as the rest of the peloton watched along with me. Martin’s 5-second lead grew and grew as I faded towards the back of the main group to recover from a particularly hard first ten minutes of the race.
Before long Martin was out of sight which meant that he had established more than a 15-second lead. I saw Kevin Davis (Nacsworld) take a turn at the front of the peloton and decided that it was time to start moving up as it seemed that more riders were looking to break free of the group. Countering Davis’ hard pull, other riders were beginning to roll off the front sporadically as I worked my way forward.
It took a half a lap to move up and then just as I got close to the pointy end, two more riders sprinted off and I dug deep to try and bridge up to them. When I finally did catch them I noticed that two more riders had come along with me and that we now had a 50-meter gap on the peloton. I took a few breaths and then moved up to ensure that the pace remained high and we made good on establishing a solid chase group.
We caught up to Martin fairly quickly and then two other riders attacked the break, and so on, and so on. Had another rider been able to get into a break with Martin, I’m fairly certain that it would have been a successful move. But we were wearing ourselves out – I certainly was feeling it with all of the counter attacks and chasing.
Responding to another move by Martin I watched Wieslaw take the initiative to chase and then I took over and upped the pace to 50kph. I hit a crack on the back end left turn and had to brake suddenly and almost collided with the far wall. This all happened just as I was closing down Martin’s advantage. I steadied myself and flicked my elbow for someone else to move up, but there were no takers and I watched as Martin powered on ahead taking back the five seconds that I had just closed down. Instead of working together two riders attacked and the rest of us scrambled.
There is so much strategy at play in a Criterium and decisions need to be made in a heart beat while the pace is intense and the ability to accelerate is at a premium. I noticed that only half of the guys who had competed in the Time Trial the day prior (June 30) had showed up for the Criterium and none of us finished any higher than 15th. Criteriums are typically events where sprinters shine and today the sprinters shone the brightest.
Our break had established a gap of up to 30 seconds on the peloton, but all of the attacks and counter moves reduced the number of workers which ultimately affected our average speed and the peloton began to close in on us. It became clear to me that I could not break free of the group, nor could I muster up the energy to encourage the passengers to start working again, so instead I focused on Martin as he appeared to be the strongest rider in the break.
I refused to let Martin break free again and forced him to do some chasing when I could by allowing gaps to form when I was sitting in second or third wheel. I thought to myself at this point ‘Break be Damned’, as I was wearing out and it looked like my teammate in the break Wieslaw had also used up most of his energy. Meanwhile there were some top sprinters left in the break who seemed to have some untapped reserves. Being in a break at this point would not matter to the sprinters as long as they were near the front with a lap remaining. I also knew that we had two of the top sprinters in Canada back in the peloton, namely Radek and Ian.
With a lap and a half to go Chris Firek took a flyer up the left side showing an impressive display of strength. I watched him go waiting for someone to take up the chase and turned to look at Martin as he turned to look at me. I had no intention on using up what little energy I had remaining to lead the chase to Firek. Martin and I continued to look at one another, while the other riders in the break all yelled for someone other than themselves to start the chase. If the main pack hadn’t caught us at that very moment I don’t know how long we would have remained in that stalemate.
Ian Scott was at the front of the peloton as he drove on past us up the left hand side. The nine of us who had been in the break all scrambled to get up to speed. Before I knew it I was back in 25th place or so as I navigated the right-left turn just past the finish line with 1km remaining. I passed about twelve guys heading into the hard left turn and then basically kept my position, losing a few spots as we raced in through the final half of the course at speeds over 50kph.
Firek needed the course to be about 20 meters shorter as he was passed by five of the country’s best sprinters at the line. Rob D’Amico took top honours beating out Davis in second and Martin, who had still enough left in the tank to claim the bronze. D’Amico made it two in a row as he won last year on Canada Day on the same course. Rob took the victory lap in the back seat of the Camaro convertible pace car proudly waiving the checkered flag as the 2011 Canadian and Ontario Provincial Criterium Champion. Congratulations Rob, a well deserved victory.