Most people start to think about the Canadian National Championship road race from the beginning of their season or earlier, as their biggest race of the year, but it wasn’t until my OCTTO-Cervélo team mate Osmond Bakker proposed the race a few weeks ago that I had even considered going to nationals. He was in need of a travel companion from our Ottawa area to the race in the Beauce region of Québec, so I said “Yes”. He immediately replied with “Okay great, its an 185km hilly road race, but if you don’t get dropped in the first 30km you’ll do great”. “Awesome,” I immediately thought, “what have I gotten myself into..?”
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Those weeks went by and before I knew it, the night before nationals was upon us and we were already in Beauce. Osmond and I went out for pre-race dinner in Saint-Georges de Beauce and deliberated the following day’s inevitable efforts over a beer. I was slightly disappointed with my beverage selection; I was expecting more from the Unibroue Maudite from Chambly, Québec. I think it was trying to be too many things at once as an “amber red” ale. The conflicting flavours left my taste buds confused while they tried in vain to decode all the complexity of the beer.
After the beer, we strolled the streets of downtown Saint-Georges so Osmond could reminisce about some of his many glory days of celebrating the completions of the eponymous Tour de Beauce stage race also held in this region. Those celebrations involved long nights spent in the local disco bar, many beer, and attempts to acquire local female companionship. Much to our disappointment we could not disco all night in celebrations, nor disco at all, as the National Championship race was the very next day.
Osmond awoke with the same excitement as a six-year-old child experiences on a Christmas morning. I fired up the camp stove in the bathtub (so I wouldn’t burn the hotel down) and made the best “bathtub espresso” on the face of the earth. My thoughts quickly turned to the weather as I looked out the window. Rain…. a shiver of anxiety and trepidation slowly crept up my spine as I cringed at the thought of yet another wet race. Meanwhile, Osmond was laying on his bed all relaxed chirping away about how much he loved pain and hard races, akin to the same way a preteen girl would carry on about the cute boy in class.
THE “SERIOUS BUSINESS”
As we arrived at the start line to sign in, my anxiety and Osmond’s excitement were tempered as we reviewed about the task at hand. We had a brief discussion about tactics but deep down inside we both knew it was going to go KABOOM! (yes, that is a technical term for the group shattering).
The race commenced with a 6 km long “neutral” start that brought me back to memories of Abitibi as it was all off: fast, crash- and flat-riddled. After the 6 km’s of “neutral-ness” we were brought to a complete halt by the commissaires, so all the stragglers and crash-ees could catch back on to give a “fair” start to the unforgiving racing that lay ahead. As we came to a stop, the sea of riders rushed to the side of the road to take a last leak, en-mass!
THE “REAL SERIOUS BUSINESS”; BANG! BANG! BANG!
That was the sound that accompanied the extremely rough and fast start to the race as people both flatted _and_ exploded left, right and centre. “Hang on,” I thought to myself as we rounded a corner and hit a climb with a ferocity like none other that I have experienced in my young racing career. People were dropping like flies, and I was too far back and in risk of getting gapped, so I dug deep and kept going around them to try and maintain contact with the main field. I took the first chance I saw to move up as far as I could and just as I was getting to the front an attack went. My thoughts immediately turned to what Osmond had instructed me the night before; “If you ever get to the front, ATTACK!” and without hesitation that’s what I did. I followed the group up the road and we quickly established a 10 second gap, and as my legs were screaming, the powerhouse François Parisien joined us. I knew right then and there we were going to be allowed no leeway by the peloton with a rider like François in our break. We were promptly swallowed up on the next incline. With a few groups already up the road, the attacking from the peloton came fast and furious as we approached the beginning of the race’s circuit loops. I was already suffering from my previous efforts and then the 18% wall we hit sealed my fate. Popped out the back, chase back on, popped out the back, chase back on…this process repeated itself for 4 times up that dreadful climb until I could chase back on no more. I joined into the grupetto and rode with them until we were inevitably lapped by the lead group.
Meanwhile Osmond had survived the ferocities and found himself in the chase group accompanied by many a world tour rider. A smile must have formed on his face as he knew pain was about to come to him. The pain came sooner than expected as he flatted and the herculean task of getting back to that select group. In the laps to come, that chase group split in twain and Osmond found himself in the 3rd group on the road. Which he heroically rode with to finish 29th.
TILL NEXT YEAR
We are looking forward to next year’s race already. As the rest of the OCTTO-Cervélo squad has already confirmed their attendance.