When we lined up at the start line it was 1 degrees Celsius with cold gusting winds and soaking wet roads. I found myself dangerously under-dressed as I did not pack a shell. I knew I was gonna be cold but I have endured much cold-weather hardship riding outdoors all winter and figured I could always employ my tried and true method of staying warm, known as “riding harder.”
Within the first few kilometers I was soaked through. Then it started snowing. I wanted to be aggressive early and see if I could get away before we left Dwight. I made several attacks but was consistently brought to heel by a large Jet Fuel Squad. Andrew House (Coach Chris) and Travis Samuel (Jet Fuel) countered one of my moves and disappeared into the trees turning onto Dwight Beach Road. Anthony Walsh (Astellas Oncology) attempted to bridge but punctured for the second time (he had flatted at the start line as well). Fortunately he was able to get another wheel fairly quickly and got back onto the group no problem. We turned onto highway 35 and headed south towards Dorset.
Through this section Zach Hughes (Garneau-Quebecor), Ed Veal (Real Deal Racing), and (upon returning to the peloton) Anthony Walsh (Astellas Oncology) consistently attacked the group here, with myself and teammate Chris Gruber covering any moves in the event a chase group were to form. In between these attacks the Jet Fuel team would happily ride false tempo at the front in hopes to get their teammate Samuel even further up the road.
We rolled down to Dorset (I was shivering so hard I worried about losing control of my bike). I decided to stop covering moves from Dorset to Baysville – there were very, very long sight lines through this section and an absolutely howling headwind, not the best place for a break to form. We went through some ridiculous hail/snow here, it was not pleasant. We scooped up House and Samuel in this section and were groupo compacto heading into the feed zone. I ate a banana that I had packed, peeling it as best I could with frozen club hands, and chewing with a noticeably sore jaw, which must have been from the chronic shivering.
We turned right onto Brunel Rd and then right again onto South Portage Rd., where the sight lines are short and the hills are steep. Many attacks and counter attacks went, especially on one steep ramp which was basically a hill sprint. I noticed at this point that after asserting control of the race early on, only Anton Varabei remained active for Jet Fuel here. Towards the end of South Portage road, Bayden Pritchard (Octto-Cervelo) blasted from the group and I took the bait and bridged up to him. Unfortunately it took me a little too long to catch his wheel and as a result we were away for all of 3 km until the peloton had us chased down. However the group that caught up to us was now noticeably smaller as we turned onto Dwight Beach Rd for lap 2.
Heading south towards Dorset the pace slowed significantly and Andrew House launched for a second time. None reacted and we watched him ride off into the distance. I fought club hands and lockjaw to get a cliff bar into my system at this point – I only managed to get half of it down. Eventually Ed Veal had enough of our game of chicken and attacked the group, attempting to bridge up to Andrew who had completely disappeared.
In response to Ed’s move, Anton moved to front, rode tempo for a little while, then pulled off and shrugged his shoulders, looking for other willing workers to chase. I only realized then that he was the only rider from Jet Fuel left in the race! So Chris Gruber, Anthony Walsh, Andrew Bradbury (Blacksmith Cycle), and myself moved up and got a good working rotation going with Anton. Sean Boileau, Mike Mandel, and Colin Busby from Real Deal respectfully sat behind our working group as we slowly but surely brought Ed back. After about 20km of chasing into the headwind we had pulled within 200 metres of Ed and I closed down the final gap as I watched him sit up on a climb. Andrew House was still nowhere to be seen though. We rolled through the Baysville feed zone for the second time and I scarfed down a gel.
We turned back onto Brunel Rd and it started snowing… hard. You could barely see anything except the snow accumulating on your frozen wet legs. I moved to the front and increased the pace as we turned onto South Portage Rd. Up one of the hills I heard someone groan in the pack behind me (I think it was Ed). It was a strange feeling getting out of the saddle with frozen feet – it felt kind of like you were pushing down on two stumps that were attached to bike pedals. I didn’t dare look back because of the falling snow on the wet corners.
Eventually, the snow did let up and I allowed myself a quick look behind me on a straightaway… and I saw I now only had Andrew Bradbury, Colin Busby, Etienne Moreau and a commissaire vehicle for company. Awesome! Andrew and Etienne came through and did some work but Colin just sat in. As we turned onto North Portage Rd. for the final ten kilometers I set the tempo up the climbs, trying to dislodge any of my three chase group partners and keep the pace high in the unlikely event we were catching up to Andrew House.
With 3km to go and not even a sniff of Mr. House I realized we were racing for 2nd place. Going into the final sprint I watched Colin Busby closely given his relatively free ride on the second lap (as we all worked to chase his teammate Ed) combined with his well-earned hard man status (2nd at hell of the north this year). Unfortunately Colin was absolutely toast and I spent too much time watching him and was jumped coming over the final climb by Bradbury and Moreau; 4th place for me.
Upon finishing I was pried off my bike by my parents and a paramedic while Mr. Bird took advantage of the photo opp. I went straight into my Dad’s car with the heat blasting and had my helmet strap, gloves, and bike shoes taken off for me. I didn’t come out of that car or turn the heat down for about a half hour. Then I went into Deerhurst, grabbed a paramedic blanket, and found Andrew House to congratulate him on an absolutely epic solo victory.
A total of 13 finished the Elite Men’s 1-2 race out of 43 starters. There was so much suffering and post-race I’ve seen so many fellow riders struggle to put into words what they went through. Ed Veal (9th) described it as, “…the hardest event that I have ever been a part of.” Andrew Watson said this race was his second voluntary DNF in 18 years of racing bikes. Bayden Pritchard (7th) stated “Today I went places mentally and physically that I can do without seeing again.” But ultimately, no one can really describe what we went through, and more importantly, why we went through it.
Full results HERE.