Every season, there is an event that stands out above all others as the Showcase event of how hard I've worked this season. The duathlon series is the baseline event of the season that tells me how well I've maintained (or gained) from last season's training and winter trainer riding. The MS Bike Tour is always my showcase event. Sad because it isn't even a race.
I curse the day I became one of those cyclists that races charity rides. One of my coworkers asked me the morning after my return how the MS bike tour weekend went.
Me: Great. I'm really tired today. It was super windy and a bit cool but lots of fun.
Her: So did the 7 of you on your team ride together.
Me: No. No. We are all of different abilities. We couldn't ride together.
Her: So where do you fall on your team in terms of who is fastest.
Me: (sighs)... I would be second fastest.
Her: And who would be fastest.
Me: Well that would be Michael. I would be second.
And I'm kinda proud of that but I feel like hanging my head in embarrassment at the same time about being proud of that. Because this is NOT a race.
The thing about the route from Dauphin to Clear Lake is that it preys on my greatest riding weakness -- which I'm going to try not to reveal here but you'll probably figure it out. Last year I got dropped (or dropped myself -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it) from the lead group at about 4km in to the ride. This year I was determined to do better. I got up early to do a 6km warm up and found that on the flat open straight-away that leads into Riding Mountain National Park was going to subject us to some pretty wicked cross winds.
We are lead out by the Dauphin police and I fully expect race tactics to begin immediately. I am a bit more ready for what is coming this year but there is a pretty good West side wind and I never do well in cross wind. This year the cop car leads us out for a long time. At times it is going slower than we could (25km/hr). It is good draft though. I am in the double pace line beside various rotating riders: Jim, then Bob, then Kevin. The windward side is rotating. I am behind Nettie who is on the leeward side and is behind the police car. Bob says to me, you are riding behind the Canadian national road racing champion. She won't brag about herself so I do it for her. I have met her before and I know this already. She scares me and I want to be her.
It is about 12km to the first hill that brings us up to the park gates. Shortly before this the police car pulls ahead. Nettie and Bob take off and I manage to stay with them and then they slow right down. I'm smarter this year and I know what they are doing. They are trying to get weaker riders to pass them and tucker themselves out. So I just stay behind them and enjoy the slower pace.
I'm still kinda with them when we hit the hill but I've cooked myself a bit on the flat so I am not climbing comfortably. Bob drops a chain and I pass him. The thing about "The HILL" in riding mountain is that it really changes up the ride. Those who climb better get ahead and never get caught and those who don't climb well drop back. This is why I tend to do better overall on day 1 than day 2 and its been that way every year. So I climb the hill and it levels out a bit (false flat, it is still up for the next 10km) and Candy is with me. I pull her and we catch Andre who doesn't climb that well at all. Candy and I leave Andre behind on the next steeper climb and then slowly Candy leaves me behind and I am by myself. Eventually Paul and Lorrie catch up to me (they have a system going that I will use to my advantage later) and the three of us climb together but Candy is simply uncatchable. We can see her up ahead but I would say she comes within about 100 m of catching the lead group on this climb. I am gaining on the lead too for the moment but they are far enough ahead that we will still be doing the steepest part of the climb when they are well on their way into the rolling roller coaster part of the ride.
It is a hard climb, there is no doubt about it, but to be perfectly honest, this year, after Mt. Lemmon, a dozen or so climbs up airport hill, and riding a mountain bike with slicks up that climb out of Radium and about two dozen other climbs on the Golden Triangle route, I kinda wondered where the hill went.
So I ended up spending the next 50 km with Paul and Lorrie who just did Ironman Canada 2 weeks prior. We had a couple of goals for the ride. Andre powered past us on the first bigger downhill and didn't stay and work with us. We joke that he probably didn't like the idea of having 3 women ahead of him (meaning me, Lorrie and Candy -- Nettie doesn't count, she's in a class of her own) and Candy was still waaay ahead. And of course the fact that he didn't stay with us automatically made him a target. The goal then became: Finish With or Ahead of Andre.
So Paul would lead downhill and suck poor me, who downhills badly, along in his draft. We would get to any uphill and Paul and Lorrie positioned themselves side by side and Paul pushed Lorrie uphill with his right hand on her back. They would eventually overtake me (which just goes to show you how strong Paul really is). I would stay behind in their double draft. Paul would then catapult Lorrie at the top or near the top of the hill and I would chase her down until I caught her wheel, recover, take over and pull until Paul caught up. Repeat. It worked.
And because Andre was not as strong a climber, I knew exactly where we would catch him. There is a section of uphill that is 3km long about 24km out of Clear Lake. We got him and went past him at the top and basically waved and said see ya later. I thought he might tag on and stay with us but I guess after 40 or so km of riding by himself trying to catch Candy he was cooked.
And naturally that meant our next target was Candy. And we were gaining on her, inch by inch using the same system and we were no more than 100 m behind her when we hit the biggest downhill of the whole Day 1 ride 5km out of Clear Lake. This hill is just past the Wishing Well Golf Course. And then something bizarre happened. The downhill became very slow. And then it became slower and then it became like hitting a wall of wind. You could see the lake and white caps off to the right and then you were almost at a dead stop. I saw Candy get out of her saddle in front of me so I knew it was coming before it hit. And then you headed straight from this assault into another large grade uphill. I gained on Candy more here and caught her somewhere near the top.
And this moment in the ride became the talk of the rest of the day amongst everyone in the tour. The buzz your ears caught was: What was with the wind at the golf course? It wasn't how hard the 10km of straight uphill felt, it was all about that wind. You would be sitting in the bathroom and someone a stall over would be talking about it.
It was at this point that I realized I had left Laurie and Paul behind. Ooops. This was unintentional but I had also been able to tell that Paul was fatiguing. He was pushing Laurie up every hill and at the point of catapult was pushing her forward further and further away from the top. I had only one single minded focus when I hit that downhill and that was catching Candy. She became my new goal. I had been benefiting from Paul and Lorrie's tandem routine so I was pretty fresh when I went past Candy and said, "Would you like some draft?" So I pulled her along for a few kilometers until the last hill which is just before Elkhorn resort and then I left her behind. Also (sorta) unintentional. She caught up to me in the town however and we rode in together. There were only 5 other riders ahead of us: Kevin the Olympic rower did the ride in under two hours drafting off the police car for the first 40 km. Bob, Nettie, Michael and Jim were about 17 minutes behind him, and Candy and I were 7 minutes back from them finishing in about 2:20.
But no.... this is not a race.
Usually there is too much wine and too much beer on the night of Day 1 but this year we are all old and tired I guess. The only difficulty I faced Sunday morning was that it was cold. So I started out at the front again and wondered what would happen.
My first mistake was not going for a warm up spin. What happened is that I was going along pretty good until the first big downhill I was on Paul's wheel as I had been the day before and not close enough so the gap widened and that was it. I just don't have the weight to carry me down like those guys. I was OK with this because I knew that with Kevin in the group I was not going to be able to stay with those guys. As it was in the end, I wished I had jumped on Jim's back wheel when he went by because. Kevin ended up pulling Michael and Bob along for about 90% of the route and Andre, Paul, Jim and Nettie rode together. I'd like to think that that I could have stayed with those 4 but... who knows.
As it was I ended up in a group of 5 that consisted of Candy, Jack, Stig, and Lorrie and we were a good pace group. That was, we were a good pace group until we hit a longer stretch of uphill and Candy ended up pulling and maxing us all out. I barely hung on sitting in 3rd position and Candy dropped our Ironman and Woman (Stig and Lorrie). And then we were three. Jack started having gear problems about 5 km from the 10km of downhill and then somewhere on the downhill he dropped his chain and then we were 2.
So Candy and I worked our way out of the park and onto the flat into Dauphin. It was windy. The hill that can give you 80 km/hr downhills on a good day, only gave me 58 km/hr. There was a touch of a head wind but the majority of the wind was harsh from the West. I never did look it up but I would guess 30km per hour or greater. Candy and I took turns but a traditional one-rider-behind-the-other pull system didn't work. Our bikes were easily at a 15 degree angle from the wind and the windward person fought it the most. I discovered quickly that the best place to sit to recover was on the leeward side with your front wheel about mid way up the windward person's bike. This positioning required a lot of trust because the wind gusts were strong enough to push you onto the shoulder, or to push the windward rider right into you. You had to trust that the person pulling could maintain bike control during the gusts. It also meant that that lead rider had to be out part way into the highway lane (backwards from traditional where usually the back riders are further out and the pull person is at the curb).
I trusted Candy and she came to trust me. It was the hardest section of the whole ride. There is a McDonald's on the highways just as you enter Dauphin and it seemed like that Big M was not getting one smidge closer. At some point during this section Candy says to me that it has been an honour to ride with me this weekend. I could easily say the same of her.
And then you were there and you turned east into town with the wind behind you. Usually you can manage this portion of the ride in under 2 hours. Under different conditions it would have been easy to manage that this year. Last year we were two hours flat. This year 2:12..... a long way off. I saw Andre after the massage and he says to me, I wasn't letting you finish ahead of me today.
Haha Andre... Not next year. I've come to conclusion that when men choose me as a target to beat on a ride that from now on I am just going to take it as a compliment.
So it was a good ride and every year feels a little different. A little easier. A little stronger.