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Monday, April 18, 2011

Race Report: Paris to Ancaster 2011

One word: Epic

40 hours before the race...

Allow me to rewind to the Friday before the race for a moment... it's my last ride, giving my legs one last shake before the race, and making sure my bike is all ready to go.

I'm on a gravel trail near my house.  A man is walking his dog.  The dog seems to be under control - it's off the trail next to the man.  At the very last second, the dog darts across my path... and I smoke it.  It felt like hitting a bag of concrete... there was no chance, it just happened so fast. I go flying one way, bike goes another way, dog yelps. 

I lie there stunned for a few moments, and all I'm thinking about is Paris to Ancaster.  I've been looking forward to it since I bought my cyclocross bike in September, and now it could be gone... all because of some @#$%ing off-leash dog.

I get up, dust myself off.  Guy apologizes profusely.  Dog is OK.  My neck, back and ribs all hurt... I make it home, bike is OK, and I decide right there: I'm riding on Sunday.  I don't care if it takes half a bottle of Ibuprofen, I'm riding on Sunday.

24 hours before the race

The rain is pelting down, my backyard is a mud pit.  Standing water everywhere.  Winds so strong the rain is going sideways.

1 hour before the race

We make our way to the start area in Paris.  It's cold, it's windy, and out of the grey skies there's a sudden flurry of snow. 

After all that, when I got into the starting corral, I still felt giddy.  I just love this race, and somehow overcoming all that nature (and fate) dish out at you just makes it that much better!

The Race

It snowed.  The wind blew (70km/h!).  The temperature was about 3C.  The previous day's rain turned the course into a mud pit.

In short - it was awesome.  One to remember.

We joined the corral a bit later than usual, which put us back a few hundred riders in our wave.  The start was hectic, I passed dozens of people before the first corner... I don't know why slow people insist on seeding themselves at the front!  I knew I had to get past the worst of them before the rail trail, where it goes down to 2 wide, and for the most part this worked out.

Opening rail trail was a bit softer than usual, but still very fast.  I managed to find lots of draft off various folks, and kept my heart rate in check.

Ran up the short rocky section after the first rail trail, then mucked across the farm road.  Everything was going great, felt strong!

The first off-road was where the mud really started, it was really soppy and wet in there.  I've spent all winter getting used to off-roading on the cross bike, so it was a piece of cake.  I passed a bunch of people in the woods, some of them on mountain bikes who really should have been having an easier time than me!  These bikes are made for kicking some ass in the mud, and I made sure that's what I did.

I made it to the highway just as they were letting riders through, so no waiting there... that's messed me up in the past.  Next off-road was muddy as hell, but I held my own.  Then there's a farmer's field - super bumpy, and my back really started screaming at me... but nothing I could do about it at this point, just keep pedalling and bumping through it!

Road section was lightening fast with the strong tailwind.  The next rail trail was a mess, muddy muddy muddy.  Hit the halfway point feeling strong and good. 

Then on the next rail trail I felt the first signs of cramping.  I couldn't believe it - I thought I'd conquered it, but here I was only 1/2 way done and already getting cramps again?  I trained more than I ever have this winter, got out for rides almost every weekend...  I did specific burst intervals on the trainer to simulate the race, I just don't know what else I can do... so I backed off a bit and tried to spin through it.

The second half of the race was tough, there were some killer cross winds.  I managed to draft off a few big guys, positioning myself to their left for maximum wind blockage!

There is one field at this horse farm that was just killer... so incredibly slow through there, the ground was bumpy and soggy.  Some people were even walking their bikes... I managed to peddle through, but my back was once again screaming at me, now my cramping legs were too!

Final rail trail - tail wind, not too wet, very fast!  Ahhh.

Then the mud.  Oh my gawd there was mud, it's never been this deep and soupy, it really separated the men from the boys!  I was pretty ready for it mentally, so I trudged through where I couldn't ride and rode what I could.  Both of the official "mud chutes" were nasty... I managed to ride about halfway down the second one, before the guy in front of me went flipping over his handlebars!  Walked a short stretch, then got back on and mucked through the rest.

The uphill section just before the final climb was rutted and muddier than past years... I managed to wipe out into a big mud puddle.  There was a huge gap in the road, thought I could get through it, but didn't make it.  It was a low-speed fall thankfully, just popped back up and kept going.

The final climb... I rode almost all of it!  So happy with that, I thought my cramps would get me, but they never grabbed too bad.  There was one section where it gets super steep, I had to walk that, but the rest I pedalled.  The cross gearing isn't as easy as the hybrid I used previous years, so I'm really happy with this!

All in all a wonderful crazy experience.  I got muddy, I fell, I walked a lot - but it was just so awesome to overcome it all and finish with a smile on my face!

Final Result: 2:29:32 (316/1188)

My previous results...
2006 3:54:44 (970/1096)
2007 2:56:21 (632/1136)
2008 2:48:07 (513/1064)
2009 2:50:34 (429/1202)
2010 2:36:12 (463/1272)

... so with the new cross bike, it was my fastest yet.  Course was shorter than last year, but conditions were way worse.  Most importantly I launched myself up about 150 places!  So I'm really happy.


Heather Shearer said...

Way to go! You don't cramp unless you're pushing yourself to your limits, right? So you must be doing something right.

Enjoyed reading your report, also nice to hear that this was a tough one. I have nothing to compare it to (first P2A for me), but I was hoping everyone wouldn't be saying "oh man, with that tailwind, this was so EASY this year!"

Jon P said...

Congrats! If you made it through yesterday, then should be good to go for all future years! :)

The mud was the worst I've ever seen it... I mean it's always muddy but there are lots of parts that were bad yesterday that are normally hard packed and dry by now. Wild wild stuff.

Anonymous said...

Nice work, truly an epic race, whoever survived good on ya, great time too, I have to solve my cramps issue as well

Jon P said...

Thanks! The cramps - I noticed a bunch of people having trouble. My only remaining theory is that those few times where you have to push with everything just to keep going just add up as the hours tick by... not sure what can be done! :(