I believe I have a new favourite race... what an awesome time. Going to go into a lot of detail because I want to capture all of it so I remember next year!
This race is around 45km of ... well, of everything. A mix of cyclocross and mountain bikes, a mix of roads and single-track, this race threw a lot at you!
We got there early and it was cold... around 4C. I almost didn't want to get out of the car. Did a very short warm-up and took my first quick look at some of the trails, then headed to the start.
I chose the cyclocross bike rather than the mountain bike, but it was a complete guess as we'd never been on these trails before. More about that later!
The start was chaos... for some reason they did a neutral start, which meant everyone got to the first non-neutral point in a huge bunch and had to basically wait in a line. Then we had to wait again when we got to the first singletrack about 5 minutes in... argh! Hopefully they sort that out next year - a few hot laps of the field would have spread people out enough I suspect.
Singletrack Cyclocross Style
The first singletrack section was on the Seneca property, and it was pretty classic singletrack - lots of turns, sharp little hills, some dodgy terrain. I didn't feel I lost much to the mountain bike guys, and in fact got a bit frustrated getting stuck behind some people with nowhere to pass. Eventually this opened up into a field and then our first road section.
I thought the road would be my place to shine, but instead I found myself staring at a pretty wicked uphill! I wanted to spin out the lactic acid, but with the cross gearing and the hill there just was no chance, and before I knew it we were back into singletrack.
This property was fantastic... beautiful trails, nice climbs you could really hammer, banked corners, the works! Again, I didn't have any trouble with the cross bike from a handling point of view, but then I felt my first few twinges of cramping/lactic acid... the smallest gear on the cross bike is made for powering up hills, which is great for a ~1 hour race, but as I got futher into this one it started to take its toll.
Right at the end of this section was a bunch of grass riding, which was bumpy as all heck. I did pretty well, passed a few people before the roads.
Roads, bloody roads!
The next stretch of road was great for the cross bike - got into the drops and found a rhythm, and felt the bike choice really paying off. Finally I could do some spinning!
That lead us smoking into another off-road, a short connector trail that was a bit dodgy at times. I entered it with some mountain bike guys on my wheel, but lost them pretty early, so again I think the bike was not holding me back (or they really sucked?).
The next road was brutal... started with a windy steep climb, then a fast downhill, and then it turned into something that looked like a road right-of-way but wasn't a road at all. This was my most terrifying moment of the race, there was this long downhill in what could best be described as a bumpy loose sandy trench... I was trying to scrub off as much speed as I could, but just kept going faster and faster. The guy in front of me bailed up the trench wall, I blew by and very nearly found God... and very nearly visited him! Just got a little too brave I think, but in the end I made it unscathed. Still not sure how, really wish I could see a replay!
After that it was easy roads to the next off-road. By now it was spitting rain, but that didn't really phase me as I was really in the zone!
Offroad Again - Grassy Climbing
The next one was tough - the trails were not as well used as previous ones, as it's on private property, so they were mostly grass-covered. By this point the rain had made it all quite slick, and several of the climbs were steep - I had a tough time getting up some of them. My legs felt much worse now, the lactic acid boiling over every time I got out of the saddle to power up a hill... so I ended up walking a few (and wasn't alone in this!). This was the one point where mountain bikes were passing me - they were able to spin in their low gears and likely had more traction on the grass.
Everyone walked this one long steep hill, briefly took in the view from the top, then it was back to the road.
Country Roads, Take me Home
Mostly gravel and asphault from here, and so I started to really push it. I was near my limit on the powering-up-hills stuff, but still had a lot for a more time-trial type of effort. Picked off at least a half dozen other riders in this section, probably more, as people were fading and the rain was coming down pretty good.
(Just as I was feeling pretty good about it - some dude blew by me like was barely moving! Must have been one of the 20+ people I saw changing flats at the start of the race?)
Finally we came to the Cold Creek area, which was the finish... only to go right past the entrance and find more off-road! 1km of bumpy grassy off-road... with a finish that was very cyclocross-ish, taped off big turn.
I finished the race very satisfied, at 2:21:00. This was good enough for 94th of the ~200+ first wave starters, and considering this was a pretty experienced crowd generally I'll take it!
The Bike Debate - Cyclocross or Mountain Bike
This is a tough one. I finished thinking I had made the right choice, but my buddy finished on his cross bike as well and thought he had made the wrong one! I think at this race it's actually quite close.
There were very few points in the race where I felt like my handling was comprimised all that much compared to the mountain bike folks. Personally, I climb a lot better on my cross bike, so for me I think this was the right choice.
Where I lost out was the gearing. The cross bike doesn't have the low gears that the mountain bike does, so while they were spinning easily up a hill, I was out of the saddle powering up it. Over the course of 2+ hours that takes its toll, and by the end there was stuff that I could have powered up in the 1st hour that left me wimpering in the last hour.
So in my opinion, the best bike for this race is a cross bike with some low gears! Mine is a 36/46 on the front with a 12-25 on the back, and by the end it was all just a little much... I would have liked at least a 12-27, and maybe something even more moutain bike-ish. One guy on a cross bike span by me up a hill, he had some really low gears and it looked much more comfortable!
After the Race
The food was fantastic, Emily Batty was there, free beer... all of it would have been wonderful - if I wasn't soaking wet and it was only +4C! I've never been so happy to see a big yellow schoolbus in my life.
Paris to Ancaster II?
They billed this race as being like a Paris to Ancaster for the fall. It sort-of was, but Paris to Ancaster has a lot more road sections, and the rail trails are so smooth they're almost like road. They have the killer mud chutes and the final climb, but most of what leads up to it is easier. There is no bike debate at Paris to Ancaster - cyclocross is the right bike for sure there!
I find Paris to Ancaster to be like "going from one place to another using the stuff you find in between to get there and make it fun". This race was more like a bike race that used a lot of purpose-built mountain bike trails and such. Just a bit different vibe.
Anyway, they're both amazing and make fantastic bookends to the cycling season!