"Hey, I'm headed up to Whistler for a family vacation in July. And it just happens to be the week after BC Superweek so I'm thinking of going up early to do some of the races. Does anybody want to come up and race with me?" That was what I mentioned back in the spring with the hopes of having some teammates to mix it up with some of North America's top pros during BC Superweek. As it turned out, myself and five other Team Mike's Bikes team members were able to make the three mid-week criteriums (July 10th, 11th & 12th) while five of us were able to do the final weekend stage race (13th, 14th & 15th). We decided to forgo the opening weekend stage race because we had committed to race the San Rafael Twilight Criterium on July 7th.
So on July 8th, Eric Riggs, John Piasta, Shawn Rosenthal and Andy Goessling piled into the Team Mike's Bike Honda Element, pointed it North on the I5...and drove....and drove...and drove! 16 hours later they pulled into Vancouver. For me, I packed up our vehicle (two suit cases, two car seats, two kids, my wife, and my trusted steed; our team issue Specialized Venge Pro. See photo below of me at the airport) and also drove...but it was a much shorter drive for us....only to the San Francisco International Airport. I couldn't imagine a 16 hour drive with a two year old boy, a 10 week old boy and my (supportive) beautiful wife. Our final teammate, James Laberge, also flew up because he had to return to California for a prior commitment on the weekend of the 14th and 15th.
July 10th: UBC Criterium The start list, highlighted by two Orica-GreenEdge riders (Sven Tuft and Christian Maier, both fresh off of the Giro d'Italia) and others top pro teams including UnitedHealthcare, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit, Competitive Cyclist, Spider Tech and Exergy, combined with the technical course, dictated it was going to be a hard race. Our most experience rider, Eric Riggs quickly voiced his prediction after seeing the course; 'Sven is going to solo off the front and win'. We had just come off a successful San Rafael Twilight Crit so I'd say we were pretty confident. We discussed a few possible tactics before the start but decided to see how the race would unfold and make a call in the late part of the race.
The course was basically the shape of a 'P'. We started off with a 180 degree turn to the left about 150 meters from the start/finish line. After another 150 meters back up a slight grade on the other side of the center median, we turned 90 degrees to the right, 50 meters, another 90 degrees to the left, 100 meters, 90 degrees to the left, 50 meters, 90 degrees to the left, which took us onto the start/finish straight away, at which it was about a 100 meters to the line. The race was 50 laps, so we essentially had 250 accelerations ahead of us. In typical criterium fashion, some of the top pros were called up the line first. Then the rest were allowed join in behind them. As a team, we were a bit spread out at the start; I was around 3rd row with one or two while the others were a bit further back. In retrospect, this was not the best tactical decision. 'Bang', the gun went off and we were off.
In short, it was one of the hardest crits I have done in a few years. It reminded me of when I moved up from Cat 3 to Cat 2 and had to compete against Pros and Cat 1's and 2's. My legs and lungs were burning, and at one point, about half way through, I thought I wasn't going to be able to make it. The reason was that Sven Tuft, along with former German Pro and Team Milram rider, Dominik Roels, were off the front and teams were trying to bring them back. The tight course and large number of riders caused your typical 'yo-yo' effect. This meaning that unless you were in the top 10, the constant decelerations and accelerations caused the field to bunch up going into a turn and then stretch out coming out of it. The further back you were, the harder you had it. As it turned out, a few of the TMB riders were a bit too far back and ended up getting caught behind some gaps in the field and decided to pull out and save their legs for the races to come.
It ended up being just Eric and myself finishing. Although we both almost simultaneously said "I'll lead you out' on the second to last lap, Eric made a strong move up the inside as we went over the start/finish line on the bell lap (1 lap to go). I hopped on his wheel and got a tow into the top 15 going into the 180 degree turn. From here I tried to maintain my position and then sprint at the finish. In the end I went across the line in the 13th and Eric held on for top 30, good enough for some prize cash. Sven Tuft held off Dominique in the sprint for the win. July 11th: Global Relay Gastown GrandPrix The history of this race dates back to the late 70's when it debuted as a premier race in North America. Many well known pros, including Canadian Tour de France multiple classification jersey winner Alex Steida, well known cycling coach Chris Carmichael and his most successful athlete (and cycling legend), Lance Armstrong, have all won here. The mix of cobble and paved streets in the historic part of the city known as Gastown, combined with high speeds and one 180 turn, create an exciting race. An estimated 20-25,000 people typically come out to cheer on the racers. And this year's version was no different. The energy and buzz was quite something. Learning from the UBC crit, and having raced Gastown twice in previous years (when I lived in Vancouver...of which I didn't finish either one), I knew I needed to be at the front for the start. This was also a goal of all our team members. Based on last night's results, I'd say our attitude was more of survival than a clear team plan. The quality of the field is what dictated this. If we happen to be in a good position at the end to work together then we would. Fortunately I was able to get right behind the pros (who were called up) for the start.
The winner's purse was $14,000, the highest of any race in North America, so the pace was guaranteed to be fast right from the gun. If you weren't at the front then you were going to be yo-yo'ed the whole race. The course was a bit more friendly than UBC the night before. It was basically a long and narrow triangle. The front and back stretches were about 400 meters long while the 'bottom' end of the triangle was a 90 degree turn (turn 2) followed by a sweeping 90 degree bend (turn 3).
The gun went off and I was happy to get into turn one (180 degrees) around 5th wheel. From here on my goal was to stay towards the front, be attentive of any dangerous breaks and position myself in final lap to either lead James out or, if that didn't materialize, then give myself a chance at a good result. If we had a rider represented in the break then I could let it go. And for the most part, this is how the race unfolded. Fortunately there weren't any crashes and the racing was fast. There were quite a few break away attempts but nothing materialized. TMB had some riders in the top 20 for much of the race, with Eric bringing back a few breaks. As I crossed the start/finish line on the bell lap, I was probably 20-25th place. Unfortunately James wasn't able to be up on my wheel so I knew I needed to move up. I accelerated up the inside and gained about 10 positions. Out of the 180 degree turn it was full on. We were single file. Optum were lined up at the front for their sprinter Ken Hanson. A small gap opened out of turn 3 and Canadian Criterium champion (and fellow alpine ski racer and Vancouverite) Ben Chaddock had to close it down. Unfortunately for him it was a bit too much and he crossed the line 4th behind Ken Hanson, Ryan Anderson (Spider Tech) and Tommy Nankervis (Competitive Cyclist). I was able to improve my finish by one spot from last night, and finish 12th, while Andy Goessling had a strong race and ended up 17th. Eric came across the line with another top 30 while John Piasta was a bit further back. As a team, it was an improvement over last night so spirits were a little higher.
July 12th: Giro di Burnaby
The course was quite similar to UBC (P shaped) except the start/finish straight away was much longer, probably 400 meters, which made for a less technical course. We still had the hard acceleration out of the 180 degree turn (turn 1) each lap but the a long and gradual grade up to turn two was much friendlier on the legs.
You could tell we were all hoping to improve on our results and play a more integral role in this race right from the start because of the fact that all six of us were within the first two rows. The race got underway and the pace was a tad bit tamer than the previous two evenings. I'd say everybody's legs were feeling some fatigue. At about half way through the race a strong break of about 8 riders were off the front. Fortunately for us, Shawn was in the move so we could sit in and let other teams work to bring it back. Then unfortunately, Shawn got out of the break and was brought back to the field. In true team oriented and unselfish fashion, Eric was soon on the front and pulling the peleton closer to the break. The race was back together and it seemed as though a field sprint was eminent.
As we went over the line with two laps to go, the bell rang to announce the crowd preme. Going into turn four, I saw James make a move to the front and then accelerate. I could tell he was going for the $1,000 preme. He got a small gap but unfortunately a few other riders were thinking about the preme as well and were able to make it up to his wheel out of the final turn (turn 5) and overtake him. The bell rang for the last lap. I went to the inside and accelerated. Eric was once again right there. He lead me out of the 180 turn and up the back stretch. We were within the top 10 as we passed the finish line. Optum was once again lined up and leading out their sprinter, Ken Hanson. Eric moved to the left, which if held was the optimal inside line on the final corner. Unfortunately I wasn't attentive enough and lost his wheel and went up the right (a mistake on my part). So now we had to fend for ourselves. Like the previous two nights, my mouth was open and I was gasping for air. My legs were burning. I was pretty well maxed out. But during these times you have to push your body more than you think it can go. Out of the final turn I got out of my saddle, jumped on my pedals and sprinted to the line. For the second night in a row, it was Ken Hanson who crossed the finish line first. I was psyched to cross the line 6th in a field of this strength. Andy crossed the line 15th, good enough to be in the money as well.