BC Superweek Adventures

"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.

July 14th: Tour of White Rock Criterium
Saturday evening was what I expected to be the hardest crit of the week.  I had done this race when I lived in Vancouver about six years ago so I knew the course.  It was basically a rectangle, with the longer sides being a descent between turn four and one and a climb between turn two and three.  This 'hard-mans' course definitely favored Sven Tuft.  And predictions within our team, and I'm sure others, is he was the guy to follow.
For the second race in a row, all TMB riders were within the first two rows at the start (see photo below).  The race got underway and the climb definitely was taking it's toll as each lap passed.  We all tried to stay towards the front and go with moves. As anticipated, at the top the climb after a hard effort, Sven saw his opportunity and pushed the pace.  He was gone.  A few guys from the pro teams tried to go with him but they soon came back to the peleton, as Sven powered on.
As we were getting close to the end of the race, I overheard the announcer mention Sven was holding off lapping the field in order to collect a few more premes and not get mixed up in the final sprint (smart guy....and extremely impressive).
The field sprint was for 2nd place.  I was feeling strong and keeping towards the front.  I went through turn 2 on the final lap in about 4th wheel.  I knew the sprint was going to the start as we started the climb.  I saw riders coming up on my left so I jumped up and began to sprint.  The jump is always important, and although I wasn't the first to start my sprint I was feeling good.  Just then a rider in front of me started floating back and got in my way.  I had to brake ever so slightly and go around him.  It was just enough to slow my momentum and drop back a few positions and any hopes of a podium finish. I went across the line in 11th.
July 15th: Tour of White Rock Road Race
Held on the undulating main and residential streets of White Rock, the race was going to be challenging.  The start/finish line was in the middle of a 2.5 mile straight stretch.  At each end was a basically a loop that went up a climb then came back down to sea level.  We were to do 11 laps of the full course and then finish off with six laps of the north side loop, for a total of 85 miles. During my warm up I rode most of the course and saw there was a KOM at the top of the climb on the north loop. The course marshall at the KOM line mentioned there was a $100 prize for the first person over the line on the first lap.  Not that I felt I could get it but it was good to know.
Once again, all of the TMB riders were at the front for the start.  The start referee outlined the few basic things including the number of laps, the fact that riders not making the final short six laps in time would be pulled and the KOM specifics.  The gun went and we were off.  My plan was to be towards the front at the bottom of the climbs and float back as the true climbers pushed the pace.  I wasn't confident I'd make it to the final six small loops in time.   I just don't have enough time to spend on the bike (with family and work commitments) to contend with the pros on a hilly course of this nature. As we accelerated up the first climb on lap one, I was within the top 10.  Nobody was really making any aggressive moves so I decided to go for the $100 preme.  At least if I got it I would go away with something.  I quickly opened up a gap and I pushed on.  The legs started to tighten up.  I looked back and the front of the peleton was closing. I looked ahead and knew where the line was from my morning course recon.  Yes, I made it across the line first.  A $100 in the bank!  Now I wondered how the next climb would go.
Before long we were flying down the descent of the north loop and around a chicane at the bottom.  The climb on the south loop was soon upon us.  It was steeper than the north loop and zig zagged up into a residential area.  We hit the top and accelerated.  All the riders were stretched out single file as we continued to zig zag along the upper flats through a residential neighbourhood.
Bam...next thing I know I'm sliding on my side, my hip heats up from the friction and I see my glasses bouncing of the pavement in front of me.  Riderszip by.  What happened...how did I go down? I picked up my bike, adjusted the brakes, put my glasses back on and was off again.  The pace had already split up the pack and I was at the back of the second chase group, which happened to be the back of the race.  At this point I knew my race was over and conceded that it was going to be a good training ride.  But I still didn't know what caused me to go down.  The next time around that corner on lap two I realized it was a man hole cover that was wet from morning dew.
As expected, after 11 laps of the full course, the race was over for the group I was in.  65 miles and over 6,000 feet of climbing.  In talking to my teammates after the race, I found out that we had a few guys in the front group for most of the race.  Eric was off the front for three laps with the hopes of having a few other strong riders join him to work together and stay away.  As it turned out that didn't happen and he was absorbed back in the field.  As for Sven Tuft, he had a mechanical on lap one.  Once fixed he was almost four minutes back. Amazingly he slowly crawled his way back and finished fourth.  His teammate, Christian Maier, ended up getting the win.

So that was BC Superweek.  All in all a great experience for Team Mike's Bikes; one that we may head back to in 2013. Lots of suffering, good memories, some skin left behind and some Canadian cash.