The Road to Holland

There is a holy trinity of road racing which consists of the criterium, the time trial and the road race. A criterium (or crit for those of us to whom criterium sounds like something far more sophisticated and pretentious than it is) is a short, fast race where riders tear around a circuit course like their heads are on fire. There are often crashes, given the close proximity of riders, treacherous corners and odd errant rollerblader who rolls onto the course somehow unaware there is a bike race in progress. The time trial is far less dangerous, generally being a relatively straight course with riders staggered at one minute intervals. The hardest things about a time trial are usually 1) getting out of bed on time, 2) trying to find and attach your aerobars, 3) riding up to 40km as fast as you can until you puke.

The road race is somewhere in the middle. It has been described to me as a crit with less turns, or a time trial with more people. In any case, it is a predetermined distance (which varies depending on your age, gender and sometimes category) where you ride with other people, trying to rest in the draft as much as possible so you can cross the finish line first, fresh as a daisy. Of course this is a gross simplification, and not really how it usually works out. From what I’d read and seen, riders get splintered into smaller groups who then work together to either catch the group in front of them, stay ahead of the one behind, or merely finish the race without blowing up. In pro racing, things are very organized and tactical, with teams working together to attack, block, and generally make things as miserable as possible for the other teams.

Sometimes all three races are combined over the course of 2 or 3 days in a stage race. I imagine it’s like a weekend music festival but instead of bands, beer and tattoos you get bike racing, Clif Bars, and oodles of lycra. Needless to say, at cycling event like that I would be happier than a Pearl Jam groupie at Lolapalooza.

This being my “debutante” year in cycling, I have endeavoured to participate in as many different types of events as I could find. I did a week long training camp in Arizona, a series of local 200 and 300 km Randonneur brevets, a bunch of crits, and a time trial, all with tons and tons of group and solo riding stuffed in between.

In spite of never having done a road race, the provincial road race on the Manitoba Cycling Association (MCA) schedule has been highlighted on my list since spring, and I was committed to doing it. But as I found myself driving the 170 kms to Holland Manitoba for the race on Saturday, I was already thinking what a shame it was going to be when I arrived, chickened out, and drove 170 ams back home, after not even unpacking my gear from the car. My heart was racing and my hands were sweaty as I drove into the Pembina Vally, which, unlike the majority of our pancake-like province, is pocked with sizeable hills and deep valleys. Whoever named the Pembina Valley had obviously never been, because it is clearly more than one valley and therefore should be plural.

When I arrived, I was pleased to see so many familiar faces. Phil, Rick, Nathan and Jamie from Alter Ego, Jason Carter and his boys Sean and Aaron, Jayson Gillespie and the provincial kids, Jurgen and Anne-Marie from FOG and the crits, Nettie Neudorf, John Daniels, Terry the bike courier turned Cat 4 racing star, and Arlene Woodcock. Stefan Isfeld, the photographer, was there too and took all of the awesome shots you see here in this post while I was trying to keep my lunch down.

For this particular race, my group would be racing 3 laps of about 22-odd hilly kms. Thankfully I had some brief hill training in South Dakota on The Giant Family Vacation, so I was somewhat prepared. My race consisted of the under 15 and under 17 crowd, women (we are our own category apparently) and the plus 50 fellas. You might think this makes sense, to put the “old guys” with the “women” and “children”, but let me tell you, in all three of these groups there are some Very Fast People. In the small solar system of Winnipeg cycling community, they are on a completely different planet. This was pitting men against boys, but it was regardless of age or gender.

Nonetheless, I was very poorly positioned at the start line, almost right at the back, caught up in chit chat with some fellow racers. Given this was a “learning race” for me, I wasn’t too concerned about it. We were led on a 2km neutral start, during which the pack was so tight it was difficult to move around and up. After a u-turn around a pylon, the race was on and the pack remained tight until the first series of hills. A lead group was already formed, and I quickly became part of a small splinter group consisting of me, Phil, and (I found out after the race) a fellow named Don from FOG. At one point we lost Phil on a climb and Don turned and asked me if we should wait for her. “You mean Phil?” I asked, confused. He repeated the question, assuming, I suppose that “the girl” had been dropped. I was quick to point out that I was in fact “the girl”, but that yes, we should maybe ease up a bit to wait for Phil (who does not resemble a girl whatsoever). Once he was back on we continued and picked up another Andrea (who knew!!) and someone who I thought at first was Aaron Carter, but turned out to be his older brother Sean. Having only met Sean once before, I only recognized him by the Bianchi he was riding. I did not check to see if Tinkerbell was still on the top tube.

We had a great ride, working together in an echelon (a continuously moving paceline) to battle the cross wind, regrouping after climbs and descents, which everyone did at the best of their own ability. We lost and acquired riders along the way, but otherwise had a cohesive, safe and organized ride, which was exactly what I had hoped for.

Despite a small matter at the end of the race that, if I were more experienced and knowledgable about these things, I might consider somewhat unsportsmanlike, the race was an excellent experience and complete success. It was a great location, a beautiful day, and the organizers, volunteers and spectators were exceptional. I was thrilled to have participated.

Another great addition to the 2010 CycleChick Debutante season.