Sunday, April 27, 2008

Paris-Ancaster Recap

OK! So, it's a week after the race, but I'm finally making some time to write a quick summary of my Paris to Ancaster experience! Last Sunday, April 20th I raced the Paris to Ancaster bike race for the first time. This is a very popular (1600 riders) race that's been going on now for 15 years. The 60km race runs from Paris to Ancaster (obviously) and is (somewhat) modeled on the infamous Paris-Roubaix in France. However, rather than pavé (cobbled roads) that Paris-Roubaix is famous for, Paris to Ancaster covers a mix of paved roads, gravel roads, rail trail, tractor paths through farmers fields, and some non-technical single track, with a couple of mud holes thrown in for good measure.

Since I'm mostly a roady, this was a pretty new experience for me, and I had no idea what to expect going in. Shawn (who's done the race in the past, but unfortunately didn't make the trip down this year) told me that it was no more technical than a 'cross race, which made me feel a bit better! I had the 'cross bike ready to roll, and parked the car at Matt's place in Paris. I rode the 4kms to the start of the race, where I was engulfed in a huge mass of riders. Since I'd never done the race before, and don't yet have a race license this year, I was to start in the second wave of riders, which left 15 minutes after the "A" group. I managed to chat quickly with Andrew at the start line (he was in the very front of the "A" group, where you'd expect him!) and wished him luck (unfortunately not enough his story here.)

As the first wave of riders went out, I found myself well back in the group at the start for the second wave--about 2/3rds of the way in. This is not where I'd really hoped to be, since closer to the front would have been much more intelligent! Oh well.. lesson learned for next time! When we got the "GO" I waited/walked/pedaled slowly for 45 seconds before crossing the line--that's how many riders were in front of me. Once we got out on the road, I immediately started making my way up in the group. After a quick paved section, we made a 90-degree right onto some washboard gravel. Here there were water bottles strewn all over the road, and riders were dodging all over the place like mad to miss them. Chaos! Another very good reason to be at the front of the group! Amazingly, I didn't see anyone go down in this section!

Soon after, we hit a long section of rail trail. About 6 feet wide of crushed gravel, the riding was fast and furious. Two lines of riders formed in the slightly smoother tracks on each side of the trail, and went as far as you could see with few gaps. The pace was pretty quick, but not overly fast. A rider went by me, shooting through the gap up the middle, passing riders on both sides. Seemed like a great idea to me, and this guy looked like he'd done this before, so I grabbed his wheel, and took off passing riders up the middle. I think in this rail trail section I passed about 400 riders in this fashion! Sweet!

My legs were feeling great, so as I got closer to the front of the group, and the race spread out a bit I set to chasing down small groups of riders (6-8 in a group) and sitting on for a rest before taking off to catch the next group up the road. Despite the singletrack and mudholes, tactically this race was very much a road race, since there was very little passing on the trails. Heading in to a section of wooded trail, I passed a group of riders on the road, and heard someone yell "DARREN COPE!" I looked back to see Kevin Rich! I yelled something at him, and he replied "See you at the finish line! I'll have a drink waiting for you!" (still waiting for that drink BTW there Mr. Rich!) I didn't see him again until the finish line though. On a fast section of paved road, I was working very well with another rider of about the same strength as me, and we were picking off groups left and right. At one point, I moved by to take a pull, and he ran into my rear wheel as I took the front. I heard a sickening crash, and looked back in time to see him sprawled out on the road with his bike halfway across the road. He yelled at me to go on without him, so I did. A rider behind him (on a Single-Speed MTB nonetheless) had it up on one wheel to stop in time before running him over!

I rode the rest of the race more or less alone, sitting into a few groups for a breather now and then. At one of the road intersections, the marshal/volunteer yelled "6km to go!" so I figured I was safe to really hammer home. It was all good until the final killer hill right before the finish. Matt had warned me about it many times, but I figured I'd be ok to ride it. WRONG! Despite my legs feeling super good, I still only made it half way up before I had to jump off and walk. Here's where MTB gearing would be an advantage over the 'cross bike, although it would have been a serious disadvantage everywhere else! When someone yelled "50m to go" I jumped back on the bike and rode the rest of the way to the finish. If I had known it was that close I may have been able to ride the whole thing (although maybe not any faster than walking it!).

I crossed the time with a total time of 2:14:13, which was much better than my goal of 2:30:00! I'm very pleased with the results, ending up 120th overall, which is not too shabby for my first time. Next year I've got some more concrete goals to shoot for!

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