Thursday, September 08, 2016

Tour of Alberta

I raced the Tour of Alberta last week. It was 5 stages of flat, windy, cold, and intense racing through the plains of Alberta. The weather, the wind, and the long transfers made it one of the toughest races I have ever completed.

The first stage was a tough 100km circuit race in Lethbridge. It was about 90 degrees for the stage which made it feel like racing back in the South. The pace started off fast from the gun with furious attacks in the crosswinds. After about 10km of racing a split of 29 riders jumped off the front of the peloton that included Matthieu Jeannes from our team. Matthieu won the first KOM and took second in the final 2 KOMs of the day. An Amore e Vita rider won the second 2 KOMs and finished second to Matthieu in the first. That meant Matthieu finished the stage at second in the KOM competition. The pace in the field was surgy and chaotic with the wind and the hills. With a couple laps to go Matthieu and a lot of the break came back to the peloton. After Matthieu was caught; Chad,Barry, Oliver, Bryan, and me set pace at the front of the group in order to reduce the gap to the break. At the end of the day 10 riders finished in the lead group with a 2 minute and 5 second advantage over the peloton. Colin Joyce of Axeon took the stage win. After the stage we had a 3 hour transfer to Kananaskis. 

Stage 2 was a 180 km stage from Kanaskis to Olds. It was about 40 degrees at the start, and it appeared rain would be on the horizon. The stage appeared to have a net downhill, but winds were ripping. The pace was aggressive from the gun like during stage one. Axeon had an iron grip on the race and were not content to let a break of more than 3 riders roll. Chad, Bryan, Evan, and me covered big moves early on in the stage, but eventually Tanner Putt and a Canada National Team rider went away. Axeon was pleased with this and sat up across the whole road. That is how the break of the day went after 50 km of white knuckle racing. After about 80km of racing the only KOM of the day came. With only two riders up the road, we set Matthieu up at the bottom of the climb at the front of the peloton, and the pace was pretty fast over the climb. The Amore e Vita rider beat Matthieu, so Matthieu was trailing the Amore e Vita ride by 3 points at the end of the stage. After the climb crosswinds came for about 5 km, and teams drilled it to make a split happen. Holowesko had 5 riders present in a 9 or 10 rider group off the front of the peloton. After the crosswinds there was a headwind, and I was about 20 seconds off the back of the group in a group of ~10 riders with Rob Britton of Rally, Ryder Hesjedal of Trek, and Phil Gaimon of Garmin. We were working steadily together, but we could not make the junction back to the peloton who were in hot pursuit of Hincapie. It started to rain, and it really became miserable. Eventually my right arm and my hands went numb. I had the chills and thoughts went through my head wondering if I could die in these conditions. I couldn't eat or drink with the numb hands and arm. I kept telling myself it wasn't that much further and eventually survived to the finish. This was mentally one of the toughest days I have ever had on the bike. We only had Chris make the split over the KOM hill, and Oliver, Chad, Bryan, Evan, Matthieu, and me finished about 12 minutes down on the peloton.

Stage 3 was another 180 km stage from Rocky Mountain House to Drayton Valley. We had some hot tea on the 1.5 hour transfer from the hotel to the start of what would be another intense and cold stage with wind from the beginning of the stage. At least there was no rain! All the riders on our team covered early moves. Me and Bryan just missed an 18 rider split at about 15 km into the stage. This meant our team went to the front and chased after we got reabsorbed into the field. A dirt road came at about 20km into the stage, and Trek brought the break back. After the dirt road was the first KOM of the day. Matt was off the front of the peloton off the dirt, but Amore e Vita set a savage pace up the climb to bring Matt back and have their rider take maximum points on the KOM. I was ~top 30 going over the KOM and bleeding through my eyeballs as Phil told me I was positioned well and a break would probably go soon. This meant I needed to cover the next couple moves, and my legs were more or less gone ~40 km into the stage. The aggressive racing continued with crosswinds, but I was unable to cover from this point. I just survived in the gutter until the break finally rolled ~80 km into the stage. We had Bryan chasing to the break with Antoine Duchesne of the Canadian National Team, but he remained at 55 seconds from the break for a really long time and was unable to make the junction with Antoine with him. Antoine was high in the general classification, so the break rode hard for them to not catch. After the feed zone the pace in the field finally slowed for about 10 km. After that it was back to business as usual, and I went back to chomping on my stem in the crosswinds. There was a final KOM climb heading into Drayton Valley, but all the points were up the road, and there was a headwind on the climb. That meant the pace was not too intense up the climb. However, as we reached the outskirts of Drayton Valley attacks started dropping like bombs. In the finale we did 3 laps on a 4km circuit that included a 500 meter hill with a crosswind. The pace was ballistic on the circuits, and I came off the back of the group with about 6km to go on that hill. Robin Carpenter of Holowesko and Evan Huffman of Rally fought it out for the stage win with Huffman taking the stage and the GC lead heading into stage 4. Chris took 11th on a very tough stage. 

Stage 4 was a Merckx time trial through a park in Edmonton. It was a fun rolling 12km course. I just pedaled the time trial around threshold in order to stay open for the final stage but to not totally waste myself for the final stage. Robin Carpenter of Holowesko ended up taking the race lead by one second over Bauke Mollema of Trek. This meant the final stage in Edmonton would be another intense stage of racing. 

Stage 5 was a 120 km circuit race through the streets of Edmonton. This is a fun circuit that features 2 climbs each lap. We raced 11 laps and 3 KOMs were up for grabs. With Matthieu trailing the KOM leader by 12 points this meant we needed to put Matthieu into the break. The pace started off intense, and after about 9km of racing we had Matt in the break of 18 riders with Bryan. After the break rolled the pace lessened a little bit for most of the race. With 5 or 6 laps to go the pace increased as Holowesko started reeling the break back in. Up in the break Matt took second to the Amore e Vita rider in the first two KOMs, so that meant the Amore rider sewed up that competition. With 3 laps to go Evan flatted as Trek started launching attacks to try to break Holowesko. This was a really bad time to flat! Bryan, Chad, and I waited at the back of the field to try to help Evan once he got back on. For a lap Evan was close to getting back on, and with one lap to go he came back on only to blow up on the KOM hill. It was a valiant effort by him, but this course is a really tough course to come back on. Waiting at the back was taking its toll on me because this course had a sling shot effect meaning you need to make harder accelerations at the back. Chad and I came off the back of the peloton with 1.5 laps to go to regain contact later on in the lap. This was a really hard effort! I positioned myself decently on the KOM hill on the final lap, but I had no legs from bad positioning on the previous two laps. I lost contact with the peloton that final time up the KOM hill, and Chris was our only rider to finish in the lead group. Robin Carpenter beat Bauke Mollema on the stage, so he ended up winning the general classification.  

I learned a lot at the Tour of Alberta this year. The intense wind and the aggressive racing made you stay on your toes throughout the entire race. The ProTour riders are ridiculously strong! Chris is very good at saving energy and maintaining position. That maintaining position is key to making splits and getting good results. There is no way to make up positioning at key moments when the best riders in the world are drilling it. I will employ this knowledge at the Reading 120 and Doylestown Crit this weekend.