(By: Mike Little)
As the 2020 road racing season rapidly approaches, we at Ascent Cycling feel that there is ample value in reflecting on the year that was. That year was…was…2019. So, settle in and get ready for the thrill ride that was 2019, or as I like to call it, “2019”.
The season began with some significant changes for our little bicycle racing team. First of all, our roster had changed considerably from our first two seasons which meant that we were approaching a racing season with a relatively new roster which would take some getting used to. We said goodbye to some original teammates and partners and welcomed new elite teammates, partners, and an entire master’s squad. To begin the year with such a large shift from where our team was in its first two years was a challenging, yet exciting experience and I must say that I believe that we are better for it.
At this “elite amateur” level of bicycle racing, we are all involved because we love racing our bikes, and value the experiences and friendships that this obscure hobby has provided. We have all come to be involved in this team through getting to know one another out on the road or at races and truly appreciate riding our bikes, racing our bikes, talking about riding or racing our bikes, and talking about other people riding and/or racing their bikes. To that point, we also want to encourage other people to get out on the bike, and to see how enriching (not monetarily, it can be somewhat expensive at times) it can be.
Enter our exciting partnership with Morning Glory Cycling Club (MGCC) for 2019. As one of the largest cycling clubs in Canada, having the opportunity to work alongside MGCC for the season was incredibly exciting. We worked to develop the training and racing program, had huge amounts of fun on group rides, and led weekly skills and drills clinics throughout the summer. It was a great experience working such a diverse group of cyclists during the skills and drills sessions – cycling really introduces you to people who you may otherwise never meet, and being able to help fellow cyclists build their skills and confidence on the bike while also meeting new people was a great experience. On alternating weeks, we would lead skills sessions from either High Park or Leaside on Wednesday mornings, and we were very happy with the attendance and have even bigger groups in 2020. I feel that unfortunately sometimes getting into road bikes can be a little bit intimidating, and that vibe can scare people off. Speaking from experience, I know that I was scared off from a few group rides in my early days on the bike after being shouted at by a grumpier, more experienced individual – hopefully we have been able to make that a little better, and that these skills sessions feel accessible and inclusive. We are always working to improve and get better, so 2020 will be even better for skills and drills!
Some of us also volunteered Monday evenings at Learn to Race (LTR) with Midweek Cycling. The positive, inclusive, and encouraging group of coaches are doing a lot for the cycling scene in the Toronto area – they make the “cost for admission” into bike racing a lot more affordable.
In 2019 we also partnered with Shatterproof, an initiative that our team strongly believes in. Shatterproof works to end the stigma around addiction, helping those impacted by the disease recover, and reversing the addiction crisis. We hope to raise awareness of Shatterproof, to advocate for their initiatives, and to do our part to reduce the stigma and secrecy associated with addiction. Addiction truly is a disease, and the shame and stigma felt by those impacted needs to end. We aim to do even more in 2020 to spread the message of Shatterproof, and are incredibly honoured to be working with them again,
Beginning the race season in early April always has its challenges and 2019 had one of the most challenging season-openers in recent memory. The Mosport Classic began with the E ½ field standing in the rain in freezing temperatures to ensure we were adequately saturated and cold before we got to go very quickly down a hill in the wind. It was savage day out, and the rate of attrition was high in the field – Ascent only had one finisher that day, the wunderkind Dylan Bibic. Needless to say, our experience at Mosport left much room for improvement throughout the rest of the season. We were racing with more or less an entirely new roster in 2019, and we had to learn how to race together as a cohesive unit if we wanted to be successful throughout the rest of the year.
We set about doing what we know works best – we raced our bikes together. Every Tuesday at Midweek, on group rides (sorry), and throughout Ontario and the Northeastern United States on weekends, we raced. Things began to come together as the season wore on, culminating in some nice results along the way.
There were some top tens, top fives, podiums, and wins throughout the year. Dylan had multiple impressive wins, winning junior provincials, and an impressive E ½ win at the KW Classic – ultimately, he can be counted on to perform in any race, and he’s got a really bright future ahead of him. Adam had an amazing ride at the Detroit Cycling Championship, coming away with third place after a daring attack formed what would be the winning move. We won two of three stages and the overall at 2 days of Buffalo for a second year running, and had a whole lot of fun along the way.
One of the most notable long trips our group had in 2019 was labour day weekend in Vermont – Green Mountain Stage Race. Geoff managed second on stage two in a chaotic bunch sprint, and Jeremy rode to a dazzling second place on the penultimate stage up App Gap, with a spicy send up the final climb. Jeremy rode to fifth overall in the race, and it was a great way to cap off the season. We had a lot of fun staying at a beautiful mountain top chalet, eating ice cream, swimming in rivers, and enjoying some of Vermont’s finest bubbly water. However, the MVP of the weekend was David Bibic who drove down to join us and was an invaluable member of the team, taking care of feeding duties during the race and at the house. Bringo.
There was also much to be learned during our Vermont adventure. For example, sending it downhill into a blind corner less than a minute into our first ride may not be the most ideal stage race preparation. As well, you CAN catch back onto a huge group if you absolutely need to stop for a nature break alongside a couple other mutually-determined chasers. And, uphill relatively-slow crashes are a thing, but that is okay.
We had a lot of experiences in 2019, but the most prevalent aspect of it all is that we had fun. Our team is cobbled together from a relatively small area in Southern Ontario, and after all was said and done in 2019 we worked very well together. Obviously, there is work to do, but that is what makes it fun. We have now set our sights on 2020, with some old and new faces, partnerships, and opportunities.
I am not certain of the best way to finish this, so I will leave you with a tidbit of wisdom: nobody needs to know if you peed in your bibshorts.
See you on the road.