Prior to Ontario’s “Speed Weekend” I think it’s fair to say that as a group we have failed to race in a way that represented our potential. After this past weekend I think (praying) we have finally turned the corner.
Recap by Eric Johnston
In early June, I crashed and got my first ever concussion… which left me with lingering symptoms for weeks. After zero training for a month, and Simon having to deal with several “please feel bad for me” text messages, I was able to get a couple good weeks of riding in and was ready for my return to racing. Last weekend I decided not to race Ossington, just to make sure my brain was fully healed and ready for Speed Weekend. Going into it I was not confident in my fitness at all, but was stoked to get racing again with the team. After attending Midweek Crit and riding way better than I thought I would, I quickly raised my expectations for myself. I walked away from the weekend with my best racing to date along with the team’s collective results …… funny how this fitness thing seems to work.
My girlfriend came and watched her first cycling race this weekend and Cycling Waterloo set the bar pretty high. So high she instantly became a cycling fan and definitely thinks I am a way bigger deal then I really am. Needless to say I’m extremely nervous to take her to an empty industrial park crit. It goes without saying that the organizers have done a fantastic job with these events. They have been able to capture all the best things about bike racing, it is so rare that organizers are able to get the community involved and excited about cycling. Ontario has been yearning for events like these, and you can expect to see Ascent Cycling on the start line at these races for years to come.
Friday – Kitchener GP
As usual finding parking at a city criterium is never easy (yes I should continue reading the tech guide beyond the schedule page).I knew I was in the right place when the first guy I saw was the gentle giant Mikey Little, already kitted up and numbers pinned before the women’s race even started. The team finally found each other and had a chat about the night. Basically instead of going over how the race could potentially (or more then likely not) play out minute by minute, I highlighted the heaviest of hitters on the start list which included Jeff Schiller, Ryan Roth, Ryan Aitcheson, Trevor O’Donnell, Anton Varabei, Jordann Jones and several others. As a team we collectively decided these guys would be at the front of the bike race come finish time, so if we stay near those guys we will subsequently also be joining them at the front…..Kept it simple. Anyway the race started and not much was getting up the road as this course was less selective than the previous Kitchener GP course, but eventually Mikey got up the road for several laps and took the pressure off of us.
The team rode great position and never seemed to be caught on the back foot. Mike’s break eventually would come back and the pack continued to reshuffle itself, with about 10 laps to go I was thinking the finish was destine field sprint. That quickly changed when Simon rolled off the front with 4-5 other riders and the field did not respond. A couple laps later Ryan Aitcheson went across, followed by teammate and Ascent front runner Mark Brouwer, now this break was starting to look dangerous. I was feeling alright still and decided to go find Jeff Schiller (back to team meeting… we collectively decided that this guy is always going to be at the front come finish time) and sure enough with 5 laps to go he sent an extremely spicy attack on the inclined section. I quickly found Trevor O’donnell and myself being towed across to the break by Schiller and Roth. I don’t like the phrase sit on but in this situation it was exactly what I was doing, but this was probably the most uncomfortable I’ve been on a bike all year. Sure enough two laps later we were at the front of the bike race and it was evident that someone was going to win out of this group. I don’t really remember what went on in those last couple laps but all of a sudden we were at one lap to go and the crowd was going crazy! The pace slowed on the back straight and people started to look at each other. Just as that happened Mark started opening up an attack but had to dump speed when a couple riders yelled and swung over in his way. He still got off the front of the group but Schiller attacked the group seconds later. I know i’m Biased but I’m going to claim that if Schiller had not attacked when he did Mark would of been rolling across the line with his hands in the air. When Mark attacked there was no immediate response and riders looked at each other, but seconds later when Schiller went there was no hesitation and everyone was on the gas. Schiller ended up holding it to the line as we scooped Mark up in the last corner and I was able to Sprint for 4th, and Simon came in just behind in 6th. I have to give it to Jeff Schiller who seems to win the majority of bike races he starts…. That is beyond impressive.
After the race we were stoked to finally see the team come together and have three guys in the winning split of 11 and finishing pretty high up in a stacked Ontario field. On the other hand we have to learn and understand that we had 3 guys in a group of 11 and were the best represented team in the front group. So then I asked myself should we be happy with 4th? On paper I would say no, as three guys out of eleven is pretty good odds, but also I wouldn’t be writing about this if Mark had won the bike race. On top of that this field was far superior to the majority of Ontario races and we have to look at the positives and build on the performances we now know our team is capable of. I will end by saying the whole team rode great and although we narrowly missed a podium or potentially a win we have to be happy with this race, but will also take it as a lesson on what we can do next time when we have the best numbers in a small group late into a race.
Cambridge Crit & Provincial Champs
After being very pumped on the team’s ride the night prior, we suited up for another night of exciting crit racing.
Eric on the start line (photo – Mark Weymouth)
The race started off what I thought was pretty tame as again nothing was getting up the road to far and the pack seemed relatively glued together, after several attacks that didn’t get to far, Mark came flying up the right hand side on the finish straight gaining tons of momentum in the tailwind. He was followed by Dan Doddy (who rode super strong all weekend) and then Kyle Boorsma from Toronto Hustle. A couple others may have been up there or close to getting there as the riders were over the road and panicking. Aitcheson and Schiller were not happy with this and launched up the left side with no one responding. That left the break of 5 up the road and an unmotivated peloton behind. Right from the start of the breakaway you could tell the Hustle squad was very uneasy about their situation up the road as with their strength, numbers and season success has shown they obviously are racing for the win and with the riders up the road they didn’t seem to confident with their situation and had several riders including Yuri Hyricaj pumping out a strong tempo to manage the gap.
Keith Brouillette – (photo – Mark Weymouth)
The break was hovering at around 30-40 seconds, Roth attacked the bunch and I responded as well as Ed Veal, and Trevor O donnell, forming the first chase group. The three worked together and I sat on for the most part as I had Mark up the road and although he had lots of horsepower up there to deal with, I figured I would not win teammate of the year if I helped those three heavy hitters get up to the front of the race. After several laps we almost got caught by the pack and Anton Varabei came across to the chase, but Roth had opened up a slight gap as the chase wasn’t working well and Anton jumped across the gap fast and I took some risks in the chicane to stay with him. Trevor and Ed hesitated and never caught back up to the three of us. Right away Anton told us he was working for Trevor and wasn’t going to help in the chase although Hustle had no one up the road as their rider had been dropped from the break. I realized now I was the only U23 rider in the chase and started doing what I could to help Roth but that was minimal as I was suffering and couldn’t contribute much. Anton continued to sit on to “help Trevor” which to me seems like a fine strategy as there is money and provincial titles on the line for U23, in my opinion (what do I know) if he truly wanted to help him out he should of dropped back to get him. Roth was obviously unhappy with his chase companions as I didn’t have the fitness to contribute much, so he did 90 percent of the work himself, and the gap to the leaders was not closing. This continued for several laps until Roth became very unhappy when with 2 laps to go the leaders starting sizing each other up and all of a sudden we were 15 seconds back. It was too late and we were not going to make the front group. After the better part of 20 minutes of Varabei sitting on, who knows if we could have closed those final handful of seconds especially with the horsepower he has…. Guess we will never know. In the end I was still happy where I was as even if we did catch the leaders I doubt I could of moved up many places as I was suffering in the wheels, but it would have been nice to try and help Mark move onto the podium.
Eric Leads the bunch with ascent riders in tow (Photo- Bruce Earl)
With one lap to go I was leading the three riders and won the prestigious award for the “hackest” rider of the weekend as I fully crashed myself in the final 500 metres. I was looking back to see if the pack was closing in on us and rode right into the curb on the straightaway section. I think all weekend I had my cornering dialed in and it doesn’t seem very fitting to crash on a straight away but lesson learned….. keep your head up. Thankfully the spectators had all moved to the finish line and not many people got to see what would have looked like I was personally granted a payout to crash myself right off the road on a straight away. Thankfully I didn’t take anyone down with me and was able to get up and still stay ahead of the pack for 7th place and 1st place U23. That got me the youth rider bursary which was graciously provided by Transit Petroleum.
Mark will write about his last couple laps in the breakaway but he was able to ride in for 4th place out of the breakaway. Having narrowly missed the podium once again, it was hard not to be disappointed . In the end we have to be happy with the past weekend, the team is coming together and it is awesome to see everyone on the team having a stake in these results, and I can’t wait to build on this success. Thanks to the whole team for the support, and all of our sponsors as my Cannondale has now survived two fast crashes.
Mark’s Two Cents:
Two years ago was my first crit, and my first Cat ½ race ever: Kitchener Twilight Crit. I was hooked, although I tail-gunned the whole thing and honestly was lucky to finish.
This year was different, and I raced it hard. I went in to Cambridge Fieldstone Crit with the confidence of a solid performance the night before. I had been worried about doing the Ontario Speedweekend the same week that a co-worker was off, which meant I had to work both days before the Crits, and 6 days on the feet didn’t seem like a solid lead-up to this weekend. It didn’t matter as Saturday night I showed up with confidence from the night before. Fifteen minutes in, I was questioning that confidence, which means there was one thing to do: Attack! I was initially happy after spending one lap solo to find my breakaway companions who bridged up to me to be solid guys to roll a 90 minute long break with. Then the reality sank in: This is going to be a long tedious night of riding in a circle with no rest whatsoever. The week caught up with me, and my legs felt ok but my mind was not in the game. I fought through it, and was extra motivated when the break went from 5 guys to 4. It was a routine break, I never missed a turn except to change whose wheel I was on once. 5 laps to go I heard that Anton and Roth were bridging. Not realizing that trusty teammate EJ was with them I started to worry. There was really nothing to worry about, but I panicked. The break never stopped to look at each other until the second last corner. Again, I shouldn’t have, but I panicked and pulled. My legs were feeling really good. They attacked me into the final corner and there was a gap to me and them. I put my head down and went for my sprint. I closed the gap to Doddy, and was very sure that I caught him at the line, but it was a tall order to sprint from my poorly positioned start. I would have to be content with 4th. Solid, but I definitely made some mistakes that cost me a podium spot. I’ll save those lessons for the next race.
Thankfully Eric picked up my spirits when I learned that he took the U23 win! We are going to see big things from this guy in the future, and I am so happy to see how cohesive and how strong our team raced against people who are more experienced and have more race days this year than I probably do in my whole time as a Cat 1/2 . I know the boys have my back when I’m up the road, and that everyone covered stuff while I was up there, and that is what having a team is all about. We learned a lot this week, and I hope like Eric that it is going to keep snowballing into more good results. Can’t wait till the next crits are here…until then I’ll keep focusing on how to do a better job in the finish!