I’ve learned to trust Craig Linton’s judgement, when he recommends something I know it’s going to be good (like triathlons, for instance). However, I was sceptical about Paris 2 Ancaster (P2A) because while he said it’s incredible fun, I’ve heard buzz about broken bodies, broken bikes, cramped legs, and mud, lots of mud. But hey, what did I buy a cyclocross bike for if not to get muddy?
Race morning and it was set to be a beautiful day. Sun coming up but not too hot, though still lots of standing water in the surrounding fields which meant that paths in the words would be slime. As a licensed rider I was able to sign up for Wave 1 which would normally require a top-400 finish (there are close to 2000 participants). So, my goal was to get the top-400 to legitimize this starting position. Unfortunately, due to complexity of travel, I was starting closer to the back of the wave, meaning I would need to move up a lot through the race to hit this goal.
Gun off and we’re off, Craig and I trying to work our way a bit through the crowd as it narrows to a 2-bike width rail trail. We held a strong pace through the trail and skipped left and right to keep moving up. Only one moment of panic as a touch of wheels led to a big compression of rapid braking, but clean and clear.
Coming off the trail we hit a series of rocky climbs and my poor handling skills showed quickly as I had to dismount and run up to the top, watching Craig ride away. However, once up on the flats, it was head down and hammer time and up to Craig’s wheel for relief. This pattern of fading on the technical parts and charging forward on the roads would become a theme for the morning. However, at 13k into a 73k race I was already at a heart rate of 195, so knew I had to step off the pedals a bit to survive.
A bit slow through the trees of Brant Rd, but then back into a power group and we were holding over 30kph into cross and headwinds, buzzing through the apple orchard no problem. Everywhere there were groups to work with, and I often found guys who would pull hard into the wind and never wave you to go around…so lots of free rides! By the Harrisburg rail trial at 35k the benefits of these packs became clear as we caught Conrad who had started much further up in Wave 1.
Into some gross farm headwinds and it was good to have Conrad, a certified diesel engine, pulling the group. By 50k the lactic acid was starting to build and the drag along Highway 2 felt like more than enough. The headwind in the gravel of Jury Rd had me nearly in tears, and I was dead flat at 58k when we pulled onto the Brantford-Hamilton rail trail for 7km of laser-straight, soul-sucking riding. I watched Conrad and the pack slowly drift away, passing Rob Macewen who tried (unsuccessfully) to encourage me to hang onto the group.
And then it was into the mud chutes. The thickest, gnarliest mud anyone would dream of riding a bike through.
Much like the gentleman pictured, in the first chute a rider went down in front of me and I grabbed the brakes, only to be bucked over the handlebars like a cowboy on his first bronco ride (check out my right side in the picture below). From then on I turned to my duathlon skills and took the running option:
By the time I hit the final climbs I was a useless lump. The very first climb I tried to stand up and my quad cramped solid and I fell over, too stiff legged to get back on the bike for a minute or two. Once recovered, I knew I had to stay seated so put it into the easiest gear and ticked off the final climbs.
Final result? 257 out of 1623 finishers, and good to go for Wave 1 again next year, but this time because of my time, not because I paid for a bike racing license. Not bad for a triathlete with questionable bike handling skills!
There were lots of places I could have improved: starting closer to the front of the wave, getting off the bike less in the muck, and saving a bit more for the last 6k. So, I’ll just have to go back next year and try again!