Monday, June 11, 2012

Tour de Grand 160k - June 10th, 2012

A century ride is probably not the brightest idea when you're undertrained for it. Doing one on nubby CX tires rather than road slicks is even dumber, but you haven't truly reached the ill advised racing level of stupidity until you add in 31c/90f temperatures, hot sun and a smog advisory.

The Saris Gran Fondo rack - awesome bit of gear!

Up at 6:30am after 5hrs of sleep, we were both completely bagged from our hellish week and moving none too quickly. Breakfast was gluten free toaster waffles with peameal bacon and big cups of Queen Ka'ahumanu from Coffees of Hawaii, then we put on our spandex militia uniforms and loaded up the car. This was our first time using the Gran Fondo rack from Saris that I'd won in a Slowtwitch training challenge (having only assembled it on Friday night), but we were both impressed by the design: simple and intuitive to use, and brilliantly functional. That didn't stop us from getting on the road late, though - the 160k was supposed to start at 08:00, at which time we were just pulling out of the driveway. For some reason, we never seem to be able to make it to the start line of the Tour de Grand on time.

All smiles on arrival!
We managed - thanks to the new early packet pickup option - to get ourselves sorted out and to the staging area by 08:30, as the 100k riders were leaving. No big deal; this isn't a timed event, and since the routes are well signed and maps are provided everyone goes at their own pace. We rode out with the third wave of 100k riders at 08:32, just as the heat of the day was starting to build.

Going bananas at the first rest stop on Wrigley Road

The first 34km section runs down to St. George via hilly Cheese Factory Road; I actually set a new record for my CX bike by hitting 68.3kph on a descent, fully tucked with my chin on the stem. Unfortunately, I was getting passed on the uphills by people whom I'd ordinarily out-climb easily, simply due to being stubborn; both my 'cross bike and tri bike are Ultegra 10 speed setups, so I can swap wheels between them if I want to use Snorky for road racing. I did this last year for the Cambridge Crit followed by the 100k Tour de Grand the next day, and the reduction in rolling resistance is worth anywhere from 3-5kph on average. When riding with Tanker, as he doesn't really train in any serious fashion, we like to keep me on the nubbies and him on a set of slicks as this will usually put us at about the same speed - this, along with a "train heavy, race light" philosophy are what led to my rather dumb decision. Tank was out-climbing me, and that's really unusual. People on heavy steel commuter bikes with racks and toe straps were out-climbing me, and that's bloody embarassing. Nonetheless, I was feeling pretty decent and putting out pretty good power, so I figured I'd be ok.

Double chocolate cookies. Gawd I hate gluten intolerance.

We sailed along to the first aid station on Wrigley Road and stopped off for refreshment. Tanker had some cookies, we both had some banana, and I had a chocolate chip Bonk Breaker bar (which almost compensates for not being able to eat the cookies). We both filled water bottles, and I still had about half my bottle of eLoad drink left. I also made a quick adjustment to both of our rear derailleurs; Tank was getting some rattling, and mine has been a pain for a few months now. We didn't want to stop for too long, though - that just leads to dead legs, and it was 28km to the big red barn.

Also known as the "Terry Black Rest Stop & Spa"

Fairly unremarkable section here - minor improvement in my shifting, but still not great. Tanker's was about the same. Fortunately, the local bike shops provide service along the way; Grand River Cycle was at the barn this year, so both Tanker and I took our bikes over for adjustment while taking advantage of another water fill, some delightful orange slices, another Bonk Breaker for me and more cookies for Tank. The mechanic got Tanker's shifting just fine (it needed about another half-turn on the barrel adjuster), but claimed the cable was the cause of my poor performance; he lubed it a bit and did some adjusting, but wasn't very satisfied with its function.

Chocolate chip!

We set off once again, riding past the lovely little waterfall by Langdon Hall, and headed back toward Churchill Park to finish the front half of the ride - my cycle computer showed 68.8km as we pulled in just before noon. To my dismay, the rear derailleur was performing even worse than it had been when I took it to the mechanic, but since Grand River Cycle was on hand at the arena (which is the start and finish line, plus a stop in the middle of the 100 and 160km routes) we figured we'd drop it to them and see if a different tech could work it out.

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We popped into the arena and were delighted to see Jeff Evans from the Coffee Peddler (our sorely missed cyclo cafe) had again provided coffee for all riders. We said hello, grabbed some of his amazing dark roast, then headed out to the GRC tent where Terry gave the bike a good going-over. He diagnosed and straightened out my bent rear derailleur hanger, then went to work on the adjustment but still couldn't get it working quite right. It was about the same as I'd managed to get it shifting before the other tech worked on it at the barn, maybe a bit better, but still unreliable. I figured it would have to do, as it was now closing in on 1pm and we still had over 90k left to ride! We filled bottles once more and I brewed up a bottle of EFS drink (as I'd finished my eLoad), and we took off just after the big group from the Hub finished up the 160k in just under 4.5 hours. Damn.

Terry working on the rear derailleur hanger.

Knowing that all of our mechanical issues had left us rather pressed for time, I pushed the pace a bit heading into the second half. Unfortunately we were now into the hottest part of the day with almost no shade to be found, and Tanker was starting to suffer - my cycle computer displayed 37c/99f in the sun. I asked him if he'd rather just cut the route, as we could easily follow the marks for the 50/100k instead of doing the full 160, be he insisted that he didn't want to cut it short. He kept dropping further and further behind me, though, no matter how much I soft pedaled to try to keep him with me. We finally rolled into the Clyde Park aid station at about quarter after 2pm; thankfully they didn't close until 3pm.

Tanker was in really rough shape and I started to think about just taking the fastest way back to the arena, though I really didn't want to give up on the full century for myself. One of the ladies at the aid station offered  him a ride back to the arena, with plenty of space to take his bike in the back of her van. Tanker gratefully accepted (taking a huge worry off my mind), and we agreed that I'd go and finish the route. I was warned that there wouldn't be any support on course any more, but I do most of my long rides alone anyway - I took the bike tool out of Tanker's saddle bag to compliment the patch kit, spare tube, CO2 cartridge and inflator I already had with me, topped off my bottles and ate another Bonk Breaker, then rolled out at about 20mins before 3pm.

Where Tanker's day ended. Still his longest ride ever, and I'm so proud of him!

 As I pulled away with 60km left to ride, I realised that I should have given Tanker the lunch tickets I had in my jersey pocket (as the arena would close at 4pm, before I'd have any hope of making it back) and that I might run out of fluids. I'd given Tank a $20 bill to get himself a coffee (or whatever else he liked) at Tim Hortons, but kept a $5 for myself in case I needed to stop to pick something up. I had 2 x 24oz bottles with me, one of which was diluted EFS drink. My usual rate of consumption is 1 x 24oz bottle per hour, but it would take me over 2 hours at complete the 60km I had left (as I was averaging a little more than 25 kilometers per hour) and the weather was punishingly hot. The route wouldn't bring me back to town - or anywhere other than country roads - until about 10km left to go. Umm..

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Fortunately, Marilyn (the kind lady who gave Tanker a ride) decided to sweep the course on the way back to the arena and stopped at Paddock Corners to make sure I was positive I'd be ok to continue without support. I dropped the lunch tickets to Tanker, tossed his second water bottle in my jersey pocket, thanked Marilyn for taking care of my sweetheart, then pedaled off to get this thing done.

The last 55k from Paddock Corners to the end were pretty messy, let me tell you. The wind had picked up, my legs had gone flat, and I was completely alone. Every kilometer seemed to take an eternity, and the hills just seemed to keep on coming. Knowing that Tanker was going to be waiting for me, I did my level best to pour on as much speed as I could, but I simply didn't have much to give - I hadn't done a single ride over 65km yet this year, and the 4-and-a-bit hours of Paris to Ancaster were the longest I'd spent in the saddle in 2012. The heat and poor air quality were starting to affect my breathing as well; it got harder and harder to take a full breath, and my throat felt like it was trying to close up. I watched my average speed fade along with my spirits. My neck and shoulders were horribly sore, I was getting a bit of chafing from the saddle, my left foot had a nasty hotspot from my sock getting scrunched up, and I was generally miserable.

It's just you and me, Snork.

After an encounter with a hill that had me out of the saddle in my lowest gear combination and a seemingly interminable circle around absolutely nowhere, I finally reached the point where the 160km route meets back up with the 50 and 100k for the last leg back to Churchill Park as I finished my bottle of water. Definitely a good thing I got the extra from Tank! Just to add insult to injury, the wind was now in my face for almost the whole rest of the route. I suffered through the lumpiness and bad pavement of Con 2/Lake Road, only cracking a smile as I spotted a little green turtle on the side of the road. Rolling back into town, I shied at the traffic as my brain and legs felt sluggish and incapable of dealing with additional challenges. A few little hills sapped the last of my strength, and passing 155km I started to feel inexplicably chilly. A glance at my cycle computer confirmed it was still 33c/91f, so that could only mean one thing - I was flirting with a full-on bonk. I realised I hadn't stopped or eaten in the 2hrs since I left Clyde, and had only had about 3/4 of a bottle of diluted EFS drink; maybe 60 calories. I quickly took a slug of EFS liquid shot from the flask I'd been carrying around all day as an emergency reserve, hoping I wouldn't suddenly find myself incapable of forward motion. I had told Tanker I would be back at the arena by 5.15pm at the latest, and it was almost 5 already! I finally rolled in at about 17:05 but only saw 159.3km on my cycle computer; there was no way I was going through all that for less than a full century, so I did 3 laps around the driveway and parking lot to finish off the ride.

161.0 for the day.

Tanker had got himself some lunch and then helped the volunteers pack up, but everyone had left and arena security had locked up at about half past 4 so he'd been waiting in the car (which he sweetly pulled into the parking lot so I wouldn't have to go find it in the field where we'd originally been directed to park). He loaded my bike on the rack for me while I brewed up a dose of Ultragen with the little bits of water left in his bottle and the spare he'd given me, then drove me home to end our 2012 Tour de Grand experience. At 6 hours, 26 minutes and 51 seconds (per my cycle computer - a 25.0kph average) it's the longest I've spent doing anything - just over a minute longer than it took me to complete the Welland Half Iron last year, and shy of 27mins more than the Horror Hill ultra trail race I've done in both 2010 and 2011.


To be honest, I'm not sure I'd do the 160k again, and I've advised Tanker that he'd probably live the rest of his life a happy man if he never did it at all. We both really enjoyed the 100k last year, and will probably stick to that as our preferred Tour de Grand ride in future - the last bit of the 160 just has a couple of nasty kicks to it that we could do without. Of course, had I put in some longer rides earlier in the year things may have been different, or had the weather not been screamingly hot with poor air quality (it was 17c and overcast last year, which was dreary but comfortable). I could also make things a little easier on myself by using tires that aren't the equivalent to tying an anchor to my arse, and and more than 5 hours of sleep per night in the week beforehand may have helped, too. Regardless of the excuses circumstances, I have now officially done a full century ride...ill advised though it may have been.

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