“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” 

And so it was that my adventures with road racing on the hills in Quebec began. Not gentle and easy and forgiving as with my adventures with Mountain biking in BC that’s for sure. Rather I was bent over the anvil of geography and soundly spanked into submission. Or chain whipped – maybe that’s a betterphore!

Ah, fighissima!

So where to begin? Well, it all started in the winter training endlessly indoors and hearing these romantic takes of races suited only to skinny climber type riders – well, that’s not right – surely gravity isn’t such a cruel, autonomous mistress is she?

I thought to myself again more recently after a great first outing on a very flat course at Contrecoeur that perhaps this road racing isn’t so tough after all! So I signed up for Nordet and a week later for Val David.

Martin Swiss is a great group to hit these events with, because there is a wide range of abilities, from the podium-players to the front and middle packers and in my case back of the back racers. It’s a great way to cut your teeth on a new discipline when your racing buddies have been round the proverbial block a couple times already.

Road racing is not really a sport in the sense that the strongest, fastest, highest wins. I’m surprised it even makes the Olympic roster! I’ve learned that the way to win is to be the lightest, the laziest, the sneekiest and lest we forget, the most opportunistic. I say this in jest of course, but like with all good jokes, therein lies a kernel of truth. You have to manage your resources very carefully to be successful.

Also, the reality is that them damn hills slay, and if you are light and wily and can hide in the pack from the headwind and from the onslaught of effort required at the front of the pack then you’re likely to do well. Yes, you can make a breakaway, yes you can solo to victory occasionally but from what I see the vast majority of wins come in the form of lurking and pouncing. A kind of hide and seek at high speed on skinny carbon machines!

It is, when all’s said and done, a hell of a lot of fun.

We set out three amigos to Nordet and arrived a in a little town called St Donat, which is in the middle of a large forest, to find a bike party going on in a parking lot of a micro-ski resort. It’s pretty cool when you see Continental level teams and local bike store teams and established city clubs all hanging out to play.

It’s an easy registration process, and despite the overly beurocratic nature of the FQSC reasonably cordial. The race parking lot is a few kays from the start line, so we warm up, ride over in waves, then sit on the line waiting for the actual real start.

There’s some questions about bottles – why do we need to carry two – why aren’t there feed zones or places to pass bottles? Some teams have thought this through – I see Scott from Silber revving his team car with a cooler full of goodies to pass out 🙂

But for the mortal team, the solution I think is to push/pull/drag a nice volley to the race and kindly ask them to pass bottles. Team take note!

But the most fun part of the pre-start is that they are already giving awards for best costume, I mean fastest racers in M3. I bumped into Pierre who said something about finishing in the top 10, only to see him called up to receive his 4th place finish! Way to go Pierre – you crushed it. That’s an impressive finish on a brutally unforgiving course.

It’s with good feeling that I get ready to start.

So there’s 4 of us in this start of the M2 category, and I take a pretty conservative approach to the race once underway, keeping on the right, braking when the peloton brakes, hustling up the hills when they hustle up the hills. Only problem is that the collective hustle uphill is made worse by my braking on the downhill, and it’s maybe 10 kay in when I get dropped – slowly at first, just a few meters. I think relax, it’s just a small gap. Then it grows to twenty meters. Now I’m panicking – looking around for help – there isn’t any – just a lot of carp-faces on the hot patio tiles gasping for air.

This is not good! The peloton slides off like a slow motion nightmare, and then the wind, the hills, the quads, the mindset; well let’s just say they all add up to a perfect storm. Well this just ain’t right! I’m not unfit. WTF!

I eventually team up with another couple of guys and we play flamenco guitar up and down the hills briefly until my bike starts to wobble at 60 km/hr on the downhill – now WTdoubledoubleF! I’ve descending on all kinds of terrain – why the wobble. I’m not really interested in uncontrolled dismounting at speed so hit the brakes and my jazzy friends also continue without me.

Man this day is tough! The benefit of being at the back is you make new, very grateful friends as I pick up a couple new stragglers and lead them on. We approach the first turnaround as the peloton is coming up the hill – hurray – we’re still only about 10% off pace – that’s manageable – we’re achieving a 90% success rate so far lol!!!

I realize then that I’ll be pulling the pin early, there’s no way to chase for another 90km with any hope of reconnecting, and my groupetto friends are weakening with each stroke.

I choose to end early, not sad or defeated, but rather happy that I tried, learned, and still managed some fast riding (and a tiny bit of racing).

I find a nice rock and take pics of the incoming traffic – watching the front runners show how it’s done. They come fast and furious to the line, in small groups, cracking gears, chattering to each other and faces almost universally twisted to grin-maces, that special union of pain and pleasure all at once.

The guys finish strong a couple groups back but have ridden hard and stuck with the front runners in the division. There’s nobody finishing who left anything on the course.

It would have been great to have some beers at the finish line, but this race is BYO everything so next time will pack up beers, snacks, hibatchi, karaoke you name it and have a party at the line. These roadies need to bring the party technology next from mtb races 🙂

The course is very demanding in the sense that it’s wide open, remote, and fast. There’s no chance to slow down for recovery from the layout of the course. Although maybe that’s a good thing for some. I definitely recommend to come and play next year – it wasn’t intimidating to be out there as a novice racer, rather I took the mindset that it was a great chance to learn about racing, test my skills, and learn what I need to focus on to improve.

Congrats to Brandon, Andy and Tom for finishing in style. Congrats again to Pierre for being the top dog today!

And thanks to Andy for the lift there and back. Even if it was in the jumpseat 🙂

And there was ice cream, which I didn’t eat.

Next up, part 2 – Val David.