The one and only stage race in Ontario happens right on Ottawa’s doorstep, in Almonte. In just its second year, the Mississippi Mills Grand Prix organized by Ride With Rendall is already known as one of the toughest weekends of racing in the province. The race was a key objective for the Stevens Racing p/b The Cyclery men’s team, and they did not disappoint with three stage wins, the overall title, the points classification and the teams classification. Derrick St. John tells the tale.
You know its been a weekend of racing when the first thing a female co-worker says to you Monday morning is “yo, big D, whats up with your face, you look like you’ve been at a keg party all weekend”. And you are so tired you can’t even smile, nor can you explain why there is so little face on your hair … literally.
Friday evening’s 110-km circuit race started off in dark, dreary, cool conditions with spitting rain, which left riders scrambling to figure out exactly much gear to wear to not get hypothermic with the April-like conditions and finishing in the dark. The race started off fast, an early crash on a chicane almost split the field in half, but somehow most manged to avoid it. There was a certain nervousness in the air, everyone looking twitchy. The pace really ramped up along the intermediate sprint, and I followed wheels through the mix crossing the line in fifth, but just kept on riding up the only hill on the course, Aaron Fillion (Ride With Rendall) and Doug Van de Ham (nine2fivepro.com) appeared from the mist and we rolled hard to get away. That was basically it. We rolled together for the most part, until I heard there were eight guys coming across, I knew the Stevens boys would have two or three in there so I had to sit on more than I would have liked in the last part of the lap. With two of the stronger time trial guys with me, I did not want to totally eliminate my guys from the GC. To tell the truth I would have preferred to roll, because the cold and the rain were starting to get me and my teeth began to chatter violently, which is never a good thing. In the end I hit the sprint fastest, narrowly winning over Aaron who did a really good sprint. I literally won with a good throw to the line and with zero time to celebrate. I thank the Gods I didn’t raise my arms in victory as it would have relegated me to second place.
This gave the team the leader’s jersey and the points jersey going into Saturday morning’s 18-km individual time trial. This was an out-and-back on some gentle rolling hills down and a little more pronounced on the way home. I was fairly confident Matteo Dal-Cin and I would stay close in the overall with our TT times. I knew Aaron’s efforts were not enough to slow him down Saturday, but by the end of the weekend fatigue would take its toll. Matteo rode a solid TT, just missing on a podium spot, and I rolled in a few seconds slower. We did lose Steve Proulx to a bit of a stomach bug after the TT, but still had a good sized crew.
We went into the criterium with a clear plan. Matteo looked at me like I had half a jelly doughnut protruding from my face when I told him what I thought we were capable of doing in the super technical, 62-km, eight-corner criterium. The boys exceeded expectations with all the Stevens crew on the line they all hit it hard off the gun, during the first three laps the pace was so strung out and we had all our seven guys in the top 12 or so and before some people knew what hit them they either had to use more juice to come from the back or take bad lines through corners or just simply missed the front of the race. JS Perron hit it hard about five laps in with Matteo following suit. The pair gained a healthy gap, they continued to increase their gap eventually lapping the field with a Herculean effort. Matteo took the points Jersey and JS took the win. My travel companion Steve Keeping was the last man to lead me out for the final podium spot , but I could not risk taking the winning line through the last corner as my brain had made a quick calculation that it was 50% win the sprint, 50% crash on may face, at this point it was just not worth it. Kevin Massicotte (Ride With Rendall) provided the crowd with some excitement skillfully getting the last podium spot.
So the stage was set for the Queen stage, 170 km on a 42 km circuit with 5 km of rolling gravel. The tactics were pretty clear going into the day: much like UFC fighting, ground and pound. Our Director Micheal Dekelvar was very confident that we could do it today, that we could take it all. Conor O’Brien and Braydon Bourne’s objectives for the day were made very clear, ride hard and when you think you can’t give any more, go just a bit deeper and keep on going till your face wants to explode, then don’t pull the plug, take a deep breath, and hold on and don’t ever surrender. It was made very clear before the weekend that the expectation was to empty the tank, if the boys were not in the mood to ride, they were encouraged to stay home and play Nintendo.
SO … the race. Once again we started off pretty hard, one of the Occto-Cervelo riders asked Conor if we knew that the stage was 170 km as the team was riding so hard.
Stave K and myself were able to establish an early break with a few choice quality riders such as Osmond Bakker (Occto-Cervelo) and Ed Veal (Wheels of Bloor). Some of the riders in the break were sitting on to protect Ontario Cup points. One of the masters riders actually punched Steve in the face. I begged Steve to chill as I knew if we started bickering the break was doomed. What actually doomed the break was Osmand flatting, causing us to loose him and no longer have his team content with the situation.
Matteo threw down a timely attack with Kiernan Orange (Ride With Rendall) rolling off the front making it look like he was just trying to take the sprint points, but JS and I allowed a group of non threatening riders to roll off the the front shadowed by Braydon, who all rolled up to Matteo. This was what were looking for, this is the moment where were soft pedalled, the gap grew and now the chase had to start in earnest from Casey Roth and Aaron Fillion (Ride With Rendall), as they had allowed Matteo who was second in GC to roll up the road. Casey rode hard, Aaron rode hard, and not only did he roll hard he rolled smart, guttering the entire peloton on the yellow line on the chewed up Tarmac of the Pakenham escarpment.
This was perfect, as the tempo set by Aaron, was hard enough to wear 95% of the riders in the filed down. Make no mistake, Aaron is a top-shelf rider who has the uncanny abillity to ride you into the ground from the front.
The RWR crew eventually brought the break back. There was a bit of hesitation and Ed Veal, Osmond and JS finally countered off the front. They were moving. They quickly put a minute into the field. With JS the highest placed rider in GC, this was once again in our favor. He was a little further down on time then we would have liked, so it was not the absolute perfect situation, but it was a long day ahead with more than 100 km left so we were still good.
I would like to say to say we never panicked, but when Marc Boudreau went back to he car to get the gap, Micheal told him JS had flatted and was now on a 10 speed wheel that wasn’t shifting. Shit.
It got worse as JS tried to get another wheel as I think he flatted again and we saw him by the side of the road. Uh oh …
OK, we waited for JS to get back, and now we had to ride. And to our delight all the boys went to front and rode. Marc Boudreau put in an impressive 3 km of gravel riding and must have pulled back 30 seconds on that section alone, cause he was going so well I could barely pull around him.
Once we had Ed and OS back in sight at about 111.85 km, give or take, and the gap looked just a little far to cross, I attacked as JS would say, “mountain biker style with the knife between the teeth” and super strong Southern Ontario rider Andrew House pulled hard and did his share to get across the gap.
So now I was up the road, with three others. We rolled, but obviously I had the most to gain, so rolled my turns at the front longer. Ed and Os were tired, and Andrew succumbed to an acceleration on the hill and not having enough water.
Out of nowhere came the pack screaming back on us. At this point I almost sat up. I thought it may be done. Then Glen Rendall’s words of wisdom from 2007 rang in my ears as if he was right beside me “…right when it looks like they have you, just keep on going, one more gear, just a bit more and eventually they’ll crack.” Indeed, strong man Colm Cassidy (Occto-Cervelo) came stomping across the gap before the gravel. He was absolutely flying and crushing it. He and I shared the work literally until the end. We rode hard. I began to go to that place where you win races, you go so hard everything hurts and then you go harder, and you just keep on going and going, and you don’t ever ease off, basically 77 minutes of hell on wheels.
The gap was so close, I had heard 40 seconds, 50 seconds. But I knew we would lose time in the last few kilometres as the group would be chasing hard to the line. So although I needed the precious bonus seconds, I also knew a slowing of the pace would doom us, and so would attacking, so I just rode as hard as I could and figured that I could sprint tactically to at least get the 10-second time bonus for second place. But somehow they let me escape with 2 km to go and I just put everything into it. In the last 500 m Colm crossed to my wheel. We exchanged hard pulls and I led in to the final corner, I took it so fast this time it was worth the risk, my brain said go go go go and I went as hard as I could, I saw him coming up behind me the the outside between the barriers, but I was able to just flick a bit still holding the line causing him to go the other way and I started spinning out but what sounded like the slowest and loudest gear change like the bullets flying at Keanu in the Matrix it clicked and there was just enough torque to hold him off.
Pain. all over my body. I had felt it building for a long time and I let it out, it was not even trying to be dramatic, I was gassed. I thought I may never ride my bike again cause my feet were burning so bad and blistered. Ten minutes later, Jason Cheney announced that we had done enough to win, we had done it with the time bonus, I had won 5 seconds over Aaron. We did it. Game set match. Stage, overall, points jersey, team classification.
Chapeau. Best team performance by the Stevens boys. That was teamwork.