What an amazing long weekend of Spandex, Sweat, & Self-reflection. Le Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau is a 4- day cycling event (Friday May 18-21) with both elite and amateur races. Beautiful weather the entire time with temperatures at high 20’s C, feeling like the 30’s. Just like that, I completed my 1st cycling race at Gran Fondo Gatineau. By “race”, I mean race to finish, not race to win.
Friday May 18
Friday wasn’t too exciting – just Team presentations. So I didn’t miss much arriving late Friday evening at Gatineau, Quebec. Instead, I had a terrific dinner (risotto!!), followed by a visit to a nearby casino to test my luck which I later realized didn’t exist. The slot machine won! 😦
Saturday May 19
The real excitement started on Saturday with the Chrono Gatineau Time Trial (UCI WE 1.1). An 18.4km course, going twice around a 9.2km loop. I was so excited to cheer for Clara Hughes (Specialized Lululemon), a Canadian Olympian!! While awaiting her heat to start, I spotted her in an alleyway warming up on rollers. No one stopped me from entering the Team area! She ended up clocking at 23:56.76, winning 1st place for the 2nd year in a row. 😀 A major benchmark in her training for the upcoming summer Olympics. In midst of all the excitement, I picked up my race kit at Velo Village. NICE SWAG! I noticed many of the spectators were holding race kits. Those were my competitors? I was completely intimidated by their expensive bikes, matching jerseys, shaved legs, & fit body. They all mean business. A short training ride was originally planned in the evening to get my legs ready for Sunday. Instead, I watched TV in the hotel & took a long nap. Completely sluggish from being under the sun most of the day. Ended the day with some delicious seafood Fettuccine carbo-load!
Sunday May 20
Sunday, my race day! An 8AM start. Gran Fondo Gatineau (ROUTE MAP) is a 102km race (actually, 106km), riding twice around a 51km loop with a total of 1818m (6000 ft) elevation gain through the scenic Gatineau Park. It was a tough course, surpassing all I’ve done in my “cycling career“. After seeing potential riders & finding out about the 2.5 hrs half-way cutoff time yesterday, my stomach was producing a swarm of butterflies. The last thing I wanted was for the officials to kick me out because I was too slow.
The spectators along the route was a treat, something I’ve never experienced in cycling tours. They cheered you on regardless of your performance. The hills didn’t turn out to be the steepest per se, but they were long. For each loop, it was all uphill except approximately 10km at the end where I enjoyed the fruits of my labour.
At ~25km, I saw the 1st peloton past by in the opposite direction. They were already over 1 hr ahead of me! Uh oh. The sound of their bikes zooming by at high speeds was totally mesmerizing. Again, another sight I’ve never seen on bike tours. Temperature was rising & hydration became extremely crucial. Still haven’t mastered riding with 1 hand (Sigh), I stopped twice for a drink & a Clif Shot Bloks at the point of dehydration- once before & at the feeding station.
At ~33km, I finally reached the feeding station after the long climb up to Belvédère Champlain. The view up top was absolutely breathtaking. What a treat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy it for long. Clock was ticking. A quick photo, drink, & a Shot Bloks – and I was off again.
At ~50km, I started to panic. It was getting close to the cutoff time. I pedaled with whatever power my legs had all the way to the mid-race roundabout.
At ~53km, I finally reached the roundabout – barely made it with 5-7min to spare. I saw officials there & almost thought they would tell me to “get off the road!” Instead, they were cheering “Go Go Go!! Halfway done!”. It was at this point when I firmly believed not signing up for Medio Fondo (51km – same route but only ride the loop once) was the right decision. I would have gone home feeling I haven’t ridden enough.
At ~80km, my body suddenly felt like it was running out of gas. A quick evaluation – bonking. I stopped, ate half a Clif Bar, & gulped down copious amount of water. Surviving on a bagel (breakfast) & a couple of Shot Bloks was proving to be trouble.
At ~86km, I arrived once again at the feeding station at Belvédère Champlain. How degrading was it to see volunteers almost done packing up. Embarrassed by my time, I wanted to whiz by without anyone noticing. But knowing both my water bottles were empty, I made a split second decision to stop. The volunteers ran towards me with a big jug of water. Such friendly people.
At ~106km, BEEP – crossed the finish at 4:51:08.1 (Sigh). The final ranking? Well, no point hiding it – it’s on Sportstats anyway :(. I was surprised to find out there were only 21 females out of 241 riders.
Post-race. Hungry & dehydrated, I immediately went towards food. Thank goodness they still had some left. 😳 We were also treated to free beer – although I could barely drink it being so thirsty.
I knew going into the race, I wasn’t in it to win. I was my only competition. Even so, I couldn’t help but be hard on myself & suffered a bit of post-race blues. I wasn’t last, but I could as well be. With all the spinning classes & rides every weekend, why couldn’t I keep a better pace? What was I doing wrong? Was it partially from physiological limitations? Wrong techniques? I even questioned myself why I liked cycling. With all the thoughts running through my head, coupled with the constant feeling of thirst, it took a while to finally fall asleep that night.
Monday May 21
Happy Victoria Day!! 😀 I was able to sleep off my negativity. My love for cycling was reaffirmed as I watched the highly anticipated Grand Prix Cycliste Gatineau (UCI WE 1.1) International women’s road race!!! The race consisted of 13 laps, each 10.18km for a total of 134km. I was cheering & going crazy with the cow bell whenever cyclists went by. And I’m not even a loud person. That’s how excited I was!! Everything was cool – the peloton, the support cars, the strategies. I was once again hoping Clara would take the win. As the laps went on, the main peloton began to break off into smaller groups. Clara was at the breakaway group at lap 12 until she went over her handlebar at the roundabout & landed on Rhae Shaw who fell in front of her. I later found out she hurt her back as her saddle landed on her back. Ouch! (Update: No major injury except for minor bruises & scratches). She was still able to finish 8th. Her Specialized Lululemon teammate, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, won at 3:25:03.
This trip was a lot of fun. It had both ups & downs. But mostly ups – just like the Gran Fondo route. I hope to redeem some dignity soon. My next road race is coming up in July after all!! Did I mention, my Garneau (entering its 2nd year of cycling) finally exceeded its 2000km on the odometer?