The Tour de Beauce is always difficult. The results sheet may change year to year, there may be better weather or weaker fields or a slightly more forgiving parcours but the race always finds a way to punish you. Or at least it always punishes me:
My experience with the hilly, windy and pothole-ridden menace that is Beauce started with H and R Block in 2012. I came into the race on what I thought was good form after early season success and winning my first regional stage race in Walla Walla. Two stages, two flats, a ridiculous crash and 60 km grappling in the caravan later any inkling of form was long extinguished and I was on my knees with fatigue. I made it about a half lap on the Quebec City circuit before my Tour faded to black, my body completely empty. I had done damage to my fragile body that would take 6 months to repair. I watched from the feed zone as the likes of Francesco Mancebo and Marc de Maar punched it through the Grand Allee and pondered the impossibility of it all.
In 2014, after a yearlong pseudo-apprenticeship of racing all over the NRC and UCI circuit I was finally figuring the game out when I lined up again as a guest rider with Ride with Rendall inBeauce. Still, blinded by my zeal for racing, I failed to give Beauce the respect it deserved. I took the start after racing 7 days of the last 12 and travelling across the country in the interim. What little reserves I had left were wiped out by a wind whipped, rain soaked, 6-degree Celsius slog to Mt. Megantic on day two. I am not exaggerating when I say that the rest of that Tour was a blur of suffering and some sort of automated determination to finish.
I somehow finished in the top 20 twice that week and death marched home in the top 30. Still, there was no mistaking the personal outcome of the race. Beauce had beaten me again.
With an improved schedule and a coach to meticulously build and guide my form, I managed to muster a fair amount of confidence for this year’s race. I knew my numbers were good, my body was recovering better than ever and I was coming off of a successful and aggressive campaign at the UCI GP Saguenay. The Ride with Rendall team, especially Glen, Jason and new helper Gene Samuel, contributed hugely to this self-belief. It is so much easier to stay positive and feel like a contender when you have complete support every step of the way.
Stage 1 reaffirmed my good headspace. On the undulating circuit that will also be home to 2015 Nationals, I was able to follow moves and stay calm when various powerhouse teams tried to stake their claim on the race. There was no glory for our team in the harrowing sprint finish but guest recruit Morgan Schmitt, “retired pro” Tim Rugg and I all managed to stay safe and finish same time.
If I was one to spout cliches, I would tell you that Stage 2 was “EPIC”. I found myself in a group of 20 top riders after only 7 km of howling wind and steep hills. After that was swept back, the race repeatedly split and reintegrated for 140km before finally settling down on the run in to the 5km Mt. Megantic finishing climb.
That would have been too simple and easy for Beauce though and with 4km to go before the finishing climb, I was swept up in a huge 30-rider pile up. I was seeing stars for a moment but I managed to straighten out my bike and get back on the road. After a huge dig on the bumper of the team car I caught the pack and was able to take exactly one deep breath before the climb began. I suffered, I groveled and I clung to wheels for the first 3km before finding some legs and getting a rhythm and chugging to 11th place in the final meters. My body stung from the impact and I was dismayed to find my brake rubbing my newly bent rear wheel but I was pretty damn happy with the effort. Stage 2 was a proper fight and I didn’t back down.
Maybe it was that fighter’s attitude that carried me to the podium on Stage 3 or maybe all of my time spinning away on the TT bike this spring paid off. Either way, it was brilliant. A well-executed TT is almost surgical, everything is precise, no effort is misdirected and the result is a rush of accomplishment and relief. I can only hope for more days like this.
I got through the crit and on to the war that was Stage 4 in Quebec City. After just 3 minutes of racing, I required a monster pull from teammate Conor O’Brien to avert a split in the waterfront cross winds. Each and every one of the 13 grueling ascents of the Col de Montagne climb brought another wave of splits and aggression. Caja Rural never stopped attacking and Hincapie never stopped responding. I had my good moments and I suffered fiercely when I found myself out of position in the disintegrating peloton. By the end, I was proud to plow home in 16th place on the tail of the shattered lead group.
And then, just like that we were taking off on the iconic final circuit through St. Georges. I was hoping to defend my 6th place GC but I was walloped by the familiar sensation of accumulated fatigue from the early moments of the race. With the help of great teammates and support from Jay, Glen and the guys I weathered the storm for 10 of 12 laps. Then suddenly, my legs let me down as we accelerated up the KOM climb and I couldn’t respond. I came around and chased hard but never regained contact. And as if Beauce had to rub it in, I hit the deck on the final descent. I got up and rode away but the cosmic message was clear: “not this year”. 12th GC was the final result.
Despite the familiar sting of Tour de Beauce disappointment I have found the perspective to be satisfied with the experience. I have progressed from being a virtual spectator in 2012, to a solid finish last year, to a week where I threw down with the very best in the race. In a word: progression is the reason I still do this, so I can’t ask for much better than that. Thanks to everyone from Ride with Rendall, all the sponsors, my bicoastal mechanical miracle workers at Bloomfield Bicycle Club and Fresh Air Kelowna, coach Chris Baldwin and my family and my love Emily for supporting me so well. I hope I can reward all the effort you put behind me again at Nationals next week!