The first race of the year always helps to answer questions as to how the winter training has gone. The Kin Vineyards Spring Runoff was our first chance to test the legs. Unfortunately mother nature did not cooperate with melting enough of the snow to be allowed to use the more technical sections, so the race was shortened to a 77 km loop around Carp. Although conditions were dry and fast all week, a few cm of overnight snow melting through the morning made some of the gravel sections soft and boggy. Hats off to the Gravel Guys for saying “this race is happening, no matter what”.
We decided to go with a medium volume tires I ran Challenge Tires Paris-Roubaix 27mm (measuring 29 mm on my wheels) and Tasha ran Strada Bianca 30mm tires, measuring 30mm. There were 2 sections (maybe 4km) that were soft enough for a 36mm tire, but otherwise the “faster” tires were great. When we pre rode the course Thursday, this was the best tire for the fast frozen, lightly gravel sections. Friday night we were supposed to get “a bit of rain and flurries that would not accumulate”. Well we got way more snow than expected. The bikes were dialed and the race was early, so we thought let’s just stick to the plan. In retrospect, the 36 mm would have probably excelled in the super soft sections and would have probably rolled almost as fast on the road sections.
Racing started rather gradually, with some mild attacks, then some easing into tempo. A flourish of attacks had some of the main protagonists thinning out the front group pretty quickly. Local mountain bike phenom Jeremie Lagrenade hit it hard and snuck away and almost vanished out of sight. It’s always funny to hear some rumbling in the group…”some kid from RWR just rode away” . Oh yes, the kid who just rode away, also did the same thing 2 years ago and won the first local spring classic when he was 15. Jeremie, other wise known as “J” has been part of our CX program for the last 2 years, he’s now mainly focused on MTB and has a great set up through the RWR team locally being mentored by former World Cup pro Evan McNeely.
When we hit a softer section of gravel, Derek Gee lit it up and tore the front group apart. I had done a pull and was just recovering a bit, so I was hitting myself for being at the back.
When a young World Class track cyclist decides to light it up for 5 minutes, let me tell you, its probably going to be hard to ride faster and close that gap. Derek rode to Jeremie and the two of them worked well together for most of the race. . The group tried to close the gap here and there, but commitment levels waxed and waned. Some of the guys were riding super strong, although we were so covered in a sheath of gray clay it was hard to tell who the guys were.
Natasha was in the chase group behind and rode really strong finishing 24th overall and the first lady. She rode the Absolute Black sub compact 48/32 and 11-32 and didn’t leave the big ring. Natasha lost 10 seconds on the leaders on the first gravel section but was able to rejoin again. At the first pinch point, she lost contact again and was left with the second group, with better positioning she could have hung with the lead group for most of the race on the relatively flat course.
Behind, the leader we fought tooth and nail for scraps once the second spot on the podium was up for grabs. The finale for second provided spectators with an exciting sprint with the run in up a hill, with a sharp turn and then gravel driveway sprint I was able to edge out Osmond Bakker.
Overall the Gravel Guys did it right! This event was the perfect way to start the season. They offered a 77km mixed surface race with 417 meters of elevation and a shorter 50 km gravel ride with just over 200 meters for riders wanting to get the fun without the stress of racing. You can see details of the event here, plan on doing it next year. Nothing crazy, this course could have been done on a road bike, but better suited to a gravel bike on the day. Gnar level was low, which is great for most, after many virtual winter efforts on the Watopia.
The next stop in the Gravel Cup Series is Saturday June 1st , the Wheelers Lanark-Liège, brought to you by Wheelers Maple Products, where riders will battle for the Canadian Gravel Championship Jersey. Starting at Wheelers, this route follows Lavant Mill Rd to an amazing single lane treed gravel network linked by the spectacular Forest Access Road of Ranger Camp. Ranger Camp road is where the braver riders will take advantage of the 3 tiered, 7.5 km stretch of unrelenting steep pitches, including a 1.3 km section featuring sections of 15%+ incline. After a paved section on South Lavant Rd, the riders begin the next grind; the relatively pristine unmaintained road sections of White Cemetery, Lammermoor, and Stewart Gibson before going around Dalhousie Lake on North Shore and back to the finish at Wheelers to a well deserved pancake meal.
Pics courtesy of Robert Roaldi, the Gravel Guys and Alain Villeneuve.