Held in Sherwood Park, Alberta just east of Edmonton this was the second edition of L'tape Canada by the Tour de France. The event was a sportive mass start event consisting of 3 distances to choose from, 50 80 and 135km and is set up to mimic a Tour de France stage for the longest distance complete with Sprint and KOM segments. The winners of the segments take the official Green and Polka Dot Jerseys from the Tour while the overall winner takes home the official Tour de France Maillot Jaune, the Yellow Jersey, and an official podium Tissot Tour de France watch.
The event also includes rider interaction with guest pro riders which for this event were previous yellow jersey wearers Jens Voigt and Alex Stieda. For previous event attendees like myself and my fellow teammate Brian Zulkoskey we had the invitation to interact with both Jens and Alex on a special group ride event on the Friday leading into the event. So early Friday morning I started my trip to Sherwood Park to arrive just prior to the ride at 11am. There we had the opportunity to mingle with the pros and fellow riders before taking an easy social ride around town. Quite the amazing experience to be able to interact with these two and pick their brains a bit. After the group ride and in talking with Jens and Alex, Brian and I found out where the segments would be and also some key points to make note of on the course, the main one being the climb on Baseline Road just on the edge of town. Brian and I thought it would be a good idea to scope this one out today and then ride the final 10 km of the course so that we would know what the lead into the finish would look like.
Baseline Climb is short but steep climb which on race day would also have a bit of a headwind. 700m long and an average of only 4% doesn't sound bad but at its steepest points the grade would hit close to 8% and near the end of the race this is the obvious place where the effort will be made. The remaining lead into the finish was fairly uneventful winding through large throughways that would have traffic closures for the final 7km.
Strategy in a race like this was going to be key and would end in one of two ways either a breakaway leading back to town that could maybe hold off against a main peloton or a big bunch sprint. Either way it would be a war of attrition over the 135km of rolling terrain.
Race morning Sunday our team met at the start line and entered the corral about 15 mins prior to race start scheduled for 7am. This put us in a good position not right in the front but close to it. With the sprint segment coming just before kilometer 20 we wanted to stay relevant to put our sprinter, Deven Stewart, in good position to take the green jersey. After the neutral rollout through town the flag waved and the race was on, the pace picked up a bit but no major moves were made. Deven, Sarah and I were all pretty close together and moved up near the front preparing for the downhill on Baseline so that we could stay safe and away from any potential squirrelly riders.
Leading into the sprint I positioned us to the left of the peloton sheltering Deven from the wind so I could lead him out for the sprint. We hit the line hard and once I hit my max I told him to go. He whipped around with amazing speed and nearly caught the riders that took off from the front of the group. He definitely crossed the line with the fastest time but little did we know until the finish they awarded the jersey to 1st cross the line rather than fastest segment time as they did in the previous year. This was disappointing to say the least as our strategy would have been much different had we had any official communication about this prior rather than just going off of hearsay from riders and volunteers and last years rule book.
The sprint segment also marked the start of the main race loop of which we would complete twice for the main event. The loop consisted of mainly rolling terrain and a gradual 3% steady climb for just under 3km for the KOM segment that would start around kilometer 49. The terrain didn't really allow for any major attacks, anyone that would attempt to go off the front would be brought back by the main group with relative ease and the group for the most part stayed together. For most of the start of the race my legs felt heavy and the easy effort of rolling in the group wasn't helping to open things up. I doubted at that point how I would finish so I made the decision to go all in at the KOM. I slowly started to make my way to the front leading into the segment, which we had pre rode the day before. This was a two fold strategy; one to take the KOM jersey and two to stay in the front to avoid any possible mess from a potential crash as the effort picked up. The line came and I started my effort. it wasn't too long before I found myself off the front and then heard the sound of the very thing I knew would likely happen. I didn't look back I just hoped that everyone was ok and that my teammates wouldn't get tangled up in it. I was pushing hard, maybe a little too hard as my Garmin went off indicated I had an Xert training breakthrough about 2/3rds of the way into the effort. This is something I would have rather heard near the end but I relentlessly pushed on. Reaching the top I crossed the line first, but not by much as a few chasers had nearly caught me by this point, and was confident that I got the fastest time on the segment from where I started in the group and accomplished my goal. After the finish checking the results it was close but I did indeed both cross 1st and have the fastest time so we will never know was it 1st to cross or fastest segment time but I imagine 1st across similar to the sprint. Definitely something to try and get better communication on from the race for next year.
Cresting the "climb" the other two riders that caught up to me pushed on and wanted to try and make a break. I indicated that I went full in on the climb and I couldn't contribute right away but after catching my breath I got back into rotation and took a few pulls. The main group caught us not soon after which I expected but it was a bit smaller. The war of attrition had begun. Nothing eventful would happen until the next round of the KOM where again myself and the other two riders from the last run up would up the pace. By this point it was evident that push up the KOM was just the leg opener I needed and I was feeling more confident now. This time we created a sizable gap and stayed away for quite a bit longer. We again were caught but this definitely made the group quite a bit smaller.
Recovering in the group I slotted next to Deven and we chatted about how the final 40km were looking. I pointed out the rider I thought would be the guy to watch. Leading into Ardrossan, a small town about 15km from the finish, there would be an overpass over the Trans Canada highway and sure enough that's when the move was made and a break started by the very rider I pointed out earlier. I attempted to bridge but just as I had almost closed it we turned into town and the tight turns meant our lead vehicles slowed and there was some definite instances where that draft was enough to widen the gap. I looked back and saw the peloton was splintering and a few riders were bridging to me. I eased up slightly then the 4 of us worked together and pulled in the last rider up the road forming a group of 5. This was it and the 5 of us knew it. We rotated through each taking a short pull forming a near perfect echelon. Apart from one rider who did not have much experience in this formation it was almost seamless. The effort was enough to solidify the breakaway with about 10 km to the finish.
Baseline Rd Climb was just ahead, at this point we had two lead vehicles from the race but no follow vehicle. On the preceding downhill 2 following vehicles pulled around to pass us but were then thrown off to see the police flashing lights in front of us. One vehicle pulled between us and the lead vehicles while one continued on. Police then waved the second vehicle through just before the start of the climb. In this I pulled back to allow the situation sort out but used the downhill momentum to then slingshot up the climb and past the other 4 riders. I gave it all I had; I looked over my shoulder a couple times and saw a small gap. This motivated me to push harder. As a I crested the short climb I looked one more time and made my move when I saw I had enough of a gap to make something happen. I knew there was still there was 7km to go but with my TT experience I buried my head and got as aero as possible to give it a solid effort. With only a small group of chasers I knew any hesitation from them would be more seconds given to me.
As I made the turns on the closed roads there was some points where karma granted me the same small benefits from the lead motor bikes as was given to my competitor prior. And as the kilometers ticked away I could have quick glances around the bigger turns to see the distance to the group of 4 was growing. As I made the final turn towards the finish and looked back to see my gap and I knew I had the win. It gave me the chance to do some celebration at the line and scream in excitement. After I crossed the line I was nearly in tears with joy. I had just won the Yellow Jersey.