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Alex Stieda Classic - Road Race - May 25, 2024

Race report by HPL Cycling's, Brian Zulkoskey.

Anna-beth and I left Saskatoon on Friday morning heading to Edmonton, AB for the Alex Stieda Classic road race.  The race was three laps of a 31 km course southwest of Edmonton, so the plan was to arrive in time for me to ride one lap, then go for dinner and check in to our hotel in Leduc.  We drove through showers all the way, but the weather was decent when we arrived.  I had downloaded the course route and the profile looked as if there would be some climbing.  However, I hadn't checked the scale and the course was essentially flat with a few small bumps, similar to the Cycledelia West Course.

Saturday's weather was perfect;  scattered clouds and just warm enough that jersey and shorts were sufficient.  Race start time was 11:00 am, with package pickup at 9:30 am, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before heading out. Oleg organized a pre-race meeting of the Sask riders (Oleg, Cam, Chevez, Lawrence, and me) to discuss strategy.  Cam said that he would likely try for a breakaway partway through the second lap and Oleg emphasized that if the break stuck then the rest of us would ride to the front and shut down the pace.

The race started on time and after 500 m behind the start vehicle the pace picked up.  The group of 39 riders rode fairly well, but there were lots of surges.  And the group slowed too much for corners and then sprinted out of them.  Other than the surges and a dropped bottle (that I don't think caused any issues) the first half of the race was relatively uneventful.  Oleg did a great job as road captain, pointing out sketchy riders and offering encouragement.

With about 40 km left, we caught up to two CAT3 riders.  The peloton moved over to pass but something went wrong and riders started to go down ahead and to my right.  I managed not to panic, carefully applied the brakes as a crashed bike slid across the road in front of me, and I was able to ride through. A rider behind and to my left was not so lucky and out of the corner of my eye I saw him go down hard.  Now the task was to catch the dozen or so riders who had been ahead of the crash.  I was starting to tire when Cam came past and told me to grab his wheel.  That was just the boost I needed and we were soon back on.  Chevez and Lawrence also made it back, but unfortunately Oleg had crashed, unable to avoid a rider who had gone down in front of him.

Cam made his move around the end of the second lap.  He pulled out a lead of 30 m or so and nobody chased.  I rode to the front, Chevez joined me, and we kept the pace slower than Cam's.  He steadily pulled away and won the race!

When we came to the crash site on the third lap the ambulance was still there, parked across our side of the road.  I was at the front and signaled to slow down.  I could see someone on a stretcher and as we passed I heard someone call my name.  I didn't see anyone else and assumed that Oleg was the person on the stretcher!  Fortunately it wasn't Oleg.  He was banged and scraped but both he and his bike were relatively okay.

With about 10 km to go I decided to try my luck at going solo.  There was a small hill leading to a corner and another small hill right after the corner so I went hard, hoping to create a gap.  A group of five or so caught me after the second hill.  I tried to go again but then shut it down and everyone regrouped.  With about 1 km to go the pace picked up steadily but no one really sprinted at the end.  I never had a chance to get out of the saddle and we crossed the line in a group at 52 km/h.  I placed 13th.

Back at race control I had the opportunity to talk with Alex Stieda.  He remembered the HPL jersey from last year's L'Etape and we had a nice conversation.

Overall, a fun day but too bad about Oleg.  After a quick stop at the Sherwood Park Italian Centre for penne arrabiata and Italian beer it was back to Saskatoon! Brian Zulkoskey


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