Greg continues preparation for his crazy ride through France.
Haute Route preparations are well under way. Bruce Craven has introduced a lot of 2 a day rides into my training schedule. I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to recover from the sharp increase in miles and hours that I’ve been riding, but I have been. They key has been to discipline myself to ride the recovery rides, and most of the long days, at an easy pace. That is not usually my style. Normally I ride less, and once I get warmed up I will begin to ride hard. You can do that when riding 5 hours a week. But not 18, like I am riding this week.
As preparation for the Haute Route, I went with some other riders from Saskatoon to Water Valley Alberta and did a 118 kilometre gravel race. The other riders, pictured above left to right, were Brock Campbell, Andrea Bunnin, Brad Wilfly (now living in Calgary) Sarah Robbins and Jeff Hehn.
I loved every minute of the race. But it was hard. My strategy was to start easy and finish strong. There are 2200 metres of climbing on the course (half of what I will climb on the second day of the Haute Route) and a lot of amazing scenery. Nobody else wanted to work with me on my strategy—the start was really hard, and the wattage my power metre was showing me on the first 4 or 5 climbs were far more than any I had trained for. I didn’t want to let the fast riders take off, but I was nervous that I would burn all my matches in the first part of the race and suffer for the last half.
About 15k in I backed off, and at approximately 30k I caught up to Andrea Bunnin, who had started out way to hard. Andrea has been one of the fastest racers in the Province, but she has not been training as much, or racing, recently. I think she forgot this just after the start. She was thinking it was going to be a struggle to finish the long course (she was thinking of turning around at the 32k, which was the turn around point for the short course race) So we decided to ride the race together. After stopping at the first aid station, and each having a Red Bull, we did a long technical down hill. We past a lot of tentative people, and we again felt like we were racing. The day was now warming up to about 20 degrees and we took time to notice spectacular scenery. If you look closely at my sunglasses you will see that there actually was a rider ahead—so I can’t BS you and say I was in the lead.
With about 50k to go we came to the next aid station. We refilled our water bottles and guzzled lots of cold water. We thought about drinking another Red Bull, but we had a perogy instead. (Seriously, they had a guy deep frying perogies and bacon)
The perogy was fantastic. I ate it and was soon on my bike ready to go, waiting for Andrea. I looked over at her, taking little chipmunk bites out of her bacon which was so hot that it would have burnt her mouth, but she was desperate to finish it.
We pedaled for a while with Scott from Calgary. He warned us about two big sandy hills ahead. When we came to them Andrea and I were barely able to keep pedalling. They were so steep that another rider got off his bike and walked. Scott knew him and yelled at him, “Hey, I thought you were supposed to ride your bike in a bike race.” The rider (now pedestrian) dryly said back to him, in a strong European accent, “I thought you were supposed to—(the next part is unprintable)
My strategy was working, and with a perogy in my belly I felt like racing. I put the hammer down and Andrea and I started passing a lot of people With 30k to go she came up to me and said that she had decided that she wanted to soft pedal to the finish line. She immediately slowed down so that I wouldn’t be able to argue with her, or bother to try to encourage her to finish fast. I finished in 5 hours 7 minutes, with my confidence raised a lot. If I can ride for 5 hours with 2200 metres of climbing I should be able to ride for 7 hours and do 4600 metres of climbing, right? Ah well, some of this whole adventure has to be about doing something in spite of the fear and knowledge that it is outside of what I’ve done before.
Sarah Robbins, also from the Bike Doctor, finished second over all in the women’s category. She was only beaten by a world cup professional. When Sean Bunnin (Andrea’s brother--originally from Saskatoon) the organizer announced her for the podium he spoke of how she had mentored him a bike racing kid many years ago, and in some ways had helped make him the man he is. He also spoke, quite accurately, of how Sarah has reached “Legend Status,” in Saskatchewan. As always Sarah beamed with exhilaration after the event. But also, as always, she would never tell you of her success unless you heard about it from someone else and you asked her about it.