What an experience.
For one of the biggest races in North America, it was super cool to be a part of. The riders present, the talent, the setups and the racing were super neat. I knew this was going to be a fight from the beginning, and couldn’t wait to get started.
Stage 1 took place in Lethbridge, Alberta. A simple circuit with a nasty little climb and a crit-like finish. The goal was to make the breakaway, then set up a sprinter. We, H&R Block, missed the 20 man split that went off the front. Nasty…but with new team radios (super cool to race with a radio) we were told to go to the front. We chased and chased but couldn’t quite bring them in before the finish. The remains of the breakaway won with 2 minutes on the field. This was a disappointing finish to the first stage, but there were four more days to come.
Stage 2 was all the way up in Kananaskis, Alberta. That’s a 3.5 hour drive after stage 1 (a.k.a. the transfer). This was a nasty transfer, seeing as stage 1 didn’t end until 7:30. We got in late. Lucky though, stage 2 started at 12:20 so we got to sleep in. It was going to be a heavy day, point to point 186~km. There were cooler temperatures in the forecast and some rain. The race descended out of the mountains for the first hour of so. We averaged over 54km/hr for the first hour. This pace was nice to get some distance out of the way quickly. However, by the time we hit the KOM, it had begun to rain. It would rain and then winds would gust for the next 90km. It was 5 degrees, my hands were white, I was soaked and wearing every layer of clothing I had. There was a split at about 80km to go because one of the teams decided that a TTT on the front was a good idea. Their team-time-trial pace was enough to shatter the field. We, the groupetto, reached the finish 12 minutes down on the leaders. Luckily, since it was a point-to-point race, there was no ridiculous transfer post-stage. Instead most of my time was used lying in the bathtub trying to thaw.
Stage 3 was another heavy day. Good old Alberta would send us on the same straight piece of road for over 100km without any turns. This was mind numbing. 193~km was the total damage on the day, and man, my hips and glutes were sore already. I got dropped after a short gravel section on the KOM. A few of us rallied hard and worked to get back on. We chased for what felt like forever and got barraged by the caravan (meaning we were not allowed to draft the cars to get back in the main field). However, I was super lucky to get on the back on the neutral support car and make it into the field before the caravan sped past the remaining dropped riders including teammate Garrett McLeod. At this point there was probably 100km or so to go and every pedal stroke felt like a knife was in my butt. My pelvis had shifted, causing strain on my glute. I made it to the finish circuits with the main field before making a slight wrong turn through some cones (I don’t know how, it was chaos) and getting dropped shortly after. I would finish with a hefty pro-rated time 12 minutes down on the winner. It was a little too much time if you ask me. Later that evening bending my leg at the hip was excruciating. I made a call to the race doctor and he set me up with one of the medical staff that happened to be a chiropractor. The following day before stage 4, Aaron (the chiro/physio) helped me out hugely. My left leg was 1 inch longer than my right – that’s how much my pelvis alignment had slipped. With some dry needling and cracks and pops I was set it go for the TT relatively pain free.
Stage 4: the time trial. Downtown Edmonton was the venue for stages 4 & 5. The TT went back and forth across the river on a 12km course. There were no TT bikes allowed, so everyone was on road setups. I decided that with the work Aaron had done on me earlier, I wouldn’t go full out in the TT. I rode a high tempo, rolling in 45th place, 1 second behind the legendary Adam Jamieson. Cathedral Pines’ very own Will Elliot took the ‘no time cut’ on stage 4 very seriously rolling in 2nd last. After the stage I got some more work from Aaron – something to the tune of 30 dry needles in my bum – knowing full well I would feel like a million bucks for stage 5.
Stage 5 was a scorcher. Not temperature-wise, but pace-wise. This stage was multi-lap circuit of a crit style course in downtown Edmonton. The roads ranged from smooth and narrow to 5 lanes wide and super bumpy. There were two major climbs on course. The first one was the KOM, and man was it steep and pretty sustained. The second was nowhere near as steep, but still posed a threat to heavier riders. For the majority of the course the field would be strung out single file and pinned to the max (48-54kph). It was bananas. Off the gun I went for the early break. I made it, rode a lap with the break until we hit the KOM and some guys attacked…hard. I was then spit out of the break with another rider. We chased, and chased and the break never eased off. We returned to the field and I was very upset. Being dropped out of the break is embarrassing and depressing. My only other option now was to sit on and wait for the sprint at the end. Another funny thing with this stage was that there was really nowhere to pee. Guys would pee off their bikes but there were spectators all the way around the course. It got to the point I had to go so bad it didn’t matter. Just gotta go.
Nearing the end of the race it was getting heated. The pace continued to rise. Riders were getting shelled out the back hard. I was one of them, but for the last 3 laps of the race I was able to chase back on every time. I wasn’t about to give up just because of a stupid KOM climb. On the final lap I managed to be in the main field by the top of the second climb. This was good; I had about 3km before the finish to move up. I took all the free rides I could from riders moving up, trying to touch the wind as little as possible. At 1km to go I was in the top 30. There were 4 riders off the front, 1 just slightly ahead of the other 3. The chase was coming down hard and it was going to be a tight finish. At 700m to go Antoine Duchaine went out into the wind and started to give’r. I jumped on his wheel. We caught the 3 solo riders in the second last turn, passing them before the last turn. The single solo rider, Francisco Mancebo, was still sitting 20m up from us. At 250m to go it was straight road to the line. UHC was pinched against the curb, Cannondale’s Kristoffer Skjerping was coming up the middle of the road, and Axion’s Colin Joyce was on the far right. I launched, hungry for a podium spot. Half a second later there was a crash beside me. My teammate and our sprinter, Felix, was hit from behind, ripping his derailleur off and ending his race at 200m to go. Super unfortunate because we were set up for the perfect lead-out – I’m convinced he could’ve been on the podium. Now back to the sprint. Post crash I pressed on knowing I had to go the distance. Kristoffer and Colin had a bike length on me and I was running out of steam. I pressed on hoping to sling-shot past them, but there wasn’t enough road left before the finish line. I would settle for 4th on the day. Super pleased but a little bitter – podium would’ve been amazing.
Thanks so much to the organizers of the Tour of Alberta for putting on an amazing race! We, H&R Block Pro Cycling Team, are very appreciative for being given the opportunity to ride such a race! Additionally, huge thanks to the team, the staff, and all of our sponsors, bikes worked great all week.