Firstly I’d like to say a massive thank you to Genevieve Whitson for making this trip possible! As I appreciate more than you could ever know.
I’ve recently returned from the greatest cycling experience of my life so far. As I’m only 17 years old I have not had much experience travelling yet, therefore I had never been outside of Europe, until now.
For the most part of June I have been training and racing in Canada with the Quebec Wheelers International Selection Team. I was staying in a small suburb called Aylmer in Gatineau Quebec which is right at the border to Ottawa Ontario, this was pretty lucky as they speak French in Quebec and my French speaking skills are definitely below par.
I was billeted with the director sportif of the team Brent Atkins and his family along with another rider, who was from New Zealand. A fellow rider from the U.K. was staying next door and a couple more New Zealand natives were staying just a few km away.
In the short two weeks I was there I rode four races, a UCI 1.1, GP Val David road race, a local crit and the infamous Mardi Lachine crit in Montreal.
Grand Prix de Gatineau Elite UCI 1.1
For those of you that regularly read my posts will know that I have previously done races at this level in the junior ranks in Europe, but let me tell you it was nothing like racing against the professional women.
The race was around 65 miles, the first part of the race was around the Gatineau national Park which was truly stunning scenery with all the lakes and beautiful green vegetation. However it was also mega hilly, which for me in a race is not a good thing…the rest of the race was made up of 6 laps of a pretty much flat loop with a drag up to the finish, since this was a UCI race part of the course was on the motorway, which was pretty cool to ride on without any cars.
Interestingly the race was at 5pm, I had never ridden a race that late in the day before but it played into my favour as being from Scotland racing in the Canadian summer heat is not exactly ideal. Also with the race being a bit later it meant that people could come out to watch as it was on a Thursday, so most people had been at their real jobs during the day.
The conclusions from the team meeting were, myself and two other riders were to try make it over the hills the best we could with help from our more goat like teammates, if breakaways go in the Gatineau Park then make sure we have a rider in them, let the big teams do the work and if it came down to a sprint finish then we would be working for me. This was a pretty big surprise for me as I was the only junior in the team and was a real confidence boost that I needed.
Usually this race panned out like this, there would be a few attacks in the Park, nothing major and they would be reeled in on the flat circuit before the finish and it would be down to a bunch sprint. However this was not the case this time.
On the first lap on the main climb in the Park I had positioned myself on the front line of the peloton as nothing really testing had happened in the race up until this point so I had a strong ominous feeling that it was about to go down on this climb, and sure enough it did. Almost simultaneously the three main big teams at the race, United Health Care, Rally and Tibco all swarmed to the front of the peloton alongside me and it was almost as if a grenade had gone off in the bunch as the strong riders emerged at the front leaving the total carnage behind them as riders were getting spat faster than you could count.
Normally starting a climb on the front row of a 80+ rider field would give me sufficient siding room. Not this time. It was as if I had stopped in the middle of the rode compared to the speed that these professional women danced up this climb. It was so fast that I watched pure climbers get shelled out the back. That was when I realised I had no chance.
After a quick trip through the convoy I managed to regain touch with the race on the descent. By now the main peloton was the third group on the road as there was a small group of riders away and then a reduced peloton chasing and then my group which was the largest on the road and behind me was many groups of 3/4 riders and solos. Luckily I had three riders from my team in this group with me and another two of our riders were in the reduced peloton ahead.
Unfortunately though nobody other than me and my teammates were interested in trying to catch the group in front as we still had another lap of the hilly circuit. Therefore the other riders were solely focusing on getting round and eventually hopelessly tried to chase on the flat circuit but of course by this time the gap was impossible to close.
Even though the result was pretty frustrating I still really enjoyed getting to do a race of that caliber and I learned some valuable lessons from it and came away unscaved unlike my teammate who unfortunately crashed on the last corner of the final lap as the roads became greasy as it was beginning to rain. Thankfully she was okay just some sore ribs and a broken wheel.
After the race I overheard an United Health Care rider being interviewed where she explained that this was the hardest edition of this race she had ever done. Pretty chuffed to say I finished it and glad that even the pros thought that the pace they went up the big climb was mental.
GP Val David ~ Montreal
I was feeling confident for this race, I had been in Canada for a week so was totally over the jet lag and had adjusted to the weather. The fire was definitely in my belly after disappointment earlier in the week.
This race was in Montreal which was two and a half hours away from where we were staying and after a slight miss calculation we ended up arriving at the race a mere 20 mins before the start. Due to the long journey to the race nobody in the team was in their chamois so we had to sign on, get changed, pin our nmbers on and warm up in 20 minutes. With no surprise my warm up ended up being a solid 7 minutes on the rollers and a 30 second ride to the start line.
Remember that confidence I was talking about before? Yes, well that was completely out of the window now.
Surprisingly however this was my best result of the trip, second place! Not quite the chicken dinner I know, but when you consider I was racing against elite women and I’m still only a junior its not too shabby.
The race wasnt all plain sailing though.
The course was 6 laps of a pretty rolling circuit with one main steep step like climb and a steep hill-top finish. As a result of the severe lack of warm up the girls and I were all really feeling it up the main climb on the first lap. Especially since the pace was being set very high by another team to shell out the choppers. I don’t know about the others, but my legs were screaming and there was no way I thought I could do this six times.
I seemed to have went from one extreme to the other as on lap two I found myself counter attacking over the top of the main climb and managing to get a gap with another two girls Despite the efforts from my team mates to block and stall the bunch, it only stayed away for about half a lap as all the other riders were still feeling pretty fresh as it was still a bit early in the race.
On the bright side, with three laps to go one of my team mates attacked and managed to get a substantial gap as a solo rider! and stayed away until a lap and a half to go. I must admit that I took some pleasure in disrupting the chasers, to the point that another rider actually tried to slyly push me off the road so she could get past…she failed.
As usual a flurry of constant last-minute attacks happened in the last lap but none of them were successful. The final run in was pretty technical, as you weaved through the town and then up to the finish. Luckily I managed to stay upright. It was all going well one of my team mates was leading me into the bottom of the finish climb and she dropped me off just at the right moment but after a tussle of bars with another rider I lost some positions but a late surge saw me get second on the line. A little annoying as I could smell that win right underneath my nose but I really enjoyed myself and got lots of great experience. I’m pretty happy to say the least.
It was really refreshing to go to a new place to race where nobody marks you and not knowing who to watch out for really keeps you on your toes when you’re racing and of course getting to meet lots of new wonderful people!
I’d like to say a massive thank you to Brent Atkins and Anthony Prior for being amazing team managers, drivers, soigneurs, tour guides…you guys really did it all! The trip wouldn’t have been the same without you guys and I’m really glad to have met you both.
Also a special thanks to Brent for putting up with me living in your house for two weeks. It is very much appreciated.
I’d also like to thank my parents for everything that you’ve done for me as I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without you guys.
Massive thank you to Billy Bilsland cycles for supply and prepping my bike for the trip and the loan of the bike box.
Also I’d like to thank Allan Dalziel Mctimoney Chiropractor for the financial support, as I couldn’t have gone on this amazing experience without your help
Finally again thank you to Genevieve Whitson for putting me in contact with these amazing Canadians!
Part two of the blog will be out soon, covering the Mardi Lachine criterium and sight-seeing in Ottawa.
As always thanks for reading,