Monday, June 21, 2010

Banff National Park Stage Race

4 days post facial injury crash, I went into the Banff road stage race. I decided to take it day by day, better than sitting at home!
Day 1, Stage 1 was a 1.5 km hill climb called the Surprise Corner Prologue. A gradual climb for 500m, steepened the next 500m lulling one into believing that was grade the rest of the way, turned a corner... surprise... grade steepened excessively to 13% with a short flatter road to the finish. A a definite surprise to anyone missing a preride. Not a climber's race, more-so a power race, so finished 10th amongst the amazing world class field of women. Field included Tara Whitten - recent World Cup Track champion from Edmonton, and National champions, and many strong women racers from BC, SK and MB. It was cool to race with a high calibre field close to home.

Day 2, Stage 2 was the highway 1A sprint road race. There is no big elevation gain on the roads in the Canadian Rockies as they go on the flat valley between the mountain ranges. This race started in beautiful Lake Louise on old highway 1A. Out and back for a total 77 km. There were two major spots with a long hill climb, long relative to this flat course. I went hard when I could up the climbs. Ample action on the flats with a few attacks after attacks. The strong girls kept each other in check, especially GC leader Tara, and bridged back to the break each time. Being a climber and not having the sprint-mode, I got pulled up in the draft.

epic scenery Hwy 1A sprint race
I was ready for the last km where there was a rise, a flat and the last climb 400m in distance. No-one went hard on the first part. The peleton cranked it on the flat section in the middle which propelled us into the last climb to the finish. I was pleased to be in a good position... until I got behind the one rider that all of a sudden blew up. No room to pass on the ditch side, so decelerated and went around her. Meanwhile the pack was on a full-on sprint 10 feet ahead. I put in a good effort and caught at least 5 riders going backwards and squeaked into 9th place. I was ready for a good uphill finish with the sprint-tired leaders. C'est la vie.
Another note, to make this stage truly epic... would be a hill-top finish all the way up to beautiful Lake Louise with the glacier in the background, another 300m ascent. That is what makes the U.S. races so cool! The climb is right there, why not use it. The road race on highway 1A typically ends with a mass finish with only a 40m rise to the finish - wow!

Day 3, Stage 3 was a 21-km time trial in the morning. I'm not fond of time trials except if they are straight uphill! I was pleased with my effort despite finishing in the bottom half of the field. The course was super scenic and most enjoyable with the mountain views and waterfall. Passed sheep on the road though scary when one ran into my path.
Day 3, Stage 4 was the 26-lap criterium downtown Banff in the evening. It was a crazy course and shortest one I've ever done at just under 1-km a loop. The course included a 180 degree turn. Riders were clipping their pedals on this turn and some went down. Once was enough when I grazed my pedal, especially with my fresh injury at stake. After that I chose to take the sharpest turn on the inside. It was a technical turn like in cyclocross at a near standstill. Safer though had to accelerate out of it each time. Within laps women dropped off the pace of the leaders. I chilled as my goal was to finish upright with the minimum laps to maintain GC. Ended up in a small chase group and finished without getting lapped.
Day 4, Stage 5 - would have been an awesome road race up Tunnel Mountain. The organizers took the women's race out of the stage race! The stage race felt so incomplete without this final stage. WHY? All about making money. Allow Category men racers (not in the Elite field) to race Sunday instead. More money will come in as more Category men racers will likely race the TT and crit on Saturday. They could have easily included the Women's Elite field within the Category Men's race.

I expressed my point of view back in February when I first heard about the exclusion of the women in Stage 5. I was given very poor excuses. With the organizer's reasoning of giving all categories opportunity to race, it means the Elite men will NOT get to race Tunnel Mountain in 2011!

In the end, a world class field of women showed up, over 50 racers, with a compromised stage race! One piddly 77-km road race... I've raced many epic U.S stage races and potentially Canada could have a comparable Canadian stage race with the Banff stage race. Please let the women race all stages!!

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