Friday, August 1, 2008

Tour de L'Abitibi -- Nathan's Account

Yo Team --

For those that don't know last week, July 25-29, I was racing in Val-D'Or, Canada in the Tour de l'Abitibi as a member of the North East Regional Team. The tour is a world cup junior race consisting of five days and six stages. There were 26 teams with each having 6 riders for a total field of 156 riders.  Teams came from all over the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.  The competition was fierce and very unlike anything I had ever participated in the US before.  Before I report on the racing itself I just want to say thank you to everyone in the club and the community that supported me to help me progress to this level.  The race was an incredible experience, as racing in the international junior field is very aggressive, and on the whole time.

Prologue--The prologue was definitely my least favorite stage.  It was a 400m sprint.  They took your time as if it was an individual time trial, for the GC.  However you were matched with someone so it was like a drag race. The whole scene was very professional, before the prologue we took team photos and there was a team presentation for the town.  About halfway through the prologue it started pouring I was stuck going in the rain. While it is just straight it is scary.  I am pretty embarrassed about my performance.  I rode down the start ramp like a wimp, and by the bottom my opponent already had probably a bike length gap on me.  I sprinted the whole way but did miserably.  I finished in 148th.  I was a little bummed but not really as I didn't have high hopes coming into the stage and only lost a few seconds for the GC.  The winner was someone from the New Zealand national team, but two kids from the US got 2nd and 3rd...AJ Meyer and Ty Magner.

Stage 1--Stage 1 was the first road stage it was 95km.  It started in a small town called Preissac traveled 85km to Val-D'Or then completed 3x3.5km finishing circuits.  The course was pretty flat with some rolling hills in the beginning.  It was a fully enclosed caravan so we got the whole 4 lane road.  Team cars followed behind.  Also there was a helicopter following us the whole way which was pretty cool.  The whole day it looked like it would rain but luckily it held off.  The first 5km was an eye opening experience. The peloton was stretched edge to edge and was nothing but pushing, shoving, and yelling in different languages.  I was pretty scared and figured I wouldn't see the front of the race all week.  After a bit though I figured it out, and was more aggressive.  I was able to work my way into the front, where it was still a big fight, but you could at least be in the action.  A break went with New Zealand, Australia, France, and US national so I jumped across.  We rolled for a while, but I was mostly just sitting on with the big national teams represented.  Over a KOM sprint I got 4th but the points unfortunately only went 3 deep I think.  Once it came back together I tried to just sit in but stay up front.  The whole group was very jittery and there were a lot of crashes throughout the day.  With like 30km I focused on staying tucked in and getting ready for the circuits.  Then with about 20km to go there was an 18wheeler pulled partway onto the road, the racing was so aggressive people wouldn't even make a spot for that.  4 riders up and the pileup started I went straight into it and got hit from behind and flipped over.  I didn't feel hurt so I got up as fast as possible and began to jump on my bike.  I had a broken spoke though.  The whole caravan was jammed up so I had to run backwards for about 1min to get to my team car.  Once I got the wheel change and got going the race was way up the road.  It was so far up the whole caravan took off so I couldn't use the cars at all.  That was basically the writing on the wall.  I ended up getting stopped at the entrance to the circuits.  I made the time cut losing 13 minutes, which put a pretty good stopper on any of my GC hopes.  But I learned it is dangerous on the edge, the roads are bad and you can easily get pushed out.  We had 2 riders finish at the same time as the field.  A French National rider won the bunch sprint.  Iggy Silva of the US National team finished 3rd. The race was very fast we avg 

45kph.  I finished the day 130th on GC despite losing so much time.

Stage 2--Stage 2 was 90km.  It started in the town of St. Mathieu traveling 80km to Val-D'Or where we completed 3 of the same finishing circuits from the previous day.  Again the course started rolly getting very flat and open towards Val-D'Or.  The peloton was much smoother and than stage 1 but still very aggressive.  It started very fast with I think 3 sprints/kom in the first 15km.  At one point the whole Australia national team went to the front and for about 15min it was single file in the hard!  Once the pace came off I countered a move by the US national team.  The group let me open a bit of a gap.  I just TT'd it a bit hoping someone would come up. A few minutes later a French and Ukraine national guy came up.  We started to ride well together.  My dad later told me that they announced over race radio we opened up a gap of 30s...i was hoping we might roll away for a bit. Then Charlie Avis of the US Nat'l team bridged and was pretty content to do no work.  So then everyone else stopped working and we were swallowed back up.  I was pretty pissed that some big US nat'l guy came up and did nothing but whatever.  The rest of the race was fairly hard but I just tried to sit on.  At one point with about 40km to go a huge crash happened right in front of me and I narrowly missed it.  I was able to sprint onto the tailend of the group as there had been a big split.  When I went up through the group there were only 2 of my teammates left.  I went to the tailend and saw my teammate Kevin Gottlieb (races locally for Coppi) struggling in the caravan about 100m back...i dropped back and brought him up.  When we hit the finishing circuits the pace skyrocketed.  I was hurting pretty bad.  It is a technical circuit with one painful hill each lap.  On the last lap I got popped up the hill and finished a bit off the group.  But we had 2 finish same time so that was good.  I probably burnt a few too many unnecessary matches, but was learning.  2 French national riders broke away in the circuits to win with a 14 second gap.  Again a fast day close to 30mph speed.  I moved up to 116th on GC despite all the time lost yesterday.

Stage 3--Stage 3 was the famous mineshaft TT in Val-D'Or.  You start 800m down a mineshaft and have a painful climb out.  Then go out on the course, totaling 15km.  It is a technical TT though with lots of turns.  The warmup is very odd.  They take your bikes down the shaft the night before, so you have just 5min on an exercise bike then 5min on your bike on a trainer.  I thought I would do decently.  It was very hard, wet when I wet.  I felt alright, but my legs never felt very open.  I think I might have been too conservative in some of the turns, but oh well.  My team car was very aggressive behind my beeping constantly which I think helped a lot.  In the end I finished 98th, which was definitely worse than I thought I would do but I just didn't feel too great and it is a hard field, oh well.  Charlie Avis of the US National team won the TT and is now tied for 1st on GC with a rider on the French nat'l team.

Stage 4--Stage 4 was a very tough criterium.  We did 55 laps of a 1.4km course.  The total distance was just under 50miles.  It had one painful hill in it each lap.  They stage by team GC we were 18th so were forced to stage in the back.  Right on the line there were two crashes right in front of me, and I almost just fell over to take a free lap which I will for sure do next year if the same thing happens.  It was so fast aggressive and single file, getting to the front was nearly impossible.  I felt pretty good and worked really hard to get towards the front 40 spots.  The pace never let up and I basically just left it in my 52x14 the whole time.  I was feeling pretty comfy sitting in till a bout 25 laps to go then it hit me pretty hard.  I hadn't really dranken or eaten antything it had been so FAST.  So all of a sudden I lost about 50 spots in two laps and was suffering at the back.  I ate a gel but it was too little too late.  The next lap my teammate took himself out infront of me and I was stuck with a good gap to close to the gap(second free lap I should've taken).  I had nothing and rode the rest on my own.  I ended up losing 8minutes on the day which was very dissappointing.  I was pretty bummed after the crit, but it happened and there is nothing to do about it but move on.  A rider from the Kazakhstan national team won in impressive fashion.

Stage 5--Today was the last road stage it was 97km from Amos to Val-D'Or. It went straight into Val-D'Or with no finishing circuits.  It was probably the hilliest stage of the whole race but still nothing out of the big ring. It was pretty fast but never super all out single file.  By this day I felt I had mastered riding in the group and tried to surf the sweet spot all day just getting sucked along.  Over one of the KOM's a group of about 15 including myself and my teammate Kevin split off the front, but no one really drove it so it came back together.  On the run in to town, I started to move up for the sprint, but with 

5km to go a crash happened in front of me and I had to chase back on.  I honestly didn't even know we had crossed the finish line and rolled in for 75th, my best finish of the tour.  All of us that started the stage finished same time so that was good for the team.

We finished the tour with 5 riders of 6 starters.  Kevin finished highest on the GC, at 41st, a really good ride in an incredibly hard field and race.  I learned a lot and hope to go back next year and have a good ride.

Thanks, Nathan