The 2013 Tour de Victoria will go down in infamy for being one of the toughest rides I will likely ever do purely because of the weather.
In the days leading up to the event, I was hearing forecasts that included words like “storm” and “wind” and “rain.” It was going to be an isolated event – the days before and after would be lovely, but this system would hit the region for a day and the only question was if it would be race day.
And indeed, it was.
Arriving in Victoria on Saturday (the day before), it was blue skies and a bit breezy (typical Victoria) and mid-teens centigrade. Coffee with my friend Paul and his friends included discussion about Tours de Victoria previous, the route and the anticipation. And the weather. My friend, Paul (whom I will tell you about in another post soon) and I decided to go for a leg-loosener a short while later. Just a quick 12km jaunt around town. We both wished the conditions that day would persist into Sunday.
Awakening at 5am Sunday, I couldn’t hear any rain outside my hotel room window. I was hopeful that we’d at least have a dry start. Gearing up, eating and stretching, I went downstairs and outside and no, unfortunately the rain had begun albeit softly.
Riders accumulated progressively as the clock ticked past 6:00am, then 6:30, and with far less fanfare than the RBC Whistler GranFondo (and far fewer riders – about 1,500 versus Whistler’s 4,000), the ride began at 7:00am and rolled through Victoria in controlled fashion in a gentle shower. As we cruised through Esquimalt and en route to Metchosin, the rain picked up. Spirits remained high and since we were all warmed up, no one seemed out of sorts despite the conditions. Many riders, including me, did not install fenders (I don’t own any – I’ve usually opted out of riding in the rain rather than prepare for it) and it made life miserable for some since the accumulating water on the road surface was spraying up relentlessly into the faces of people behind us. I took my come-up-ins by following fenderless riders on many occasions so I know what impact I made myself. The ride through Victoria, Esquimalt and Metchosin was nothing out of the ordinary – though wet – it offered a few rolling hills and a moderate pace. Very accommodating.
My back, by the way, was not 100% at this ride either. My rehab rides gave me an idea of where I was at, and my physio straightened out my alignment more or less, but my lower back was still quite tender and I was nervous about working it over the course of 140 km. Thus my mission for the entirety of the ride was to take it very easy on the hills, and protect it throughout by engaging my core, tucking my tailbone and focusing on leg muscle-power only. This would not be a “race” like the Whistler ride was, seeing what I was capable of putting down; rather a ride to complete, to enjoy and to celebrate.
Through Metchosin, the hills started to grow and the gradients started to increase. The route’s steepest ascent, Munn Road, offered some of the steepest climbing I’ve done, however thankfully not terribly long distances. (see telemetry below for the very obvious ascent 1/3 of the way in – that’s Munn) Interestingly, I’d anticipated the poor conditions and swapped out my Zipp 202 carbon wheels for my stock Fulcrum Racing T’s which are aluminum rims. Braking with aluminum versus carbon is far more immediate and reliable in the rain (another topic I’ll discuss at a later date) and besides, I was far less worried about grit on my brake pads damaging my aluminum Fulcrums than my Zipps. My ‘winter’ Fulcrums have their original Vittoria Racing Slick tires and on some of the steep ascents – including Munn Rd. – standing out of the saddle offered my rear wheel an opportunity to spin/skid on the spot, losing traction and halting my momentum. A somewhat terrifying experience when you’re working hard and already barely moving!
But the hills would be conquered, slowly. Challenging us next, and keep in mind it’s still raining quite steadily, were the descents. Descents are supposed to be your reward for climbing, however the roads in the Highlands outside Metchosin are quite narrow with sharp and sometimes blind corners, and adding significant precipitation on the road surface, it was highly inadvisable to do anything short of ride your brakes throughout. Some disregarded common sense, and I personally passed three crash victims in various states of receiving medical attention and heard of a few more. For me and many others no speed was gained, no speed recovered on the downhill portions.
Entering Brentwood Bay, the rain intensified. It was an uneventful next 40-50 km as we journeyed the final northward leg at the top of the Saanich Peninsula, past the Victoria airport, then east across North Saanich and into the town of Sidney. This is approximately when the storm landed and the winds kicked in along with the rain. 50 kilometers remained, approximately, and we were now working into a headwind steady at 25-30 km/hr and gusts of 50-70 km/hr.
This was obviously the toughest part of the ride. I was fortunate to be working in a group with three other riders, and we took turns pace-setting up front, taking the brunt of the weather. It felt pointless – hammering on the pedals and feeling like you’re standing still! Forget sight-seeing, we had our heads down, eyes a few feet in front and besides getting a face full of spray from the lead rider, we were focused on ensuring we didn’t hit a curb, tree branch or a fellow cyclist.
I’ll spare you additional comments on the misery and futility. Rest assured it was like this until the finish. In fact it ratcheted up a wee bit more once we were in Cordova Bay, through Mt. Douglas Park and along Beach Drive, where the wind was unencumbered along the waterfront.
My finishing time was 5 hours 17 minutes (and 41 seconds, but who’s counting) which I was quite happy with, considering the 140 km course, two refuel stops, the weather and protecting my back. The top riders (including several pros) accomplished the feat in just over 4 hours. Arriving at the finish line, I was exhausted and extremely happy to be finished. I got my medal, a banana and some parting gifts, but most gratifying was seeing my parents who made the trip from up-island to see me and were happy for me as well. I was soaked, covered in grit and grime and craving a shower. My back was tender but in one piece – some stretching and later in the day a hot-tub and professional massage provided a solid recovery.
It was off to Rebar with the folks after my shower, for a well-deserved brunch – blueberry oat pancakes, scrambled eggs, espresso and an apple/ginger smoothie were just what the doctor ordered. I kept my Finisher’s Medal on throughout.
As I’ve been sharing with friends, accomplishing this Tour was more of a psychological victory than a physical one. The Whistler GranFondo is certainly more difficult from a terrain standpoint, but this one stands out for the weather. If for no other reason than I would never think to ride in such conditions voluntarily. So to be able to hack through it tells me a lot about my stick-to-it-iveness and my psyche.
Telemetry and photos:
(interesting note: my Garmin tracked my course at ~10 km less distance and upwards of 600 meters less elevation gain than many of my friends’ data. Can only suppose my computer suffered as I did in the weather… I know I didn’t make any shortcuts!)