The 2018 edition of the Ontario Spring Classic “Paris to Ancaster” was the 25-year anniversary of the event. I first entered this race in 2002 on my mountain bike and I haven’t missed a year since (although several times, I entered the shorter 35-40km version of the race).
In the 17 years I’ve entered this event, there a lot of things that haven’t changed:
- There will be mud! The mud chutes/slides will always be muddy. Sometimes runny, slippery mud. Sometimes thick, clumpy, stick-to-your-drivetrain-and-tires mud.
- The final climb on Martin Road will always hurt.
- The weather will be highly variable and unpredictable: headwinds, crosswinds, tailwinds. Snow, rain. Warm, cold.
- Regardless of my level of fitness, I will suffer.
After doing the shorter 40 km event in 2017, I decided to sign up for the full 70 km distance this year. I originally signed up to ride this longer distance on my fat bike, but with about a month to go before the race, I decided that I didn’t want to ride my fat bike that distance. It can be done (and many of my friends did it this year… my bro Jeff, Raf, Shelly… huge kudos to all of you!).
Instead, I rode my cyclocross Cannondale bike.
Warning! Technical cycling language follows in italics:
I even added some easier gears in an attempt to make up the big hill at the end. In all my past 16 years, I’ve managed to ride up the entire hill, mainly because I had easier mountain bike gears (sometimes as low as 22/34 for you bike gear types). When I bought my cyclocross bike in 2017, it came with a 36-tooth small chainring and a cassette with 28 teeth on the biggest cog. That would give me a low-end ratio of 36/28, which I didn’t think would be small enough to get up the big hill after riding 70 km. So I swapped out the 36-tooth chain ring for a 34. And I swapped the cassette with one that includes a 32-tooth cassette, giving me a 34/32 ratio. Not quite the 22/34 I used to have, but hopefully enough to get me up Martin Road.
End of technical cycling language!
In Paris (Ontario), where the race commenced, I started in the second of four waves (five, if you include the “Elite/VIP” wave). My wave of several hundred cycling enthusiasts included friends like StephenB, TarynD, Ana-MariaB, FelipeS, GabrieleC, KateMC, MarkW, ShellyM, DaveT, RobertP and many more I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I lined up near the middle of the pack with Stephen and when the gun went off, I started conservatively. Too often in the past, I started too fast and had nothing left in the second half of the race. This time, I promised myself I’d started a bit easier.
The paved road at the start led to a gravel road, then to the Paris-to-Cambridge Rail trail where riders were jockeying for position. I found my steady (i.e., slow) pace in the group while some riders raced past me. Eventually, we reached a gravelly uphill path that most people (including myself) didn’t ride. That led to the first farm road where the big group began to split up.
I maintained this pace through farm fields, gravel and paved roads, muddy paths, until about the 30 km point when, after a muddy portion, I came out onto a paved road near St. George, where the shorter course started. At this point, I caught up to my friend MichalP.. This was Michal’s very first P2A event (and second-ever bike race), and we decided to ride together for the second half. We continued together for most of the rest of the race until the end of one of the long mud chutes. Michal decided to get her bike washed, and I wanted to keep riding (there was a long line up for this wash). By this point, we were about 5 km to the finish.
I knew I still had to deal with the hill. The Hill. When I got to the muddy road leading up to the base of The Hill, I was among a group of about a dozen riders. This traffic didn’t slow me down, but it kept me riding at a conservative pace so I’d have some energy for The Hill.
I started shifting to lower and lower gears as the steepness of The Hill increased. I had hoped I’d make it to the first turn with a couple of gears in reserve… but it didn’t quite work out that way. I needed my 34/32 soon, but I was able to keep going as people all around me were getting off their bikes.
I continued to the steepest part of the climb when I started to see spectators on both sides of the road. Some were calling my name. My heart rate was in the red zone so I don’t remember everyone who called out my name and offered encouragement. But I saw Lauren Daniells as she snapped these two photos as she called out my name. Lauren takes wonderful event photos of WCC members and friends and she’s been a great volunteer for the club for years!
The energy of the cheering (I remember seeing Nat from Cyclepath Oakville and Christina from Pinoy Pedal Pushers shouting encouragement… there were others I think…) and my 34/32 gear got me to the top without having to walk. It wasn’t easy. It never is, but I finished the race and I made the climb. 17 straight years.
It never gets easier. And… I never get faster. But it’s always memorable!
Cheers to the organizers, land-owners who let us ride on private property just for this race, my club-mates, podium finishers, friends, family, podium finishers, volunteers, fat bikers, mountain bikers, cyclocrossers and anyone else who doesn’t fit into one or more of those categories!