The Stevens Racing p/b The Cyclery women’s team went into the second Ontario Cup of the season in a tough position- short a few riders due to injury and facing a course that didn’t necessarily play to the rider’s strength.
The wide, smooth and exposed race car course has had a tendency to come together for a field sprint – and the team’s best bet for a field sprint, Audrey Bernard- was still holed up in a log cabin in the mountains of West Virginia doing her best “Wiggins in Tenerife” impression.
One rider who has foiled the field sprint predictions in the past however was last year’s champion Catherine Dessereault. But experienced racers all know that there are few harder things in the sport than trying to repeat.
Joining Dessereault in this race was Annie Foreman-Mackey, who sat 2nd on the Ontario Cup rankings going into the race, and the Quebec crew of Hélène Pilote-Fortin, Évelyne Gagnon and Adriane Provost.
With a number of pure sprinters in the field the team knew going in that they were going to have to be aggressive and try to defy the odds to take a small breakaway to the line. The only solution to not having a pure sprinter? Aggression.
The team went into the race with a simple game plan: try and force a selection, protecting Annie and Catherine until the last third of the race where the onus would be on them to try and make the move.
Unfortunately a strong headwind on the home straight did nothing to aid an escape’s chances, and helped to keep the bunch welded firmly together despite the best efforts of not just the Stevens riders but also UCI pro Karol-Anne Canuel who was unable shake a field bent on chasing. Some misfortune meant that the team was down to just three riders by the halfway mark, making it even harder to generate enough aggression to create a selection.
In the end the race came down to a big bunch sprint, and as feared the race was served to the sprinters with Candice Vermeulen (who attended this year’s Pan Am Championships on the track) taking the win.
Some good teamwork and communication in the last few laps (orchestrated in part by the day’s road captain Adriane) led to the decision to support Annie for the sprint. Annie put in a good effort and was able to finish 5th.
While the result was not what the team had hoped, there were some positives to the day. Annie kept her ranking in the Ontario Cup standings and is still second in the series. All of the riders did their best to execute the team plan, and in the end they communicated well together to get the best result they could on the day. Communication like this on a team is a huge step to riding together as a successful unit and it is something that many bike racers never master. This sort of teamwork bodes well for the rest of the season.
And in the end a good process is sometimes all you can ask of a bike race. Despite our best efforts we can’t control all the outcomes — the unknown variables are a big part of the sport. Not all days will be stellar, but there is always something to be learned and if you keep applying those lessons tactics the success will come.
— Chris Reid