GPCQM 2017 : Critérium National
text : Alain Cadorette - photo : Gophrette Power
Once a year, local amateur racers get to role play pretending that they are professional racers for a short moment during a support race held on Park Avenue at the base of Mount Royal. The Criterium National held during the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal has all the bells and whistles that comes along with hosting a UCI Pro-Tour event. Photographs, long lenses, flashes, VIP sections, grand stands with spectators, barricades, sponsor banners, TV cameras, giant screens with live feeds, TV commentator voices echoing over large speakers lined along the course and 92 Master racers over the age of 30. Each with their own script in mind on how they think their race will go. Everyone wants to look good for the cameras to get their 15 minutes of fame. Many are willing to take a little more risk than usual for a little glory. For many, this is far better than getting “Likes” on Facebook to feed the inner ego monster. Pacino said it best in his role as the Devil in The Devil’s Advocate "Vanity, Definitely My Favourite Sin".
Nervousness sets in for some before the start. Some have never attended a race that has so much media presence and with so many spectators, others have gotten a little taste being regulars at the Mardis Cyclistes de Lachine criterium which does put on a good show week after week with crowds and fireworks, but with cameras rolling and photographs shooting, no one wants to face the shame of getting dropped at the Criterium National. For many, it’s inevitable. Like paying taxes and dying, it’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. Getting caught up in a crash, someone creating a gap at the wrong moment or just running out of gas after repeated efforts. For some, it’s already expected going into the race, it’s not a question of if, but more a question of when.
Driven by pride and ego, we all dig deep until we see stars or until we actually puke or whatever comes first. Some motivation comes from knowing that family members or friends are watching. TV cameras are ever present as you dive into corners and just that alone gives you a little more incentive to stay in the fight. Then some extra motivation comes when you notice Pro-Tour team riders hanging out watching the race after a light spin on the eve of their event. The stars of the cycling world are watching…like they actually give a crap on the outcome of this race, but your starstrucked inner child urges you to stay on that wheel hoping that the pace will slow down at one point and that you will hang on until the end.
Last year I collaborated with Gophrette to write an article for this same even. It was called 46 Minutes and was mostly about the preparations leading up to this race. Racing les Mardis Cyclistes de Lachine at the tender age of 49, doing specific critérium training, bla, bla, bla…In the end, the 2016 Criterium National went relatively well for me and didn’t feel that hard for an 11th place. That`s how I remembered it at least.
This year, I had no real intentions, primarily focused on training for the coming cyclocross season, I figured that I do just fine surfing on this past season’s residual fitness. I assumed that this race wouldn’t be that hard since I had done even better at the Mardis Cyclistes de Lachine this year. I was in for one rude awakening…
As if he was on a movie set, the race director paces in front of the start line looking at his watch and barking out orders on his two way radio. After all, this is just a dress rehearsal for the organisers to test the video and audio feeds for the big show coming up the next day. Although a little steep for a 45 minute race, we willingly pay our race fees to have a part of our own movie. 1 minute to go and some are already looking forward to viewing the replay of the race over and over again. However, some may not want to replay what was just about to happen. They may have not seen the whole script and skipped the part when their character got whacked like Joe Pesci did in Goodfellas.
Confident, I’m on the front row, in a good mood sporting my new custom painted Giro Vanquish helmet that hasn’t even hit the shelves yet. What can I say, I love getting new stuff before others (vanity). I knew that positioning would be key to surviving early in the race, but that’s an understatement. The gun goes off and the pace is hard enough in the first lap that hanging on in the top 10 is brutal. This wasn’t the script that I had in mind, I can only imagine what it was like in the back coming out of that first 180 corner having to put down so much power going up the finish line straight. I even wondered how I would be able to handle this pace over 45 minutes. Clearly, I wasn’t prepared this year and in the back of the pack it started to look like the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan.
The loud speakers are reporting an early crash which I never saw and only noticed when some of the guys got to take their free lap. Soon after, two strong racers take off and no one chases. I can see JS from Scott Rackultra driving hard in front, then Alex and Eric from our team taking monster turns trying to coax other teams to join. Eric was just a beast the whole race showing why he was recently crowned Provincial Champion. I keep hearing the race announcers calling out that the guys from Cannondale / ABC Cycles were chasing hard. That gave me all the best intentions in the world to move up and participate in the chase, but just trying to move up towards the front was killing me. Like a movie narration in my head, I keep hearing Randy and Audrey, the race announcers, saying how stretched out the pack was. I realize very early that I wasn't about to be a lead character in this movie. I was more likely to be an extra with hopes to have a role in the last scene. This became even more evident when a little taste of my lunch showed up for an uninvited visit along with the taste of blood, but it didn’t go further than that. I got lucky, not so much for others. Reflexes from racing at the Lachine crits kicked in and I started being very anal on how I managed every turn, trying to come out of them efficiently with no wasted efforts. I focused on staying in the right wheels and when I dropped too far back in the pack, I took every opportunity to surf back up towards the front.
The rest of the race became uneventful. It was pretty obvious at one point that our dynamic duo was going to make it to the line and that the rest of the pack would be fighting for leftovers. With two or three laps to go the pace increased up front with many last minute attempts to get that 3rd podium spot, but it was not to be. Some just couldn’t handle the pace and blew up including one who tried a valiant last ditch effort only to pull to the side quickly on the last lap with his digestive system reminding him what he had for lunch. In the end, while Jean-Philippe Venne was already celebrating across the line with his getaway partner, the rest of us were driving hard out of that last corner giving it one more hard effort with hopes for a top 10. Alex Dion from our team wasn’t well positioned enough going into that last turn, but still managed to pull off a good 9th place for the team.
Like many others, I fought really hard all the way to the line for a meaningless 18th position...all because of vanity knowing that the cameras were rolling. 92 started, 42 finished and many went home early in this second sequel of the Criterium National, but only one got to re-write the script.