Team Glotman•Simpson headed east to what turned out to be a rainy and cold Banff for the four day stage race of Banff National Park Bike Fest. Despite the dreary early spring-like conditions, the beautiful backdrop of the Canadian Rockies combined with an exciting and well-organized race event, fuelled our spirits and will to bring out the hammers and ride hard.
The total field for the week was near 250 riders. Representing the Pro Women were Erin Redl, Alison Jackson and Alysia Withers. Joost van Ulden and Dean Wolansky competed in the Mens Category 4 while Michael Goodman, Kurt Withers, and Michael Parrish rounded out the Mens Category 3 group.
Stage 1 - Prologue
A 1.5 km hill climb sounds easy, but is nothing less than the most painful burning sensation you’ll ever feel in your legs and a scorch in your lungs. Joost and Alison both topped out in 4th place in their categories. Prologues aren’t raced often and can be easily dismissed in a five stage race, though they shouldn't because shockingly, a GC outcome can actually be determined in less than a 3 minute competition.
Stage 2 – Lake Louise Road Race
AKA battling the cold and preventing hypothermia. Freezing rain with temperatures hovering down to 3 degrees made this stage worse than any spring series races we’ve seen on the coast. Neither the mens or womens fields saw much action until the last few kilometers mostly because everyone was in survival mode and concentrating on holding the bars straight. In the womens field, Erin was quick to chase the multiple attacks at the beginning. Eventually one rider escaped and the rest of the peloton rolled through the 68km course. Alison kept her position in the GC, while Alysia (who woke up with an unfortunately-timed stomach virus) sat in, and would inevitably suffer through for the rest of the week.
The mens category 3 and 4 groups raced together and saw few attacks as well. It was Kurt Withers who was in perfect position to contest the finishing sprint, but held off from a sudden near collision, thanks to an unsafe and dangerous move from another rider. It was determined at the end of the day, when racing in the mountains, make sure to bring every spring, summer and winter piece of clothing you own because you never know what you’ll be racing in.
Stage 3 – 8 km Time Trial
With less than a week before the start of the race, it was announced that a new, shorter route was selected for this stage due to pending construction from the 2013 floods. Joost secured a 2nd place finish and Alison just missed the podium in 4th. Alysia managed a good time to settle for 12th. If there was one thing any of us learned on this day, it was Michael Parrish, who will never again make the mistake to borrow a TT helmet 5 seconds before his start. He didn't need a wind tunnel test to prove that holding a helmet that’s too big for your head with one hand, while steering the bike with another, is not an aero position at all.
Stage 4 - Criterium
Set in downtown Banff, this course was wide, flat, short and fast – each lap averaged 40 - 55 seconds for all fields. The Category 3 and 4 mens field raced separately with Joost taking 3rd to cement a podium in the GC. In the Category 3 race, with a field of over 50, Mike Goodman made an epic breakway on lap 5 along with the two GC leaders and held the group away for 15 laps. Caught by a small chase group, Mike finished with an honourable 7th place in the sprint after a truly heroic effort. Alison fought hard against the Red Truck team that was dominating the group with their numbers. She finished 4th in the finale after Alysia pulled out a monster solo chase, gaining 20 seconds on the break to bring it back.
Stage 5 - Tunnel Mountain Road Race
This hard, hilly and selective course consisted of a long series of climbs (about 4km) followed by a long, steep and technical descent which saw speeds rise up to 80km/hr. The mens team rode very strong with the pack and stuck together while the field of 50 riders were slowly whittling down and dropping on every lap. Ultimately less than 30 finished. In this race, Kurt was the one making the moves, starting in one break and even pulling back another. With 5km to go on the final lap, Kurt made a solo attack on the climb and found himself with a good gap from the rest of the group. In the end it was just a bit too much before regrouping on the final descent. Joost finished in 4th securing his GC podium spot while Michael Parrish and Dean finished in the top 10 GC results.
As expected in the womens field, the group stayed together for most of the race. With a few laps to go Alison found herself on a solo breakaway, but there were too many more miles to go before the finish line, and finished 5th in the GC.
With no less than four moto vehicles, two police cars and three race cars, we all felt pros on this course, at one of the most amazing races of the 2014 season.