Year in Review: 2016 – I will mark this one down as one of the best yet.
I love riding my bike
I think the theme of this year in review is how much I love riding my bike with my friends. On the first day of the year, January 1st, I got out for a night fat bike ride with one of my best friends up in the Muskoka Lakes region of Ontario. I’d say this ride set the tone for the year to enjoy my passion for the sport as well as the friends I get to do it with.
No pain, No gain.
I spent about a hundred hours on the indoor trainer over the winter, just suffering in a pool of my own sweat. It sounds awful, which it is, but wow was it totally worth it once I got to ride outside! I did a fun training camp down in Brevard, NC with some of my Queen’s University friends where I was able to set some personal bests on various climbs (and descents!). Some early season racing in the ECCC (Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference) came shortly after in the northeastern United States. It was fun to test the legs a little in a high-calibre, yet relaxed, environment. I got beat in a 2-up sprint nail-biter finish by a tire’s-width in downtown Philadelphia, and promised myself that I would learn to shift while sprinting instead of hitting 140 rpm. The following weekend in a criterium near NYC, I learned from my mistakes and took my only win of the season in a 2-up sprint! Suffering in “Trainerland” had finally been worth it.
Nashville, Wachtendorf and Southern Hospitality
I was lucky enough to be able to partake in another training camp, this time in Nashville, TN and with my new teammates of Team LowestRates! The mixture of French-Canadian, English-Canadian and our supremely generous American hosts really spoke volumes about how sport can bring people together. Riding, laughing, drinking beer and the confidence of having trust in new teammates brought us together in a way that only our race results from the final weekend of that training camp can explain. In the Hell of the South road race, we placed 1st*, 2nd, 3rd and 5th. Yes, I’m exaggerating those states slightly because Brett won the race, but he wasn’t on our team yet. Oh, and I lost another 2-up sprint to him. However, that was the day that we first met the infamous Brett Wachtendorf; he joined our team only a few weeks later. I suppose the rest is history.
Rough start to the UCI season
The team’s first big races of the year were at the G.P. Cycliste de Saguenay and the Tour de Beauce. The first day of Saguenay was near freezing and pouring rain, essentially the worst conditions for riding a bike. I got terribly sick because of this first stage, but I did earn my credentials as one of the “hard men”; I was the only member of my team to finish with the main pack. On a day with 27 DNFs, I managed to place 35th in my first UCI race of the season. The rest of that race was mediocre, and Tour de Beauce was mostly a write-off due to illness. However, I was proud to have conquered Mont Megantic for the first time in my life (I had DNF’d on that stage in my first attempt in 2014) and I at least made it to the last stage of both races, getting my money’s worth at each event.
Mealtime, Dan Craven and team bonding.
Time for a moment of honest reflection. Really, the best part of Saguenay and Beauce was mealtime with Brett and Ben. Mealtime was the place where we could joke about how hard the racing was (and how bad we were feeling in comparison) as well as to keep a hawk-eye on Dan Craven to see how many times he would approach the dessert table. Word on the street was that Dan Craven, the famous African cyclist from Namibia, single-handedly brought back the entire breakaway at the Philly Cycling Classic the week before, so if he was getting three desserts, we better be getting three desserts as well.
Local racing is fun
I also had a lot of fun in local racing, supporting Adam Roberge in his dominant GC win at the Syracuse Stage Race, as well as playing chase-down/lead-out man in the Tour di via Italia in Windsor, to name a few.
Honey! I am going to race my bike in Romania
The next big event in the team calendar was a surprise invite to the Tour of Szeklerland in Romania! I was so stoked to go race in Europe that I texted my girlfriend’s satellite Arctic of northern Nunavut for the past 10 weeks, to say “Sorry, I’m not going to be home when you finally get home because I’m going to Romania to race bikes!” It’s lucky for me that she was understanding…
My best memory of being in Romania was the right debauchery of splitting up the restaurant bill for my birthday dinner out. Brett, Edward, Tyler, Isaac and I were crying from laughing so hard at how bad we were at deciphering a simple receipt. Was tax or tip included or not? We still will never know. I also was able to finish my first UCI stage race of the year in Romania, a nice treat to top off a great adventure.
Downtime, school and some mountain biking
After a little bit of downtime and school starting up again (actually, I was in school all summer… “technically”), I raced my mountain bike for the 6th year in a row with Queen’s in the University Cup mountain bike series. If you didn’t know, my first ever bike race was in the University Cup, in my first year of university, where I borrowed a friend’s commuter bike, put road pedals and shoes on it, and shredded the gnar alongside a bunch of equally mediocre cyclists. You have to start somewhere, so here’s a big thank you to the guys who, year after year, put their time into running a grass-roots development race series that inspired me to race for the first time.
Rwanda: “toughest challenge of my life”
That brings me up to: Rwanda. Yes, there was a lot of hype around our team being selected for the 2016 Tour du Rwanda, and did we ever deliver. Our American beast, Tim Rugg, dialed his efforts to perfection on not one, but two legendary stages for Team LowestRates. What a real pleasure it was to have been a part of that team. Personally, I was just thrilled to finish on the last day. It was undoubtedly the toughest challenge of my life so far, slogging it out, day after day, only to finish last overall. I don’t take the honour of winning the (unofficial) Lanterne Rouge competition lightly, it shows that I really am one of the hard men and that I can keep pushing to survive longer than anyone else. Literally, I did nearly two and a half hours more racing than the winner of the Tour du Rwanda did! And let me tell you, every time I got onto a wicked descent, I was loving every second of it, making all of the climbing and suffering worth it.
2017 will be a year to remember
So what’s next? Well, Équipe Cycliste LowestRates will be back for more in 2017. I’m looking forward to a number of things, the first of which is finishing my master’s degree (not sure exactly when that will happen, but there is no doubt it will be in 2017). I’m also really looking forward to getting to know my new teammates. I have an idea of who they are going to be, and I think they’re all going to be some real stand-up gents. Team LowestRates will be back in 2017, and we will be ferocious out there. There are some tremendous racing and sponsorship opportunities brewing at the team’s HQ right now… I wish I knew more, but I’m just so excited for whatever is in store for us in 2017!
I’ll be keeping you guys posted! GO TEAM!
Cameron McPhaden, Team LowestRates