Big Sugar - Inside the Action
Big Sugar - Inside the Action
Photo: Wil Matthews

Despite being my lowest placing of the year, Big Sugar was still my favourite race of the series. Technical, punchy, fast, dynamic… it was engaging from start to finish and I can truthfully say I had a great time. I’m left dissatisfied with the outcome of my race, but wholly satisfied with the experience. There weren’t many races this year where I thought to myself after finishing, “I can’t wait to do that again”, or “I really want another crack at that”, but this was one of them. I will be seeing you next year, Big Sugar, that’s for sure. 

As for how my race played out, it wasn’t the peak performance I’d been looking for. But don’t misunderstand me - I loved it, raced until my body screamed for mercy, and then kept racing some more. I came in with two performance goals that I wasn’t sure would align in service of each other on the day (and also unsure if I would be able to deliver). The first was to go for the win. I knew that if I accomplished that, the second goal would be taken care of by default. As you can probably imagine, my second goal was to lock up the LTGP overall series win. Mathematically, that goal was a dynamic one, and a little outside of my control. There were two scenarios that could see someone else overtake the lead: if Sarah Sturm placed either first or second AND I was farther back than 5th, OR if Sofia Gomez-Villafane placed first AND I was farther back than 5th. So, the only threatening scenario was if either of those two were on the front, and I had a bad day.

I’d worked out all of this math and set my goals prior to race day, and then the night of the race I crafted my true race plan. The goals I wrote out and repeated to myself were: 1) race hard and free right from the start; 2) when it gets unbearably hard, tell myself “I can do this”; 3) be present; and 4) don’t buy in to the pressure. The race plan was simple - go like hell, be as smart as possible, and find flow in the racing. 

The race was chaotic, fast, and terrifying right from the start. It was a mass start with all the 100 milers, and the pro women started mixed in amongst the pro men at the front. We had a “neutral” pavement rollout (which was not neutral - it was incredibly fast and hard) before hitting the gravel 10 or 20 minutes in. I can’t stress enough how fast and scary this part was. With a really heavy tailwind, it meant the speeds were very high, and also that the drafting effect was a bit lessened. Wahoo and Strava both say I hit 72.8km/hr in this neutral roll out, so…. Yeah. It was fast. 

My positioning was a bit off when we hit the gravel, and I got a bit strung out from the leading group. I completely lost track of the other women in the dust, and found myself in no-man’s land about 20km into the race. I knew there were a handful of women up the road, but I didn’t know who or how many. I was pleased to find that I was able to tell myself, “It doesn’t matter. There’s no pressure, just ride your race and enjoy it. Don’t think about the end, just think about now” and I actually believed it. I also then spent a solid five mixtures repeating “about” to myself under my breath, trying to figure out if I actually have the strong Canadian accent that all my American competitors seem to think I have. Race brain is weird. 

Back to the racing. 25km in, I was slowly getting reeled in by a group of women that had Hannah, Whitney, Lauren, and a few other women in it. I was about 100m off the front of them when I heard Hannah shout my name; I looked back, and realized that I had missed a turn and the girls were calling out to me to come back. THAT is gravel, folks; you look out for each other. I turned around to head back, and intersected with Lauren, who decided to continue in the wrong direction because “it would link up” as she said. She’s right, it did link up; but it cut out some of the course and gave her a solid 20 sec lead on the group that I chased back onto on the correct path of the course. I hesitated to mention that little bit of course cutting, but honesty is the best policy and I’m sure not many people read this anyway!

We chased back onto Lauren through some technical, flatter bits. At some point - and I truly can’t remember how this happened - I found myself away from that group (Lauren was off the front of me now, as well). I can’t remember if I was alone, with other men, or what. I just know that sometime before the first feed zone, I linked up with Sarah Sturm, and she and I started rolling together with one other man. Riding with Sarah is always a pleasure. I also know, strategically, that that meant only Sofia was now an unknown up the road. I still wanted to catch the front, but I was also doing a good job of executing on my goal to be present. 

Through the first feed it was still our little group of three, and then we could see a HUGE group start to reel us in. Over one of the biggest climbs, Evelyn Dong bridged up to us from that group (she had REALLY strong legs on Saturday) and started to push the pace (and wind!) for us. It was a bit before we were all caught by that large group, but they did eventually reel us in. There were probably 15-20 riders, 8 of whom were women. So now we were rolling in a peloton with around 10 women. 

We didn’t work super efficiently together (it’s tough to cycle through when the road is really just a deep layer of chunky, loose gravel), and I stayed near the front in 1st-4th wheel. Some amount of time later, we swallowed a group of three that had Sofia in it. With still ~5 women up the road, I knew it was highly unlikely that a shift in the series overall lead would happen, so mathematically, that goal was more or less taken care of. But, I wasn’t here just to protect that lead; I wanted to race hard. I asked Sofia what was going on up ahead, and if she thought we could catch the other women. She didn’t know exactly, but the sense was that it was unlikely. We had some feedback shortly after that the other women had minutes on us and it became clear that the top 3 was almost certainly out of reach. So, my goals shifted: I wanted to race like a leader and give as much as I could to the group. A lot of the other women in our group were fighting each other for overall series spots, and the battles were tight. So, tactically, we weren’t going to see them do a great deal of shelling themselves in the wind; they needed to be smart so that they could race each other for the line. The second half of the race was predominantly strong headwind (35km/hr sustained, gusts of 55), and so attacks weren’t likely to get away. 

I can’t remember all the specifics of that final two hours; the race tends to blur together. I know that Heather Jackson, Whitney, and a few men had some seriously strong pulls, and we were all enjoying riding together. Just inside of 30km to go, Sarah decked it in a loose corner (which was just gutting), but Evelyn stopped to help her. Again, that’s the gravel attitude, folks. The two did bridge back up to us (awesome work). Then, with about 20 or 25km to go, I was on the front when Savilia (who had flatted early on) flew by us on the left on the wheel of her coach/male teammate (who also flatted early). Whatever your opinion is, there was definitely some domestiquing going on that had been happening since mile 15. Savilia and coach tried to get away from us, but I was able to accelerate and get back on her wheel. She eventually slotted back into our group. 

For that final 15 km, I stayed on the front or second wheel and just drove as high a tempo as my tired legs would allow. The final 10km was primarily pavement, with two sharp climbs coming in the final 3.5km. I managed to hang on for the first as the other women attacked around from behind me, but the final climb was my deathbed. I never cried mercy and gave it what I had until I started to heave (and Hannah forced me to sprint for the line, haha). I think I rolled in 13th, one of the last of our large group of women finishing 6th-15th. 

No, I didn’t race that final half “smart”. Yes, I could have placed better if I’d hidden in the wheels. But I don’t think I could have raced better. I wanted to close out the season with an effort, so that’s what I did. Big Sugar, you were terrible and beautiful!

I owe a massive thank you to everyone who made this season possible: the team, our sponsors, Life Time, Drew, Lespy, my coach… many more people. But that will come in a separate race season wrap up post. One thing I will say before that post (and now that the season is over) is that my equipment has been absolutely flawless this year. Not a single flat in this series, nor any mechanicals. A strong testament to the gear we run and the guy we have working on our bikes.

Thanks for reading this one, everyone!

Contact Me

Have a question or inquiry? Let's get in touch.

Powered by Innovasium