PCC athlete Holly Henry competed in the Burnt Bridge Gravel Fondo last weekend in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This annual cycling classic had to adapt its format because of the COVID-19 restrictions with wave starts and a time trial format. Here is Holly’s account of her race.
Burnt Bridge Classic Gravel Fondo took on a totally new format this year. The course was the same as last year with some modifications and was turned into a 76 km gravel TT. After six months of no racing (aside from a few Tuesday night TTs) I was so excited to sign up to race!
As expected with typical Vancouver Island weather, it was pouring rain and cold at the start. I had the fifth start spot in the expert women’s category and went out pretty hard: hard enough to see my heart rate go up from 120 to 170 bpm within the first 20 seconds of starting. At 5.5 km into the ride there was a race KOM/QOM that went to the 13km marker. After doing a course recon earlier in the week and racing last year, I knew not to go out too hard into the long climb but with being able to see my competitors up the road I had a hard time holding myself back. By the end of the climb I caught and passed all the expert women who had started ahead of me and ended up with the fastest hill climb of the day for the women.
After a hard push to the top of the hill it started to get chilly and the rain was still coming down hard. I took about a minute of easier pedalling to try and recover a bit, took a gel, and then picked up the pace again to try and stay as warm as possible. I got into a good rhythm and don’t remember much except for going hard up to the checkpoint at 34 km. The checkpoint allowed me to stop for a few seconds, refocus, and then get back on with the race. There was a lot of short climbs and descents between the checkpoint and the long descent back down. I focused on staying controlled up the climbs and descending quickly but safely by carefully choosing my lines, and not taking any big risks.
At about 50 km I started onto the long descent. I was feeling really motivated to get down the hill quickly but then unfortunately hit a rock the wrong way and got a flat in my back tire. I made a quick decision to not put in a tube but pulled out a CO2 instead. Thankfully I was running tubeless tires and was able to get the tired sealed in record time. While fixing the flat I didn’t see any expert woman go by me. Motivated by thinking I still had a chance at the win, and with a lot of adrenaline I got back onto the bike and into my groove right away. I took the rest of the descent extra cautiously and luckily the tire held up to the bottom. At the end of the descent I started onto the Cowichan Valley Trail. This part was an almost 10km false flat section. By this point the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out. Sounds great, but it wasn’t. This was by far the hardest point of the race for me. My legs were starting to feel the fatigue, the trail seemed to go on forever and worst of all was that some of the expert men were starting to catch up and pass me. Finally, the course turned off the trail and started a long steep climb. My legs were hurting a lot by this point but I just kept reminding myself that this was the last bit of the race before the final descent.
The last part of the climb was the hardest. It was a steep and technical section and I was tired but got through a tight technical corner at the top before but descending. During the recon the descent was my favourite part of the course because it was fast and technical, two of my favourite things. In the race though, after already getting one flat I didn’t want to risk another so I went down a lot slower than in recon to be cautious. I didn’t want to end up running it in. The cautious descending paid off because I heard that a few other people got flats on that section. By the end of the race I had completely emptied the tank and ended up with the fastest time out of the women.
This race was definitely a highlight of my year and I am so thankful to Jon Watkin and all of the volunteers for putting this race on. I will be back next year and am crossing my fingers that it won’t have to be another TT.
About Pacific Cycling Centre: PCC brings four decades of experience, providing coaching and training services for Elite, Masters, and Junior athletes in road, mountain bike, track, and cyclo-cross. PCC’s goal is to create a training environment for athletes at the development level, and to maintain a permanent, high-performance training group of national team and pre-national team athletes at the Centre with the appropriate coaching and support system. This will be achieved through expert one-on-one coaching, focused training camps, and competing in many local, provincial and national races.