2009 Coupe des Ameriques Race Report

Dateline Sutton, Quebec, Canada, 6/27/09 - Despite three rain-soaked, back pain ridden stages and a very tough field here at the Coupe des Ameriques Stage Race, I am pleased with the results, so far. This year's 60+ field has the usual suspects and a few notable riders who haven't competed here recently.  Among them were previous overall and stage winners of years past.  I immediately identified Roger Lessard of Quebec as the rider to be most concerned about.  He is an incredible all-around rider who has bettered me at climbing and the criterium stages in the past and is looking very fit.  Too bad I can't speak French or him English, but I knew we would communicate loud and clear over the weekend with our bikes.

Last evening's prologue at 6:30pm was run in a torrential downpour with distant lightening and thunder with the temperature at 64 degrees.  Conditions were so bad I forewent my usual 15km ride to the start line.  Although the car ride kept me dry closer to the start of the race, it also prevented me from getting a good warm up.  In the execution of a large gear jump at the end of the "warm up" I pulled something in my back just above the left glute.  I was in considerable pain at the sound of the starter's gun.  None the less I took my place on the wheel of the lead rider.   Although the lead rider position was held by several riders on the 10km run to the awaiting 7km climb, I would muscle any rider off their wheel.  Hey, I got the gift (weight and size) and I got to use it.  Riding second wheel accomplished several things.  First it kept me out of harm's way.  I only had to watch and worry about one rider.  Second, it gave me a certain amount of control over the field, and last evening I only had the spray of one rider's wheel in my face.

The prologue went much as it did last year.  I stayed on the lead rider until about one kilometer up the hill.  At this point Lessard attacked and I went with him.  He was out of the saddle and nailing a high cadence in a relatively light gear.  This is a style of better, light weight climbers (Lessard is about 5'9 and 140 lbs.) and certainly not mine.  I settled into a larger gear in the saddle and my own tempo.  Although he pulled away on the early steep pitch, I brought him back on the next, more relaxed maybe 8% gradient.  Unfortunately, the next five kilometers of the climb were mostly between 10 and 15% grades.  Lessard bettered me by 53 seconds, but I was pleased with my finish, none the less.  Third place was a good distance back, so it looked as if Lessard and I would be killing each other during the next couple of days . . .if my back would hold up.

Last night was pure agony.  Every time I would move I would be stabbed with pain.  I have plenty of "stuff" to deal with pain (thanks to a "patron"), but was concerned about how it would effect performance, so I endured.  Hey, I'm a master of pain endurance.

This morning I couldn't touch my foot (Sandy had to help me pull on my left sock), but I could get a leg over the top tube of my great time trial bike.  The Fuji Aloha was decked out with a 60mm deep aero, front wheel and a full, tubular disk on the rear.  Again, it was raining as the first riders rolled off on this 12.6 kilometer, rolling, point to point course.   I got in a relatively good warm up and had what felt like a very good run.  My time of 18:02 was good enough to give me the win with Lessard second and put me in the yellow jersey.

This afternoon was the criterium staged on a downtown, two kilometer, seven corner circuit and again in wet conditions with a light drizzle.  I rode the 24 kilometer crit conservatively, but did throw in a few hard attacks just to keep everyone honest.  Lessard just marked me and did absolutely no work.  Sandy said that we looked like the typical racing group with a broad assortment of bright colors.  However, after about the fifth lap we were all the color of granite.  I used my water more to flush grit out of my eyes then to drink.  With three laps to go I settled in close to the front and jumped on every move, but never closer to the front then fourth or fifth wheel.  At about 500 meters to go a big guy attacked and I was able to snag his wheel.  Unfortunately, Lessard was also able to snag mine.  With 200 meters to go I took a run on the big guy and flew headlong down the finish straight.  At about 100 meters Lessard made his move and started to come around me.  Although I was pushing well into my limit I kept laying into the sprint.  At the line Lessard drew next, but I finished him off with the throw of my bike.  I was ecstatic.

So, here we are two days and three stages down and the rest of the field minutes behind us, Lessard and I are locked in quite a duel.  Tomorrow is the final stage with two climbs as tough as last evening's.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't give myself much of a chance, but hey, who would have thought two hard races would be a cure for a bad back.  Anything is possible in a bike race.

After a good night's sleep I awoke to a relatively nice day . . .at least it wasn't raining.  At about 7:15am I rolled down the mountain for our eight o'clock start.  After an awards ceremony for yesterday's Criterium stage we were given the start for this 84 kilometer road race.  The mood was relaxed as we rolled through the first hour.  Lessard and I sat in allowing others to do the pace making at a speed of about 21mph.  I was surprised by the lack of attacks, but at about the 50km to go point a big guy rolled off the front and in a short period of time was out of sight.  His move did stir the peleton, but I knew this fugitive was well down on General Classification and his effort would be thwarted by the two tough climbs awaiting us in the last 20 kilometers.  Lessard and riders in third and fourth on GC, however, weren't so sure, so they went to the front on occasion and lifted the pace.  I was more then happy to see them expend energy and hoped it would tire them out.  Sadly, too often I have been in the position of this lone attacker and experienced after great pain what I knew was in store for him.  As we started the climb up Scenic Drive with less then 20km to go, I settled into my large gear tempo, rolled off the front and saw the breakaway rider struggling up the steepest part of the climb.  I rolled past him as he zigzagged  and pedaled no faster then maybe 5mph.

As this climb progressed I hit the second steep (15%) gradient and Lessard jumped with an out of the saddle, high cadence attack.  He is a terrific climber and I have no counter for that move other then to remain in my own seated effort and hope I can drag him back on a lesser gradient.  Lessard was followed by Denis Cote and Claude XXX and I was riding in fourth position.  I didn't panic and stayed in my zone.  About one kilometer before the crest the grade drops to maybe 7-8% and I first picked off Claude, then Cote and finally went over the summit with Lessard.

The climb to scenic is followed by one of the fastest and most dangerous descents I have ever experienced.  Lessard was surprised and totally caught off guard by my reappearance and attacked for all he was worth.  I again settled into a speed that I was comfortable with, deciding to bring him back after the descent.  On the next ten kilometers we rode a two man time trial putting as much distance on our two pursuers before the final, five kilometer climb to the finish.  By the time we reached the climb our chasers were out of sight.

Lessard and I continued to pace each other up the climb, but on the final stretch of the steepest section with three kilometers to go, he attacked.  As much as I wanted to, I couldn't answer the fury of his jump.  He stayed on it and in a very short time had 200 meters on me.  I held him at that, but couldn't bring him back.  Lessard crossed the finish line 33 seconds before me winning the stage and the 2009 edition of the Coupe des Amerique.

I feel I came to the race well prepared.  I won the time trial and criterium and Lessard told me at the awards ceremony that he never counted me out and put more then he wanted to into his final attack out of fear that I may do the same to him later in the climb.  That is a big compliment from such a well known climber.  I am psyched and looking forward to the 2010 Coupe des Amerique.  This is absolutely the last race I would cut from my race calendar.  To prove the point I have traveled to this top caliber, international stage race 20 of the last 21 years.  It is the best competition for masters cyclists in the Western Hemisphere.  Why don't you join me? 

Steve Lehman

Steve Lehman Tours, Ltd.
648 West Spring Street
Fleetwood, PA  19522(800)357-3018
www.stevelehmantours.com
steve@stevelehmantours.com