Before the sound of the air pistol or drop of the flag, stomach-churning sights can befall the distance athlete at the psychological vice grip known as the start line.
When Banff cyclist Aaron Sands lined up at the Gran Fondo Rockies Road Race in Nanton, July 23, and saw five of the best racers in Western Canada, he felt the winch tighten.
“I was shocked who was there,” Sands said.
The general Gran Fondo race attracted hundreds of cyclists, however, about 40 riders registered for the elite race.
He recognized the top cyclists as five of the top 10 finishers at the Banff BikeFest – Team H&R Block and Team Red Truck members trying to improve their standings. He also knew since BikeFest he had gained 15 pounds and cycled a grand total of four kilometres in five weeks and now had to push himself against the best for 140 kms.
Racing with Sean Taylor of Bicycle Café, the Bow Valley rider realized there was nothing he could do about his competition, let out a laugh, steadied his nerves and took off.
Twenty minutes into the race, three-quarters of the contestants were already out of contention, however, Sands and Taylor stuck with the lead 12 person pack. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Sands pushed himself to keep pace.
“I was happy to hang in there,” he said.
The long hills on Highway 22 exhausted the competitors and top riders such as Craig Logan, Ian Auld and Kris Dahl were not letting up.
“There was a five minute climb and the guys just pushed the pace. It was non-stop rolling hills and the length of the hills took its toll.
“I was hoping pulling my kids up Middle Springs would have helped,” he said.
After 70 kms, Sands began to fall off at the turn-around. He ended up finishing 12th, while Taylor managed to stay in the top 10 with an eighth-place finish.
While he wasn’t quite prepared for the challenge, he is still happy he competed.
“Some of the guys were saying it was the best race they’ve ever been in. There were maybe four cracks in the pavement in the entire 140 kms and there was a wide shoulder,” Sands said.
Next year, he hopes some of his fellow Rundle Mountain Cycling Club members will join him for the challenge.
“A couple of them would have been on the podium, I think,” Sands said.
For full results, visit www.granfondorockies.ca/results.php