The Tour de l’Abitibi is a stage cycle race contested in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, an area located in northwestern Québec (Canada) and reserved to racers aged 17 and 18. Sanctioned by the International Cycling Union, the Tour de l’Abitibi is an international road racing competition in the Men’s Junior category. It is the only competition of that scope in America and the most important Junior competition because of the sporting challenge to be met by cyclists seeking professional status. The event stages a breathtaking performance with a group of some 160 racers. (website introduction)
Donovan’s Tour de L’Abitibi
Just making it to this race was his goal this year. So now that he is there, we just hoped that he could keep it up right, and finish the 8 stages in 7 days, and be a good teammate. When Donovan left last Sunday, we agreed that finishing this race was going to be the biggest and best accomplishment yet.
Most of the other kids at this race have been racing on the international level for some time. Most of Donovan’s teammates on the Southeastern Regional team have raced in Europe for extended periods of time, while Donovan has done maybe a small handful of cat 3 races.
When he left last Sunday he started his adventure at 3am at the Tucson Airport. He then flew to Houston with no problem and caught his connection to New York. In New York he flew into LaGuardia Airport and then every flight out of town was cancelled. This of course was also Donovan’s first solo flying experience, and only second time on a plane, and he gets stuck in LaGuardia airport. Things are so bad (i.e. every hotel room in NYC is booked) that he has to spend the night at the airport and sleep there. I talk him through how to freshen up, and to find a dark spot.
Finally, on late Monday he arrives at the race almost 48 hours after he left Tucson. Donovan now has to prepare for the biggest race in the history of any El Grupo kid after having slept in an airport the night before.
117 Km Road Race
(From Donovan) The first day’s race was almost as much of a disaster as my flight. The neutral roll out was 3km of the 120km stage. It was by no means neutral. It was a savage quest for position as we rolled around roundabouts. The stage was from a neighboring town into Rouyn-Noranda. As soon as the neutral zone ended Team USA attacked, hard. The 120 rider field jumped. We averaged 55km an hour for the first 30 minutes of the race. We spun out for so much. It was a massive crash fest. Troy, my team mate and college room mate broke his collar bone and hand today in the first 7km. I had a massive coughing spasm at about 30km in. I was coughing so hard that I fell off my bike. I time trialed the last 90km to the finish to finish with one other guy. I finished 12 minutes back. Our team put a guy in tenth today.
106 Km Road Race
We do not get an email from Donovan today. We are able to see that things improve and that he only finishes 1.52 back and moves up a couple places. We are thrilled to see that he is hanging around.
9.6km Time Trial
This day was something that Donovan and I had talked about quite a bit. Before leaving we had no idea what the team structure was to be for the event so we were going to be totally happy if it turned out there was going to be a team leader and that Donovan would be a domestique. We were just happy to get there and were ready to be the best teammate possible. However, in a time trial, you do not have to be a teammate. So everyone gets their fair shot. This also just happens to be a strength of Donovan’s so he was mentally prepared to attack on this day.
Again, he climbed the leader board and finished in 70th place only 1.19 back.
Day 3 Part 2
51 Km road race
This is a different kind of race then we are used to, and on this day they had the kids race again in the afternoon. It was a shorter road race and I had great hopes for Donovan on this one. I knew that as this race went on he would get stronger. I knew that if he could keep his head up and figure things out, that he would start to move up. I know that he is so hungry for this opportunity that he was thrilled to race again, while many kids would start to mentally wear down at this high level of stress.
Sure enough, on this day Donovan finished 43rd. In the last km he led out his teammate, that eventually got 6th place, and in the last few meters Donovan was passed by a large group.
Not only is he now getting stronger, he is also doing major amounts of work for his team.
103 Km Road Race
I have heard twice so far from Donovan. Once via email, as I posted earlier, and again via phone after this race. He is so thrilled to be at this race and is having an amazing time. He is enjoying his teammates, coaches, and the whole pageantry of this race. This may have been a long shot goal for him at the beginning of the year, but he dreamed about this so much, that he is not awestruck now.
At the start of the race today he said that he knew that he was racing well and that he could do something today. He said that he was really starting to figure out how this level of racing worked and starting to really get comfortable with it. He was also very excited about how his body was responding.
This stage was to be the hardest of the whole race. At the start of the race Donovan said that Team USA called upon their fellow Americans in the race to help pull back some breakaways. Donovan was one of those who were able to help early in the race. He was excited about being able to be at the front and helping. He as able to do this for a good portion of the race and in the last 10km he found himself at the front of the race drilling it, yet with a good hill right in front of him. The way he recounts it he was pretty scared of that hill. Here they are over 80km into a very hard race, he is at the front giving it his all, and now a hill. Presumably, this could be a great place to make a move, get some space, and hold off kids to the end of the race. It was not steep or really long, but any hill at the speeds of this race was going to be crazy hard. At the beginning of the hill Donovan is in first position, and at the end of the 2km long hill he is in 5th to last, roughly in 100th position.
Of course, after the hill it is not downhill, but rather flat, so it is even harder to recover. Another 2km later and finally a downhill so he can catch his breath and fight his way back up. Fight he did because by the end of this race he found himself in 17th place.
17th place. I will take that running away. Just finishing this race was going to be exciting enough, now he is cracking the top 20. Just absolutely fantastic. He never doubted that he was going to be able to do this and I cannot be prouder. I hope that this encourages every El Grupo rider to not be afraid of their biggest and craziest dreams. Donovan’s greatest talent is his determination. Remember he got dead last in every race he did in his first year of racing. He just wanted this so bad that nothing was going to get in this his way. Bravo Donovan!
He gets two more chances at this race. Again, the next two courses are similar. Roughly 100km in distances, mostly flat, with some rollers, and a heck of a lot of bumping and rubbing in the large peloton, scrapping for wheels, and fending off attacks. He is super motivated and thinks he can pull off an even bigger result.