The 2017 World Championships
– from the eyes and pedals of Sam Weichel –
My name is Sam Weichel. I am a 22-year-old cyclist from Southampton, Ontario. I was lucky enough this year to qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi, France. When I first received the letter notifying me of my qualification I almost couldn’t believe it. My initial response was something along the lines of “Holy Smokes, this is really cool, I can’t believe I qualified!”. Very quickly, however, I started to put the idea of racing in France out of my mind. I knew that I could not afford this adventure and knew that I should just start to forget about it. So, for a few weeks I went along, thinking nothing of the race. However, once I had told my family about the event they were quick to rally around me and offered a ton of support, believing that this was something I had to do. They all pitched in to help me get there and without them, I wouldn’t have even considered racing at the World Championships.
Arriving in France was a whirlwind. I landed in Paris with my girlfriend and we drove the seven hours south to Albi. Stepping out of the car in Albi felt like I was swimming through the air. The humidity and temperature were so high it was almost too hot to do anything (it was 35 degrees before the humidex at 7pm!). That night while Mariah organized our things, I hastily built my bike and headed out for a quick, forty minute, spin to open up my legs after flying, I was so excited to be riding my bike in Europe! The days leading up to the race were amazing in terms of experiences, but my body was not handling the jet lag/heat combo well. My legs felt heavy and tired and even walking up the stairs took it out of me. I did my training rides while I was there though, trusting the fitness and the process.
Race day. Up at 5:30 for my 8:30 start. Thank goodness it was cooler. Arriving at the start was crazy. There were so many people, all from different countries, all kitted up in their national team kit. It was surreal. Bike check done, it was time to get to the start line.
As soon as the flag dropped it was full gas. In my head, I was panicking “How are these guys going so fast!?”. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold this where I was in the pack, so I attempted to move closer to the front…proving to be very difficult on narrow French roads. I would make up some ground, and then the road would narrow again and I would be shot back. This was going to be hard. The first 45km flew by, the bunch averaging almost 50kph! Up the first climb the group spilt, fortunately descending and then working together the group I was in was able to catch the remainder of the bunch. The second climb proved more difficult, around 5km at 6%, it totally split the group. Thankfully, I managed to hang in with a good bunch, working together over the next 75km to pick off the people being tossed out of the front. The heat was breaking people. When you came out into the open you could feel the sun just cooking you, it was brutally hot! There was no amount of water that could be drunk to quench your thirst. Coming onto the finishing circuit was like riding into an oven…according to my Garmin it was 40 degrees, before the humidity. Crazy hot!
I crossed the line 114th. Finishing in the top half of my age group, which I was very happy about. This was my main goal coming into the race and I was so happy to have had that happen. I also was super excited to find out that I had put out some of my best numbers over this distance ever. Really solidifying the worth of all those hours spent in the saddle. This was such a memorable experience and it has really motivated and inspired me to keep at it and to keep pushing the pedals hard! I also could not have done this without my family and without my girlfriend, Mariah. They all helped and sacrificed so much for me to have this experience and for that I am forever grateful. Thanks also to Rick for the last-minute changes to my plan and for all the help in my short time at NCCH so far.