Liberty Bicycles 2003 Grape and Wine Squeezer

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Tails from the Trails

Liberty Bicycles 2003 Grape and Wine Squeezer
September 28, 2003 St. Catharines, ON

by Steve Shikaze

Steve ShikazeThose of us who ride mountain bikes have our own community, our kindred spirits, with whom we can share our passion. We may ride once a week, or once a month, by ourselves, or in small groups, but when we're on the trails with like-minded riders, the rest of the world stands still.

The annual Grape and WIne Squeezer event is an opportunity to ride and meet with over a thousand people who share this love for the mountain bike. This event is one of the finest citizens' Mountain Bike events in Ontario, and organizers were expecting as many as 1300 entries.

Weather forecasts called for a chance of showers on race day, but we were lucky enough to have reasonably clear skies. However, with all the rain we had during the previous week, it looked like it would be a mud-fest. Course organizers re-routed some sections of the course to avoid some of the muddiest sections of single track, but everyone knew the course would be wet.

Riders were organized into 9 start waves, spaced 7 minutes apart, with the faster club riders in the first wave, and less-experienced riders in the later waves. This helped to reduce traffic as riders hit the first patches of single track a few km into the race. The first wave went off at 11:00am, and I headed off at 11:21 in the 4th of 9 waves. The course started down Ontario Street in downtown St. Catharines before turning onto some crushed gravel double track. As we raced down Ontario street, I tried to stay with the faster riders in my wave, but about 5 or 6 of them proved to be too fast, so I had to be content to stay in the second group.

Grape SqueezerThe pace was fast in these opening minutes, and before I knew it, there was a short section single track right before the dreaded Hydro Hill at about the 6km mark. By the first single track, I seemed to have fallen into a good rhythm - riding fast, but not too hard. Hydro Hill is a long, gradual climb that never seems to end. It's a dirt road with some loose gravel. By this time, we had caught up with some riders from previous wave. Some riders had chosen to walk up the long hill, but I managed to stick with a group of riders, as we fought our way to the top.

After Hydro Hill, there are a lot of open roads, where energy can be saved by drafting behind other riders. I was content to stay in the back of a group of a half-dozen or so riders to save energy while keeping up a good pace. The race continued with some more paved roads, some more crushed gravel double track, and some slick, muddy single track. The mud was slippery, and some riders found themselves off the path, or had their wheels slide from under them. The mud was different than the thick mud that stuck to everything in the Lake-to-Lake Classic back in June, when riders had to stop every few hundred metres to grab handfuls of mud from the wheels just so they'd spin. The mud this time was wetter, so it didn't clog the wheels. It did, however, make the gears jump in the latter half of the race.

Before I knew it, I was at the half way point, where enthusiastic volunteers were handing out bottles of water. I grabbed one, took a few big gulps, and tossed it aside.

The second half was more of the same. Open paved and dirt roads, and a memorable ride through some sweet-smelling vineyards. But the fun part was the slick single track, including a couple of quick, muddy downhills. There was also a second long hill - a long, loose-gravel hill, and by this time a lot of riders were walking. I managed to ride up while following a rider who cleared a path between riders who had dismounted.

I recognized the last few kms of the course because I had warmed up on this part of the course. This last section of crushed gravel was fun - already covered in mud, and soaking wet - splashing through puddles. Up a quick paved hill to the finish, past enthusiastic spectators yelling encouragement for the final hundred meters ... There it was - the finish line.

And that was it.

Once I crossed the finish line, a volunteer removed my transponder, and I looked for my waiting party. Unable to find them, I chatted with other riders with whom I rode for parts of the race.

We cleaned up and hung out at the Wine Festival in Montebello Park. The tokens that were a part of our registration were a nice touch. Finally, the draw prizes and awards were handed out. While I didn't win the bike again, there were quite a few lucky people who took home the prizes.

The Squeezer is a great event because it's more than the race. And the race isn't too serious, as it attracts everyone from serious club riders to intermediate guys like me, to novices. It's great to see such diversity, and to be surrounded by people with the same interest.

And it happens at a great time of year. We take our chances with the weather at the end of September, but we were fortunate this year. After a busy year of riding, the Squeezer is a great way to end the riding season, and to meet people with that same passion for the mountain bike!

Many thanks to the organizers and volunteers!

-- Steve Shikaze, Rider #367

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