Bike riding in the prairies
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  Posted May 14th, 2013 by Zdenko  in Cycling | 2 comments

Edmonton cycling

By: Zdenko Kahlina
You can’t get companionship like this when riding solo.
Finally! Halfway the month of April and it’s our first group ride of the season. On this mild Sunday, spring is unmistakably in the air. But the nights are still cold, close to freezing point. So the start of my bike ride at 10 AM was pretty chilly.

As usual, I drove my car to Ardrossan, just few minutes east of the city of Edmonton. There, in this small town by the hockey arena is a huge parking lot, which on Sunday is used mostly by cyclists. They leave cars there and jump on their bikes. When starting the bike rides from Ardrossan, they escape city traffic.

On Sunday mornings there is a different group of bikers leaving every half hour for their ride through beautiful country side of Strathcona County. In otherwise mostly flat Alberta, here in Ardrossan area you can ride through the hills and wooded areas, all the way to Elk Island national park. The area is populated with farms, horse stables and acreages, where people enjoy tranquility and peacefulness of the nature.

My first spring group ride for the 2012 season

This morning I started early, to warm up my legs, even before my group gets together, only couple of kilometers away in the Hunters Hills area. One of the Ongaro brothers lives there and we always use his house as a meeting point. It is already a tradition to stay at his place after the ride and have tasty Italian pasta and glass of Italian Chianti vine.

As predicted, the weather for the first ‘official’ day of spring was fantastic and demanded a good ride. This year’s event was even more special for me as I was taking out for a spin my new Jota-Moreno bike, purchased only couple of months ago, while visiting a friend in Sydney, Australia. I showed up on time and the guys were already outside on the road, ready for the ride… I guess, everybody was pumped up for the first group ride of the new season.

The Ongaro group. From the left: Mark, John, Eugenio, Alex, Paulo and Zdenko (Rudy was taking the picture).

Rudy Ongaro, giving last instructions

O.K. guys, let’s see who is missing… Paulo where are you?

Bike riding with the Ongaro brothers
We began riding in a slow tempo, just to give everyone a chance to warm up. There was seven guys in the group: the Ongaro brothers, Rudy, Paulo and Alex, Eugenio, John and two Kahlina brothers, Mark and myself. Rudy was the designated leader of the group and we all followed his instructions. He picked one of the standard routes around Ardrossan, first heading West towards Edmonton, than turning North towards Fort Saskatchewan into the area with farms and acreages. We were riding past horses and cattle pasturing on a farmland by the road. The boys were chit-chatting and we were happily moving along, pilling kilometers in our legs. We talked about professional racing, and fellow cyclists. In Europe the pros just finished one of the spring classics ‘Liege – Bastogne – Liege’, and we talked about the winner Maxim Inglinsky (Astana team) from Kazakhstan, who won the race. We discussed traffic in Edmonton and other less important things in our lives…

Riding in the prairies and chit-chatting in the group

Everyone does its share of pooling at the front

The constantly rolling terrain provided some climbing opportunities. We climbed some hills and flew down the other side of them. During the descending we would gain the high speeds that we all liked. We even raced each other in a ‘free down hilling’ (no pedaling). This is a game, where we try to catch a draft from the guy in front and gain some speed. The goal is to pass that guy before the end of the descent without pedaling. Cars should never underestimate the cyclists and their speed. They can go faster than cars on the downhill section of the road.

When we reached Township road 540 we made another turn, this time towards East. On this section we had a tail wind and the boyz were flaying. The speed picked up and it was time to say goodbye to the older guys who at this point couldn’t follow our increased speed. After all, they knew we would all get together at Rudy’s house for the previously mentioned Italian pasta.

Paulo, Alex and Rudy… the strongest in the group

Mark was the oldest in the group and Rudy was the leader

The wind!
After yet another change of direction, our little group turned south on RR215 towards highway 16 and this time strong western side wind was giving us a hard time. Wind is generally an enemy for cyclists and here in Alberta wind blows most of the time. It affects the temperatures as it would be much warmer without the wind. To make things worse, it was on this difficult section of the road, that we started attacking each other. The speed was already high, but when Rudy went, pulling away Paulo, I lost their wheel for a moment. Big mistake… this type of a mistake in the real race would decide the outcome at the finish. Here, I kept going, counting on the fact that it is our first ride of the season and that they are probable not in the great shape, and sooner or latter they will have to slow down. They did as I predicted several hundred meters later and we were again together, less Alex and John, who couldn’t follow this high speed and were left for dead…

Zdenko with Alex

Our small group riding through the prairies…

Finishing sprint!
Once we turned onto Township road 534 we faced the strong head wind. But by this time everyone had enough and we decided to slowdown and wait for Alex and John. All that was left for this ride was a final – traditional sprint at the end of the ride in Hunters Hills. But who can beat sprinter Alex, a silver medalist at the 1986 Commonwealth Games or his brother Paulo, national gold medalist in the Olympic sprint team 2001 event!?

Well, the answer is – only their older brother Rudy can surprise and jump them sometimes, for a long shot to the finish line, but even this didn’t work today… Alex and Paulo sprinted away from us and I didn’t even see who won this sprint… they were so far ahead of us.

Thank you…
… to everyone who joined us on Sunday for the first ride of the season. What a great day it was! We all enjoyed the beautiful weather as we rode around Strathcona County. This time I didn’t stop for the Italian pasta after the ride, but there is always next time. All in all, it was a great first ride and I’m hoping for many more to come.

He has a gap… This is what happens when Rudy gets at the front!

Spring Biking Fitness – Advice from expert cycling coach
Unless you’re a total stooge who did nothing but play PS3 over the winter, it’s safe to assume that you’re heading into spring with at least a little fitness. Even so, as riding season is about to hit full swing, what can you do to be sure you’re performing at your peak – especially if you’re short on riding time?

According to James Herrera, M.S., expert cycling coach and founder of Performance Driven (, an athletic coaching and executive consulting company, if you focus your rides to reap maximum benefit, you can reach a decent level of spring fitness with just three rides a week, in four to six weeks. The keys to success: group rides and longer intervals that improve your lactate threshold.

The work: Extended intervals (a.k.a. tempo rides) aren’t done at an all-out effort; you want to reach a point at which you feel you’re riding at 80 percent effort, and your breathing is short, steady and rhythmic. Herrera recommends spending 25 to 50 percent of your ride time on these efforts, and breaking that time up into chunks depending on your fitness. Let’s say you’re a less-fit rider on a two-hour ride. “Instead of doing all 30 minutes at once,” Herrera says, “get there with shorter efforts (say, four 8-minute intervals), with a few minutes of recovery in between.” As your fitness improves, work up to longer intervals (2×15 minutes or 1×30 minutes). Dedicate two of your weekly rides to these efforts, but not on back-to-back days. Choose paved roads or open fire roads which are more conducive to interval riding.

The fun: Go on a group ride at least once a week. “Group riding is a practical form of race simulation,” says Herrera. “Find a group that’s appropriately challenging. If you do you’ll reach all energy levels at some point–aerobic, threshold, VO2. That’s just the nature of the group ride.” According to Herrera, to get the most benefit, don’t be the guy at the front or the back; be the guy who’s chasing the strongest rider. That way, your fitness builds while you’re having fun–a no-brainer that’s sure to make you faster.

Rudy, Mark, John, Eugenio, Alex and Paulo



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2 comments to “Bike riding in the prairies”

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