Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Friday

And yet another work week draws to close. They seem to be getting away from me, but that's just the way it is, right? This was a good week. We had a great weekend last weekend with a spectacular day trip to the Kingdom Trails and then busting some clays on Sunday. Also had a good solid mix during the week. I actually really appreciate and enjoy the regular, scheduled order of the work week. I often struggle with vacation weeks due to their lack of structure.

Monday was a nice, rainy, low key day. Tuesday we did the NEBC Junior Development Cycling Team weekly group ride at which there were exactly zero crashes or injuries; small steps. Wednesday night was the MTB time trial championships of the world at the CBTT, also know as the "how badly can you handicap yourself in a TT" race. Last night I went over to the Thursday night Hanscom ride put on by the good folks at CRW. The ride was good and with very tired legs from the TT effort the preceding evening, I suffered at the hands of Gary J., who was in very good form. Today I need to work some, or pretend to anyhow, do some bike work at lunch (like build up a new 29er full suspension frame I got for Cathy) and then some of the Junior Team are going to converge on the local MTB trails for what is sure to be mayhem.

The weekend weather is looking mediocre but we have plans to head back up to the Kingdom Trails in the morning and get in another stellar day of riding the best that the region has to offer. Looking very forward to this once again. It has been a good week for sure and there is no sign of it letting up. Life is good!

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Three minutes and two seconds. That is an eternity when it comes to competition or any type of racing. That just happens to be the difference between my best time this season at our local cycling time trial, the Charlie Baker Time Trial that our club puts on in Concord, MA, and the time that I set last night.

The difference is that my best of the season was done on a full carbon fiber time trial bike outfitted with full aero fittings like a carbon fiber deep dish front wheel and matching full disc rear wheel and 23c tubular tires at 130psi. I was also wearing a skinsuit and an aero helmet. Last night, however, I was riding my full suspension (not locked out), carbon fiber 29er race MTB with traditional alloy spoked wheels and my 1.95" racing knobbies at 65psi. It is decidedly not aero. I was wearing a normal jersey and bibs and a normal helmet.

Oh yea, and I also got run off the road by a boat. Some douche pulling a boat got his truck past me, but couldn't get by Cathy when a car came the other way. He then decided to come back over into me while I was still beside the boat. I slammed the brakes on and went into a pavement cutout (had the right bike for that for sure), narrowly missing the big traffic barrel they had setup. He then wouldn't pass Cathy so I came back up along side of him on the right, pulled out in front of him, behind Cathy and passed her, then moving back to the curb. The dude wasn't impressed but WTF!? You can't just run my ass off the road with your crappy boat and then expect me to wait because you don't have the skill to drive the thing.

This bike just looks fast. What am I doing wrong?

If the three minutes and small change seems reasonable, maybe the average speed differential is more telling. The difference was between 27.03mph avg on the TT bike compared to 23.7mph avg on the MTB. Yes, that is more than three mph difference but logic would seem to suggest the difference should be bigger, right? I would certainly expect it to be as this is about as extreme a disparity as one could muster this side of riding a tricycle as a comparison. If I look at the comparisons for others, lets take Cathy for instance, who is a much, much better TT-er than I am, the disparity is much more pronounced with a near five minute and near 5mph difference week over week, TT to MTB. That, to me, seems like a more reasonable number.

This bike is fast, at least for an MTB on the road.

I realize that the MTB is my best discipline by a long shot and I am certainly the most comfortable on the MTB. Clearly this is translating to riding the MTB in general, in any circumstance. Maybe I should just slap some slicks and aero bars on it and see what happens. regardless, these leaves me pondering just exactly what the F I'm doing wrong on the TT bike. Is there some unlocked potential gain, hidden there in the god forsaken discomfort of that torturous TT bike?

I really hope so because I haven't made any gain in years. May be time to break down and go see Armand. We have been thinking about it for Cathy anyhow, who is looking for 21 seconds in order to knock none other than Karen Smyers out of the top 3 record times at the CBTT. Yes, Cathy is legit and deadly on a TT bike, as many unhappy men who get 'chicked' by her weekly can attest to. I on the other hand ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Very Good Day

This past Saturday, Cathy and I decided to forgo racing or any such nonsense and do a mountain bike day trip up to the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT. We hadn't had a chance to make it KT all year and were very excited to go. The weather forecast for Saturday was near perfect and so we made the call. A 6:30AM departure would get us there in good time.

I needed to stop off in Lyndonville, just a few miles from East Burke, at my brother Chad's barbershop in order to drop off a mountain bike I'd gotten for my nephew. We did so and sat around for a bit listening to and occasionally participating in the rural barber shop conversation. Barbershop conversation is basically the same everywhere, usually centered on the weather, politics or sports. Not super in-depth or too thought provoking but often heated or passionate. It was good to catch up, if only briefly and to also get a familiar haircut. Until I was about 35 years old, my brother and father (also a barber) were the only ones ever to have cut my hair. It was quite literally nerve racking experience when first I went to a local barber, not all that long ago.

We arrived in East Burke and found a parking spot behind the Pub Outback, who have some of the best onion rings on the planet as well as a great beer selection. As we looked to the car beside us we noted the familiar face of Doug, who it turns out was up for a day trip with a buddy as well. Like minds I guess. Doug's plan involved lots of climbing, big surprise, and an extended trip out to East Haven to the old radar base. That involves another mountain climb, similar in scope to that of Burke Mountain.

Cathy and I planned to stay local but to make a bid for all of the main areas, which include the mountain road to Camptown, Dead Moose Alley, the slopeside trails to Pinkham Road, Magill and Moose Alley. RT114 to Burnham Up, Red Tail and Kirby Connector. That was the morning's plan and we nailed it all. Most everything was in very goods shape. I did note that Dead Moose is taking a beating and isn't nearly as much fun as some of the other trails. Also, the lower part of Burnham Up was great but when we started to level off, the trail was pretty muddy in spots and pretty gutted out. They have been building boardwalk to beat the band but it seems it may be a loosing battle in that particular area and they will be forced to bridge it all. A daunting task and a massive consumption of resources.

The last time we were at KT, nearly a year ago now, they were working on a new slopeside trail. I think it is called Dragonslayer (it's actually Knightslayer). Starting this year, Burke Mountain is doing lift service on the lower lift that takes you from the base to mid Burke. The trails that they have designed and built for the lift served gravity crowd are absolutely incredible. They are also absolute terrifying if ridden properly and no place for a skinny little XC bike with low handlebars and high saddle height. I was wanting for my Yeti 575 but really wished I still had my Intense M1. Regardless, I had my very nice but wholly inappropriate 29er XC bike. This left me basically with no business being on those trails. As such, we quickly played through and headed for some more appropriate terrain.

Once we finished up on the Kirby Connector, which has recently and unfortunately, been logged, we took the Kirby Road back to town for some lunch. Bailey's Country Store (now called Bailey's & Burke) is back in business and providing very, very good eats. We had the typical for us, Thanksgiving on a roll sandwich and topped off the fluid stores. From there it was an afternoon of the really good stuff on both sides of Darling Hill. To loosen back up after lunch we opted to beeline back out RT114 to White School trail. Feeling a little bloated we rode gingerly along the trails, winding our way back to the Darling Hill Road, a paved climb with small stretches in the mid to upper teens, grade wise. Nothing brutally hard but you feel it.

The West side of Darling Hill affords incredible views of the valley beyond as well as the Willoughby Gap. This is, IMHO, one of the nicest and most picturesque places in VT if not all of New England. This area also houses a treasure trove of the best that KT has to offer in terms of new school XC trails. You hit the trails one after the other, each having a slight feel a flavor of their own but also weaving nicely together into an incredible ride. Our staple is Loop, Poundcake, Fenceline, Bog Meadow, Pastore Point/Loop, Coronary and back up to the top of the ridge. Then we traverse on Bemis to get to any of the multiple, totally excellent descents back down the ridge. This time, we found a new trail that had been made and decided to give it a try. This was in addition to Tap & Die and Tody's Tour and was named Troll Stroll. This trail was incredibly well laid out, with good flowing sustainable turns and elevation gains that made use of the descending momentum you had accumulated to make small cross gains painless. This maximized your time on the trail. I can say without a doubt that this sets a new benchmark, at least in my opinion coming from a true XC standpoint.

At that point in the day things were getting a little blurry. Cathy had been a trooper and humored my numerous ascents and trail choices but was starting to grow weary. We chose to hit only the best of the rest, which meant no climb back up to hit Tap & Die and then again for Tody's Tour. Instead we hit River Run to Webs, climbed up Violet's Outback to Sidewinder. Sidewinder is a must do. It is short but very sweet, a true roller coaster ride on two wheels. The KTA folks have reworked it a bit as well so it is ready to go. We then climbed up out on the switchback trail and tool in Old Webs, before making our way up and out of the West side of Darling Hill, over to the right side. There are a ton of trails on this side of the ridge as well but we opted to make a fairly direct route back out via VAST, veering off course only to sample Leatherwood and Kitchel.

We finished up back at the van happy with the days adventure. Along the course we had racked up 45 miles, just shy of my outside 50 mile goal but well over my 40 mile minimum goal. We had also accumulated about 5k of climb. Not bad. Clean the dirt and mud off, hit the Pub Outback for a drink and some o-rings and shoot for home. A very good day. So good, we are planning to do it all over again this coming Saturday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

That Time of Year

Where indeed does the time go? I know that is cliche but it seems, somewhat, appropriate at this moment. As much as we struggle, time just seems to slip between our fingers, eluding or escaping our grasp. It's getting to be that time of year already. The time of year when it is getting dark a little earlier than in its ever so brief, extended breadth, we seem to have gotten used to. The time is now such that you return home from the evening's ride in the waning light. Last night was the first time this year that I'd really noticed it.

After finishing up my first venture back to the CRW Thursday night Hanscom ride, I hung out after and chatted with buddy Gary J. at the parking lot. I peeled off to make the 5 mile ride home from there at about 7:45PM and it was really starting to get dark. By the time I got home I could barely see, albeit I did still have my sunglasses on to protect from bug strikes.

After sunset last night the temperature also dropped markedly. Now that the air is much drier than in recent weeks, the air temperature drop when we lose the sun results in a crisp clean and cool air. Passing through a couple of hollows while turning a nice relaxing pace, I found myself wanting for my arm warmers. It was a welcome change from the recent, tropical weather we have had.

Last night we opened all of the windows in the house up and also slept with a fan in the window. It was down right chilly even with all of the blankets and a down comforter on the bed. I love that feeling. I'm one of those people that likes to sleep in the cold. The A/C just doesn't get it cold and crisp enough and the air gets stuffy. Last night was perfect sleeping weather.

We live in New England so we all know what is just around the corner; change. That is why many of us choose to live here, the underlying promise of familiar and welcomed change. As summer winds down we look very forward to visiting old friends, places and activities that we haven't seen in nearly a year. Once old activities will once again seem new again. It is this type of variety that keeps life interesting.

It's nice to have the 4 distinct chapters of our year consistently and neatly presented to us. Sure, some times the chapters can seem shorter or longer from year to year but they never fail to come, at least, not yet. Lets hope it stays that way.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hodges Village Dam(n)

Last weekend was the annual Hodges Village Dam Root66 USA Cycling MTB race out in lovely Oxford, MA. Oxford is sort of in the middle of nowhere yet just a stones throw from Worcester. It is a gentle 45 minute drive for us, either via the Mass Pike or RT495/290. The venue is literally at a dam and the terrain is around a pond that also serves as a flood control area. The terrain is rolling and is based primarily on bombed out old moto trails and access roads. Not a terrible picturesque area but the type of place where a hoard of mountain bikes racing in foul conditions really doesn't have a whole lot of impact. This is one of the few properties where motorized recreational access is still allowed in the start, or at least it used to be, very recently.

This is the 4th year in a row that I've participated in this race and, knock on wood, I've always had pretty good success there. Part of the attraction is the proximity and convenience, part is that this is the MA state championships and part is that the course actually suits me fairly well with lots of fast power sections and rocky, rooted, bumpy junk that has full suspension written all over it. I've had some epic battles as well, possibly two of the best ever, like last year against Alec Petro and the year before against JB. I've also raced in some of the most epic conditions ever at this event, such as two years ago when full sections of the course were literally under 3' of water. This year turned out to be surprisingly even more epic than that year. Hard torrential rains the night before followed by a steady driving rain the AM of the race led to standing pools (not puddles) of water as well as streaming torrents of runoff in multiple sections. In at least two places there were deep moto created whoops that were totally submerged under 16" of water, but each also had one extra deep whoop where you sunk literally to your ass. The force was enough to almost stop you and launch you over the bars. There was even one access road that was completely flooded and had so much water flow that you were literally riding upstream against a current. The real kick in the middle was that the under surface was sandy, making it double extra miserable.

I sat on the line in the driving 68 degree rain, shivering uncontrollably, waiting for the start. Off the line the pace was hard with Steve Witkus from the Bikeman team, whom I raced against earlier this season at Winding Trails and narrowly managed to stay ahead of, laying down a monstrous pace. I followed and tucked in behind him, waiting to see how well he made out once we hit the first rocky section, as he was on a fully rigid bike that he had only put gears on for the this race. The sprint out of the gate seemed to have take a toll and when we hit the rocky stuff about a half mile in, I passed and drilled it. Into the first muddy turn the lack of traction afforded by my Specialized Renegade minimal tread tires became abundantly evident. A two wheel power slide and foot dab let me know that I was going to need to ride this like a slippery cross race, run straight into the corners, aiming for the berm on the edge and use that for the turning. That seemed to work just fine and the tires were fine otherwise.

The pace remained high the entire first lap and I made it around in just under 30 minutes for my best lap of the day. Lap two I settled in and tried to maintain a comfortably sustainable pace. This ended up being a little too comfortable I think as it was just over 31 minutes. Unsure of how much time I had on the competition I tried to pick in a little in order to be more consistent. At this point in the game I was in a steady stream of passing racers from other fields. Shortly into the lap on the flat access road of the first section I swung right through a deep puddle to make a pass. After completing it I notice the rear tire had flatted, almost instantly. I was sure that I hadn't hit anything so have no idea what caused it. All that I knew was that I had to get it fixed. Ugh! Pull to the side of the trail, remain calm, there goes the guy I just passed, shift up in the rear, unbolt the wheel, more people I recently passed, pull the Camelbak and gloves off, grab the inflation device and tube, pre-inflate the tube manually, pull the old tube out, check for thorns, replace tube, oh crap, there goes Steve, seat the bead, hope the CO2 works, yes, it worked, add a second CO2 cartridge to get higher pressure, fumble getting the wheel back on, fumble getting the 12mm through-axle in, shift back down, pack it all pack up, wet gloves back onto muddy hands, we're off. Not a record by any stretch but not too bad. I'm guessing it was about 2.5 to 3 minutes total downtime.

Now the fun begins. Chasing like a maniac to try and get the minute and half or so back on a guy who is now drilling it with the surge of adrenaline and optimism gained by having seen the nearest competition essentially dead on the side of the trail and now they themselves being at the head of the race. I hate this game, that being the frantic, racing for your very life type of riding. You tend to make mistakes, you tend to ride poorly, you tend to go too hard and you tend to blow up as a result. Ha, I was right and did all of those. The other pain is that you get to be an annoyance to the same people twice as you pass them again. Of course, now we are in the narrower and more technical section of trail where passing is more difficult, and so it was. To cut to the chase, I fumbled through the third lap, finally regaining some composure on the final lap. The rain had stopped and the standing water was subsiding, leaving sticky mud in its wake. The humidity was also starting to rise as was the temperature. Time to get this thing over with.

At that point I'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Steve had punched out and I was never going to see him again. I was bringing in a steady stream of racers from other fields but could tell it wasn't going to be enough when on the long straight after the start I couldn't see, or at least make out, Steve up ahead. The reality is that gaps are deceiving. On the road, a couple bike lengths is often not close-able. Offroad, 20 or 30 seconds can be made up pretty quickly. That straight section probably afforded a 20 second vista into the future. Just before the narrow bridge crossing I caught Cathy. She was moving very, very well and having a great ride, About a mile after that, it was was great relief and some disbelief that I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be Steve ahead. Calmly, I closed to within 20 yards and sat, recovering a little bit, squished down a Powergel, drank and waited. In the final rooted and rocky stuff before breaking out of the woods and onto the sandy access road, I closed the gap tight. On the road I waited a bit to see how Steve looked physically then attacked as hard as I could. No response was given so I kept charging as much as I could. Running scared I kept the pace steadily high while trying to ride safe and smart. In the end it worked and I managed to cross the finish line ahead. Other than the flat, a good solid race.

As an aside, this was an excellent course for my new this season Specialized Epic Expert carbon 29er. Though the 29er format can be a challenge at courses with a lot of climbing due to the extra rotating mass or in a ton of tight twisty technical stuff where a 26er just handles more crisply, it is absolutely incredible how much smoother it is through the bumps and rough stuff. It also rolls really, really well on the flats. I noticed this in a big way on a long solo MTB ride this past Friday where I was able to carry lots of speed with less perceived effort than expected. Despite a few initial issues the bike really seems to be dialed in now and I am really happy with it. The suspension is working great, a vast improvement over the older Epic design which I had previously. I did manage to chew through another complete set of rear disc brake pads this race. Despite that fact and also having a prong of the pad spring catch the rotor and bend itself into a pretzel, the wheel spun freely with little drag. This is more than I can say about Cathy's bike. She suffered horribly on the last lap but finished strong. While cleaning the bikes I noticed that he rear brake was dragging really bad. To the point where there was no free rotation at all. Examination revealed that the pads were worn out and on one side, the rotor had worn nearly half way through the steel backer plate. The spring that keeps the pads separated and away from the rotor, had been worn in half and two of the 4 prongs were gone, completely, rendering it useless. I'm guessing that meant an extra 25 watts of constant power required just to turn the wheel. No wonder she was spent. Most people would have given up but not her. Hardcore.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Norwell Circuit Race

Yep, another race report. I know, I'm lacking for valid content so in lieu, I'm falling back on a report. Last Sunday was the Norwell Circuit race, a fairly local and very fun event that is put on by the south shore folks at Mass Bay Road Club and our friend Chris Constantino. This is a great event put on by great folks. We should all try and support it in the future and if possible, volunteer when the call comes.

I've done this race a few times in the past though of recent it seems there has been a conflict. This year we have been sticking with convenience winning out, and as such, Norwell was the easy winner. With good weather and a close race, we made the easy 45 minute drive south to the race, arriving in plenty of time to secure a good parking spot. Cathy was racing with the women this year for a change and as such, her race was the first of the day. We picked up our numbers, got dressed and headed out for a couple of preview laps. Same old course in roughly the same condition as last time.

The women's race had a ton of NEBC members in it and they put together a team plan for the race. A couple of the women were looking for good results so they all decided to help make that happen. The pace for their race started off pretty high and it was quickly evident that there was some disparity in the field as some women were getting shelled off the back pretty much every lap. The finish hill tends to do that as gaps tend to form naturally going up it. A few laps in a break established with 3 or 4 women including an NEBC woman. Behind that was a chase group of a number of other teams, all marked by a number of other NEBC women. Behind them was another group with the remainder of the pack. The finish played it in a mad sprint up the hill with NEBC handily getting the win in the break of 3 women, then also taking the field sprint for 4th as well as a handful of other top ten positions. Cathy raced for her teammates and had an excellent time doing so.

Later in the day I lined up for the Men's Masters 35+ race. NEBC had a good showing in the field with Scott and Joe as well as myself. Our goal as always was to be combative while also being opportunistic. Many of the guys from the other squads were there as well, though a bunch of them had already done the Masters 45+ race preceding this race. The neutral start, which took you from parking at a school, across the road and out to the course, was interesting. Teammate Scotty was on the front and I was behind him. We were doing 25mph and the pace car was not slowing down at all. We got onto course and the race commenced but we remained in that position and at that pace all the way into the foot of the finish climb. Scott eased up a bit and I decided to see if we could get it started so drilled it up the climb, hoping to string it out and break it up some. This resulted in the first break of the day. At first it was just a few of us but gained momentum with some of the bigger names joining in on the fun. We worked it for a while and I really though we may have a chance but alas, it was not to be. That hurt though.

The next half of the race was a blur of attacks and failed break attempts. We had teammates covering everything and instigating a bunch of stuff as well. This made for a hard race with countless hard sustained efforts. It also made for a whole lot of got clean racing for those who chose to do so. Most of the more powerful guys were happy to mix it up over and over and over again. Real racing, not that pussy sitting in the pack tail-gunning until the last lap and sprinting it out at the end. Sure, that may be how to win a race but there is more to racing than winning, IMHO. If I was getting a paycheck based on wins then sure, the priority would change. I'm not. I'm there to fight.

The move of the day though came with three to go. JB came to the front on the downhill with Billy S. frantically in tow. As we hit the corner to the false flat the pace lifted. It kept lifting until I was barely able to hold Bill's wheel. All the way to the finish hill at which point Billy killed it up over. I strained with all of my might to make it over with the small group that had a gap. We came back together and worked it fairly well for what should have been the winning break. Bill and I were the last holdouts trying to stay away until just before the turn to the finish hill. Unfortunately, we got swarmed and in the mayhem, mayhem ensued. People who had seen no time at the front all day sprinted by me only to literally come to a standstill half way up the hill. Sammy was skipping and popping his drivetrain. I weaved my way around him and a few others and managed to finish top 20 in the melee. The winner however was one of the most aggressive and hardest working tough guys out there, Billy Y. The man wins more races a year than I enter. Good for him.

Although the result wasn't stellar, I was happy with my performance for a number of reasons. I was able to initiate moves and make stuff happen. That is a change over past years as it means I'm starting to be viewed as a potential contender by my peers. This is good and bad but I'll take it as a legitimization of my ability. I made it into all of the moves that day. Literally, I found myself in the right places at the right times. Not an accident of course, it means my reading the field and sensing the mood is getting better. I've been trying really, really hard this year to dig that little bit deeper to hang, or to go or whatever. Mental toughness to counter and overcome the physical pain. I'm good and riding to the point of discomfort but really need to delve into the realm of being uncomfortable and dealing with it. There were a number of times that day when I dug deeper. Slowly but surely I think I'm making some progress at this thing. Will see.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Intro to Hilltowns

Recently the umpteenth annual Tour of the Hilltowns road race took place in Windsor, MA. For those who are unfamiliar, Windsor is in the western part of the state, where the terrain is significantly lumpier than it is in the east. That is not to say that it is flat where we are, in eastern, MA. The truth is that everything here is fairly rolling and long straight flats are hard to come by, but the hills are much smaller than out west. In contrast, we ride quite a bit in western Maine. If you want to talk flat, that is flat. Sure, there are the mountains like the Mahoosucs or the Whites but along the river planes, it's flat, dead flat, for miles and miles and miles.

So back to the story, given that Hilltowns is a classic road race within the region and given that I'd never done the race and in fact had never ridden in or even been to that area of the state save for the Grand Fundo ride last year, I figured that I should give it a go. The drive out to the western part of the state along RT2 was uneventful. We stayed on secondary roadways and came in the back way to Windsor, backwards on the course along RT18, coming onto the course at the foot of the fabled East Hawley Road climb (aka, "the climb"), the primary feature of the Hilltowns race course. The roads appeared to be in well used condition in general and the terrain was rolling and sloped up significantly. We arrived at the venue, Notchview Reservation, which is a Trustees of Reservation site that offers XC skiing in the winter months.

Most of the normal cast of Masters 35+ were present, which I was sure would prove for an interesting and challenging race. The day was hot, though not nearly as bad as it had been the previous few days. Still, the sun was going to play a part in the proceedings without a doubt. From the start pace was strong and attacks started quickly. The first few were easily neutralized on the mostly downhill terrain but when a move went and gained momentum on some of the more rolling terrain, Gary J. from the WheelWorks team and I decided to make a go. It was a fierce chase to catch and the results were short lived. Looked like the race was likely going to stay together until "the climb".

And so it did, through the long winding descents, I stayed in the top 5 in order to keep safe and conserve. As we approached "the climb" the groans started. Exclamations as to how this was going to suck were readily heard. I'd never seen the climb before but mapped it out. It compared almost identically to the top part of the Kancamagus Highway climb headed West, which was just about 5 miles of fairly steady 5% grade. On paper, that didn't sound that bad. In reality, I know what a bear the top of the Kanc is, though that is typically with 80 plus miles of climbing in my legs. My plan was to just try and hang. For much of the climb it was hard but I was holding steady. On the upper third things started to get ugly and I was struggling. With maybe a mile to go, and unbeknown to me, far less of the actual sustained climbing, I fell off the back. Bill S. was there as well and tried to spur me on but I wasn't sure how much more we had and was in a world of hurt.

I ground my way up as they rode away from me. Soon there after the grade leveled out a bit to what was more of a power section. The pace piked up and the gap grew as I pushed as hard as I could. I suspected we were near the top and knew that the lead group would really be pushing hard now. I was right. Slowing I inched back towards stragglers off the back but in front of me. Bill was gone but I slowly, ever so slowly, pulled back toward a few. I was having shifting problems as I chose to swap wheels at the last minute. The shifting seemed fine but as it turned out, the spacing of the hub was a little different and the 12-25 cassette was a little further inboard than the 11-25 on the other wheelset. This translated to me not being able to get into the 12 tooth cog, which left me with a 13 tooth cog as my max, a max for which I really was wishing for more on some of the steeped descents.

Marky G. was the first and I could see he was suffering, so slowed enough for him to latch on and went for the next group. After a good 5 miles of 35mph plus descending I finally caught a group of 4 riders, making 6 of us. One of the group had actually come by me near the top of the climb and I was unable to hang with him on the way down. He proved to be very strong and didn't work well with others, throwing the ad-hock group into disarray. He and I seemed to match pretty well though so we struck off together, and spent the next 20 or so miles working well and saying nary a word to each other. Well, he didn't say anything anyhow. I'm usually pretty animated. Through the feed a snagged a bottle from Cathy and pressed on, still with no pack in sight.

It wasn't until the base of what turned out to be the final, seemingly endless, 5 miles of rollers, up to the finish that we saw the pack. They were 500 yards ahead at that point, just as the climbs were starting. For a brief moment I courted the notion of a massive effort to bridge back but the reality suck in when we reached the second in the succession of rollers, laid out in the baking sun. It was all I could do to get back to the finish. As it ended, I was over 8 minutes back from the leaders, who had broken free of the pack on the East Hawley climb. The pack still finished many minutes ahead of me. I was spent, hot, dehydrated and my legs were nearly cramping from the countless miles of head down chasing. Still, it was a good experience and now I know what the course is like. I need to spend more time climbing and less time just going hard and steady as hard and steady is never hard enough. I also recognize that I really, really need to learn to HtFU and just live with it when the suffering hits. I've been trying this year to dig a little deeper but clearly I'm not quite there yet. Next year!