Pretty much right back into the thick of the race season. The weeks in general have slid back into the familiar pattern of recovery Monday, Turkey Vulture smack-down ride Tuesday, endurance Wednesday, SS MTB ride Thursday, endurance ride Friday and Saturday with a couple short bouts of intensity then race on Sunday. Or something like that at least.
So far it has been a good season, though it already seems like it has been long or at least, perpetual. One thing is for sure, I will be headed for a solid departure and break once the weather gets a bit nicer. Probably around Memorial Day we will back away from racing and just do a bunch of fun rides. We are very much looking forward to some MTB and road adventures up north.
In terms of recent races however, there was a good string of competition to be had, one which has left me a bit on the tired side I must admit. It all started with the Hop Brook MTB race a couple weeks back on Sunday. That following Saturday was the Tour of the Battenkill, a solid 65 mile road race that featured numerous sections of gravel road as well as many challenging climbs and rollers. A race that I've never really had much success at in the past but which for which I had some optimism for this year.
For just about the first time ever in a masters road race for me, we actually had a team. It was a small team with Kyle, Mike and myself and Cathy in support but a team none the less. A team made up of individuals that were all of similar ability level and all of whom rode together frequently. Some of us even car-pooled together and get common lodging. The long trip out to the race, which was in Cambridge, NY, was made longer by the fact that we had to drive through a freak ice and snow storm. Conditions were terrible and the driving brought back memories of the trip to Louisville earlier this year. Lucking we'd left early and were in no hurry so I took it very easy. No stress, at least for the driver. Kyle talked pretty constantly the whole trip, which is his normal MO. Eventually we made it to the venue, registered then changed up for some course recon. Luckily it was mostly dry in NY, though a little on the cool side.
Kyle and I rode the first 17 miles of the course including one of the decisive hills while Cathy kicked around town for a bit and then drove out to meet us on course. From there we were off to the motel in Manchester, VT. Check in, shower, and then head out for some food. We settled on Mexican at a place that was OK. Unfortunately Kyle likes to drink beer and I can't say no so we both drank too much for the night before a long race. To compound the issue, we stopped at the motel bar to meet some more friends and had a couple more drinks. Finally in bed I for one of the first times ever in a strange place, slept well and woke a bit sore from the drive and a bit dehydrated from the beers. A good breakfast at the motel and we were off to the race.
This season is my first in the 45+ age group. As such, I chose the masters 45+ race, a race comprised of some of the most seasoned veteran racers in the region. Many names that I knew and respected greatly were there as well as many that I didn't know. A full field of 126 racers pre-registered but given the conditions the day before, a number would surely not show up. The start was cold but the sun was eventually supposed to come out which would certainly make it warm. As such, I opted to dress on the cool side, cool at least for the start of the race, knowing I would eventually get warm. Reality was that I was freezing for the first few miles, literally shaking uncontrollably which fed into the handlebars causing the bike to shake. I almost had to pull over to the side it got so bad on one slight descent but kept it upright to the first small hill and made my way to the front for the upcoming covered bridge of doom.
I stayed in front long enough to generate some body heat then slipped back a bit to sit sheltered in the pack. Mayhem followed on the approach into Perry Hill. As always, everyone swarms to the front only to then implode when it gets steep and drift to the back. We made it over near the front but while the back of the bus was busy swarming the front of the bus, well known OA/Cyclemania strongman Fred T. rode off the front. I later learned that at least one of the numerous Finkraft team tried to go with him but couldn't. Bad sign.
Over the Juniper Swamp climb it looked like there may be some gaps but nothing materialized and soon it all came back together. From that point on the Finkraft team spent the bulk of the time on the front setting pace. It seemed that nobody else wanted anything to do with doing any work and were content hovering near but never on the front. Eventually I got sick of it and started working with the team, many of whom are great guys for which I have tons of respect. Kyle wisely asked me what I was doing as I have a tendency to not_race_very_smart when it comes to the road. I explained myself and he agreed that we would both spent our time setting pace while Mike sat in the pack waiting in reserve.
The rest of the race was a blur of forgotten sections of rolling pavement and gravel and cursing the weasels, some of which were entire teams of weasels happy to sit on the back until the end while move after move goes up the road. Eventually on Mountain Road, a long rolling dirt section initiated by a fairly robust climb, things started to heat up. KMS's Peter V. (senior), a great guy and feared competitor with a stellar road racing pedigree pushed a huge gear past me over the crest of the climb and surged ahead. I didn't dare follow and apparently neither did anyone else as Peter rode away. At the very end of the road Finkraft's own Roger A., who is a multi-time National champion in multiple disciplines attacked hard exactly after I'd done a hard turn on the front. Another racer went with him and they too were now up the road, making the rest of us racing for 5th.
When we turned onto RT40, a started a gently paved ascent which marks the long approach to the most decisive segment of the course, Meetinghouse Rd., I was at the front and a racer I knew rolled up to me and started chatting. I hadn't seen him all day and didn't even realize he was in the race. Between that and watching Roger a hundred yards up the road from us, a fuse blew in my tiny brain. I attacked hard and just kept going, trying to distance myself as quickly as possible and hopefully bridge up to the group ahead. I soon noticed another racer with me, who had also seen time on the front of the race. I asked pointedly if he wanted to chase them down and if he was willing to work, he affirmed and we went into a good rotation pulling back some distance. A while later we were joined by a couple more including CCC/Keltic racing's Andy R. and another two that I did not know. Finkraft also had strong guy Troy K. covering as well. Soon the group, minus Troy of course who had a teammate up the road, worked into the rotation.
Unfortunately by the time we turned to hit the first climb on Meetinghouse I was pretty well spent and got blown off the back of the crew. A couple of people drifting just behind us came by me as I lumbered over the top, eventually, and descended down only to head back up the other side. This allowed me to recover enough to hit it hard and catch back onto my group and ride through them, only to get caught back at the top. The final climb on Meetinghouse was hard but I remained fairly tight but got caught out a bit by the massive surge down the corkscrew descent. A gap formed that I couldn't close as the front of the race, minus Fred, was coming back together. Eventually I hooked up the two dangling just behind me and we made it back into the now fully integrated group.
The run in to Stage Rd., the final climb of the race and arguably the hardest saw some attempts but nothing going away. Stupidly I did a little too much not thinking enough about what still to come. At the base Roger launched hard and with a teammate rode away ahead while the rest of our pack pushed up the climb. The pace was brutal and I was literally digging deeper than I think I ever had to remain attached to the back of the group. Finally we crested together and made the final, mostly flat run to the finish. This involved lots of cat and mouse with nobody wanting to pull the rest into the sprint. That translated to one guy trying to jump with an 800 watt sprint surge for 50 meters and then they would sit up and try and get others to come around. That on the gas full, off the gas cycle at that point in the race was the death blow. I think had we done a constant 400 watt rotation I would have been better but by the time the real sprint opened I could barely accelerate at all. In hindsight I'd have been better off just trying a super long sprint I suspect but the reality was that was all done and just able to hang on for 12th, 9th in the group of 11.
Another hard race but this marked the first time ever I'd made it to Stage Rd. with the (virtual) head of the race. Kyle was literally just behind me finishing in 16th, having spent lots of energy with another racer trying to chase his teammate down. Good for him that it didn't work else he would have walked home. Mike was just being Kyle in 29th making for an excellent team result in a fiercely competitive field. It was fun and I'm glad that I did the race, but am also glad that it is over and I can get back to the MTB. As for the weasels, in this case and in this race, the reality is actually that weasels are few and far between. Most of the guys who spent time at the front during the race were near the front at the end of the race. Most of the guy's who held back, did so because they were barely hanging on, trying to just make it to the finish rather than being fresh for the sprint at the end. Some times it's just hard to recognize that fact when you are bleeding from your eyes and have been for the past couple of hours.