Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
We woke up at 7 a.m. on Saturday and the butterflies were definitely fluttering. I had done quite a bit of talking to my local friends who have done Battenkill in years past.
The one thing everyone talked was the final climb before the finish, Stage Road. It's all dirt and over 2 miles long. This was what I was most worried about. We had six riders representing Team TOMS in the Cat 5 field together. We were the largest team in our field and we knew that would be one of our biggest advantages. The biggest wild card was just how steep the climbs were going to be and how would our legs hold up? For many of us it would be the longest race we had ever done.
We donned our TOMS kits, loaded our pockets with gels and water bottles and tried to prepare ourselves for the wind and cold. We proceeded to registration at the school in Cambridge, tried to continue eating but it was hard. We used the bathroom many many times and pinned our numbers on each other in the locker room of the school. We then went on a quick warm up ride together and headed to the start line.
It was cold, cloudy and steady winds of 15-20 mph. Our primary goal was to stay organized at the front of our pack because we knew riders would start falling off the back early on and the pack would likely split. The dirt roads were numerous and the pot holes just as plentiful. Luckily everything was dry. It was a cold and windy start, the sun eventually broke through and remained but the wind was persistent and all over the place. In my group we rotated in a tight pace line and echelon when crosswinds arose.
The first two climbs were absolutely brutal. I was totally caught off guard. I knew the mileage for the climbs but I was not prepared for the grade of each. Our speed was in the single digits. As we predicted the pack split early on with about 20 riders out in front and the rest scattered behind with no organization. Matt and Greg were able to work together and maintain good position in the lead pack. I found myself alone in the middle, exactly where I didn't want to be. Tim was off behind me and Ellis alone in front. Ryan was also somewhere on his own. Unfortunately Ryan and Tim had to bow out. Ellis fought through the stomach sickness he had been battling and impressively finished the race on his own.
During a relatively flat and rolling section of the course I spent about an hour bridging a gap on my own to reach a group of four riders. I recovered and for the remainder of the race we worked together very well and made up a lot of the time we had lost. At around mile 55 we hit Stage Road, our last major challenge before the finish at 62. It was a long stair stepper climb with unfortunate casualties forced to walk their bikes all a long the way. When I finally reached the peak I was filled with relief and pride because I knew I had done it. The finish was just a few rolling hills away, on pavement.
At the finish Team TOMS gathered to reflect on the brutal race. I think each of us faced our own unique challenges but in the end we represented the team with pride and definitely had a blast."
My goals for the race were to do the work for Greg and Ray, so they would have "fresh" legs for the last climb and finish. I had studied the course map and profile pretty intensely on the ride up to NY, and decided to tape the profile with some notes on my bars so I could relay info to everyone during the race. I figured we might be able to use our energy more wisely this way. A high finish was a bonus goal for me, but my main goal was to make sure at least one Kindhuman rider finished in the top 10.
The flag dropped, and we headed out, but not before 2 teammates from NY Velocity almost took each other out before crossing the start line (yay cat 5). As soon as the pace car pulled away from the neutral start, the attacks started. The most notable one came from one of the NJMTB guys. A couple of other guys tried to bridge up to him, but ended up hanging out in no-man's-land. My thoughts: with 60+ hilly, windy miles left to race, let them go.
After 5 easy miles, the course took a left towards a covered bridge and immediately into the 1st unpaved section. My goal from the beginning was to control the pace of the race from that left turn to the end of the unpaved section. I made sure all of the TOMS riders were close to the front, and I picked up the pace. Before we even got to the covered bridge, we caught all but one of the early attackers (the NJMTB guy). I drove the pack for the next mile or so, and we started the 1st climb. It was a steep one, and I could tell right away, that it wasn't going to be my best climbing day. Since I was at the front of the field at the base, I decided to let myself slip back as we ascended the steepest sections so I could save some energy for the 5 climbs to follow. After the descent, we made a sharp left onto the 2nd dirt section. It started off OK, but there was a really tough climb in that section. I ended up dropping off the back of the pack at the top, and had to figure out how to bridge back up on the descent and flat to follow. I looked back, and saw a TOMS kit that I thought was Ray's, and I slowed down so we could both bridge. When he caught up, I realized it was Ellis, and we started the chase. I accidentally gapped Ellis once I picked up the pace, but the 2nd pull was more successful. It was a couple of miles of hard riding to bridge, but we ended up back in the pack by the time the 3rd climb started. Luckily, that one looked a lot worse on the profile than it actually was. It gave me a little time to recover from bridging, but not much. Now we were in a 7 or 8 mile flat section with brutal cross winds.
When Ellis and I got situated in the group, we realized that they, including Greg, were pushing hard to try to catch the guy who had been out front since mile 1. I rode up to the front of the group and told Greg to keep his face out of the wind. At this point, I was thinking that if the guy on the solo break wants to do a 61 mile TT, he's more than welcome to do it. The roads were wide open through this section, and that guy was no where to be seen. I was pretty sure he was a really fast TT or MTB guy who didn't have enough group starts to be in a higher category. We probably weren't going to catch him, so our team isn't going to try. Greg and I sat back and let the rest of the group do the work so we could conserve. At some point during this section, Ellis and a few other riders dropped off the group. The chase group was down to about 15 riders when we hit the 60k mark.
At 70k, we hit the 2nd feed zone. At that point, we were told that the guy out front had 6 minutes on the field. There were still some delusional people in our group who thought we could reel him in over the next 30k, but most of us knew the race was for 2nd. After the feed zone, we started what turned out to be the hardest climb of the day. It was a long, dirt climb, with a lot of false summits. My calves had been on the verge of cramping since bridging back to the chase group an hour earlier, and the relentless nature of climb put the nail in my coffin. Not only were my calves cramping while climbing in the saddle, now my quads were now cramping while climbing out of the saddle. As Greg and the rest of the chase group faded into the distance, I prepared for a 20k limp to the finish. Luckily, I caught up with another rider in a similar state, and we worked pretty well to get ourselves over the last climb and through the final 10k of flat roads to the finish. I found a little more energy, and started fearing that the "group" behind would catch us on the line, so the pace was going faster than expected at that point. We even ended up catching one guy in the last 100 meters.
I took 12th overall, and was really happy that Greg took 9th. I wish I could have stayed with him through the last climb, but I felt like I did what I set out to do for the team. The guy with who was on a solo break away for 61 miles had a 10 minute gap at the end, and his overall time ended up being just 2 minutes slower than that of the cat 3 field. I was satisfied with my instincts to let him go. Even if we covered the break early, it seems very unlikely that our field could have controlled him in the end.
I had a great weekend, and I think everyone on the team should be proud. We represented Kindhuman well, both on and off our bikes. I learned a lot, and can't wait to apply it in future races. I'm not sure how excited everyone else is for this race next year, but I'm definitely considering it."
All Photos Courtesy Of: Raymond Jones