Short version: Bridged to a four man break with 545Velo Eric around 20 miles. Dropped 1, 2 bridged. Pack close enough at finish for Fred Thomas to bridge with 1k to go for the win. Got 8th.
Long version: 40 degrees and sunny with wind at the start. Strong field with the usual NE suspects plus a strong NYC-area contingent. Gary Aspnes, Bill Shattuck, Carl Reglar and Mr. Unknown rolled away just before the 10 mile mark. With Corner Cycle, CCB and Verge doing a nice job of blocking, they established at least a minute gap pretty quickly. I got frustrated with back pedaling for an iffy shot at 5th place and started looking for a place to bridge. Rolled away with 545Eric around 20 miles and was able to bridge pretty quickly. Gary Aspnes wouldn’t work (an excellent strategy with Paul and Ciaran lurking in the pack) and everyone else couldn’t get over it. I was very clear that ignoring Gary and staying away was a sure thing if we all worked, but no one would commit consistently. So I tried to pull away on every hill. Funny note: Mr. Unknown warned me that I would be off the front all alone if I kept torqueing the pace. That shut me up.
By the second half of Greenwich Road (about ten miles to go), Mr. Unknown dropped off and Aspnes got onboard with the paceline, so everyone started working. Ed Angeli and another guy bridged just before we hit Rt 9. I tried to break it up on the Rt 9 climbs, but the group held together. Once we were in the park, the pack had closed enough that they were in sight. I managed to stay out of the wind until the final climb. I tried to ride away on the climb, but had worked too hard to keep the break away. Everyone went hard at 100m, but Fred Thomas jumped from the pack and blew by us in an inspiring display of power. He just got Carl for the win. I was cooked but managed to maintain contact and stay ahead of the field.
So, it was a tough strategic race. Once I committed to the bridge, I didn’t want to be caught. Had I stuck with the pack, I probably could have gone with Fred. Of course, had I stuck with the pack, the break wouldn’t have stayed away. I had seen Gary win the 35+ at Ninigret in a two man break the week before, knew Carl had the legs to stay away and that Bill was probably committed to the break, so I bridged. I am certainly interested in other views on skinning this cat. All told, it was an awesome race & I certainly enjoyed it. I think this was the first dry run for Quabbin in a number of years.
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I’m having a hard time figuring out where to start with this one; it felt like a process that started weeks before the race and hasn’t entirely come to an end. I’ll try to stick to the actual race day. I hope it’s not too long.
Gary, John and I all lined up for the 40+ race with the sun shining and the temperature around 50 degrees. There had been a little rain earlier in the week, but the forecast was sunny and 60s – really beautiful weather and reliably dry dirt sections. The field closed out at 150 and there were only a handful of no-shows. We rolled off right on time for a neutral section and five miles of NY State highway. At five miles, the course turns off the highway, squeezes through a covered bridge and then hits the first dirt section. Which is to say that we had ten minutes of hardcore jockeying for the first ten spots. John worked his way up the shoulder and then used the turn to get into position. I skirted up the yellow line and plunged into the sudden darkness of the covered bridge almost entirely on faith. A short dirt section followed by five miles of paved climbing sorted out the field. I had no problem getting to the front.
My plan was to relax and stay as close to the front as possible. John and I had rode the last six miles of the course on Friday afternoon, so I had a rough idea of what to expect from the dirt and climbs. The field was hard to gauge. I expected steady attrition due to the course’s grueling reputation and a more serious selection in the final two climbs. The goal was to be there for the selection.
At the top of the first paved climb, we turned onto dirt for a sketchy descent punctuated by a short climb. The climb was not at all apparent from the elevation profile; I would have been completely unprepared had John not pegged it for the steepest part of the course. I positioned myself where I had a clear view of the dirt and led up the climb. With another fifty miles to go, I was careful to stay within myself and hoped to break some legs. Mark Gunsalus took over after we crested and I was so relieved, I actually thanked him. The field still awfully large.
I was surprised by the complete competence at the front of the field. The NE guys treated each like team mates, pointing out threats and road hazards. The bike handling was excellent and there was none of the blaming and complaining commonly heard near the front. It was genuinely exceptional - a connoisseur’s ball; a throwback to the amateur athletic ideal. Everyone wanted to rip the legs off the field and simultaneously see each rider have their best race.
The middle twenty miles of the course don’t have a lot of identifying characteristics: there’s a mix of highway and dirt, a general downhill trend and a lot of farmland. It occurred to me that this was an excellent place to get away because it would be unexpected. But I couldn’t believe how much the pack held together. We’d roar through some gravelly farm road and looking back, the pack seemed pretty much unchanged. There were attacks, but none had a chance. My computer had stopped working, so I had no idea of our position on the course.
There was no mistaking the turn onto Cheese Factory Road. This new dirt section comes around mile forty and things immediately heated up. The road surface had more gravel than packed clay. The pace drove harder and the pack strung out single file. We hit a patch that resembled rail bed more than dirt road without letting up at all. The field suddenly felt like a lot less than 150. It was really impossible to attack here, but that didn’t matter because any obvious attack got an immediate response. I was at the front as we hit the second feed zone and just pushed right through. I didn’t stand up or look back but I drove the pace and could feel riders on my wheel. And then I noticed the purr of a motorcycle. I turned several explanations over in my head before I realized that the moto, sounding three or four bike lengths back, was the back of the group. We had a gap with about ten miles to go!
In my enthusiasm for making the selection stick, I probably pulled too long. We were five, two of which I didn’t know except that Paul Richard had pointed them out as the strongest of the field, another I didn’t recognize at all and Fred Thomas with OA. On the steeper parts of Meetinghouse Road, I could see the strong guys struggling to maintain purchase in the gravel. I took the opportunity and built up a gap of about one hundred meters. But they were able to close it over the paved descent to Stage Road. We hit the base of Stage Road together and as the road rose, I started to cramp. I was shocked as Fred and I lost contact on a climb. Of all the scenarios I had imagined, this never entered my mind. The three disappeared, but I managed to keep Fred in sight. By the top of Stage Road, I had caught him and we hit the final four miles of pavement together.
Fred and I got into a groove of trading pulls and incredibly, the three seemed to be coming back. It was hard to tell because of a group from another race and some cars in between us. We blew by the group and closed on the three. The trailer park and red brick house John and I had marked the day before came into sight and at the two km sign, we were about to catch them. We were literally twenty meters back when they stood and jumped. We rounded the corner to the final stretch. They maintained a six second gap while Fred and I chased furiously. Fred got a gap on me that I couldn’t close. I took 5th place, nine seconds off first place and about fifty seconds ahead of the next chase group.
It took a while before I could find Gary or John. Gary placed 67th; John 90th. Gary had an off day after arriving late at Cambridge (NY). John had a mechanical with his front derailleur and had to stop for repairs. Between the strength of the field and the difficulty of the course, this may be the best race I’ve ever done. One of the reasons I haven’t posted a report earlier is that I had such trouble conveying the warm glow of accomplishment that I felt afterwards. It was really quite an experience.
Tom and I were there for the 35+ race (25 miles, 5 laps of 5 miles each), followed by the 45+ race right after (4 laps for 20 miles). The 35+ field was on the small side (maybe 35 entrants?), but pretty strong with CCB represented by Mangan/Richards, Velocite by Kressy/Gates/Lavallee, Corner Cycle by Shattuck, a bunch from Sunapee, and a lot of 545 riders. Tom didn’t know what he was going to have after a tough but successful day at Battenkill (awaiting his report!), and aside from last week at Wells Ave., these were my first races of the season. Our basic plan was to work off one another and not screw up.
In the 35+ race, Tom and I traded attacks early. I went in the first lap. Being such a feared rider, absolutely no one followed me, and having no delusions of riding off the front alone for the rest of the race, I kept it below red line hoping someone would come across and give me some company. Once I was reeled in at the beginning of the second lap, Tom went with Kyle Gates. They stayed away for about a lap. After they were caught about half way through the 3rd lap, I forget exactly how it happened, but I went off the front with 4 others: Paul Richards, Kyle Gates, a really tall rider from Mad Alchemy (from the results, I see his name is Joshua Gunn), and Jason Croteau. Jason is a former Cat 1, apparently, who is just back to racing, for 545. Jason was easily the strongest. Paul had to tell him multiple times to back off, as he repeatedly kept riding away from us, disturbing the rhythm of the break. I don’t think he meant to, he’s just strong. Look out for this guy. Anyhow, we generally worked well together, although Croteau easily did the most work, and we stayed away for the rest of the race. With maybe 2-3k to go, it looked sure to stick, and we all started to look around at each other a little. Ciaran, who was back in the field, then made the move of the race, and bridged across solo. Perfect move at the perfect time, putting 6 in the break, and now 2 from CCB. Those guys are as good at finishing races as anyone, and it was going to be difficult to beat that combination. Once Ciaran bridged, the pace became quite hot again. I would’ve loved to take a flyer since my chances against those guys in that finish are not good, but I wasn’t feeling it at that point and thought it was sure suicide, and it would likely have put me out of the money (which was 5 deep). So I followed wheels as best I could in that fast finish. Ciaran led out Paul for the win, Jason was 2nd, Ciaran held on for 3rd, Kyle was 4th, and I took 5th for the last money spot. I was able to hang on for the sprint but couldn’t get around them. I think we represented Wheelworks well, given that there were only 2 of us, and that Tom had put in a huge day in Saturday at Battenkill. Either Tom or I were in the action all race, the roulette wheel put me in the winning break, and even though I couldn’t seal the deal, I was and am ecstatic with the result on a course that doesn’t particularly suit me.
In the 45+, which was not as strong a field, I followed some wheels off the front almost from the gun. I was hoping to get out ahead, and then have Tom come across. There were 4 of us, and I definitely wasn’t feeling too frisky. The effort of the earlier race was definitely weighing on me. The 4 man break became 3, and then 2, as I lost contact in the 3rd lap I think it was. As 3 chasers came by, I hopped on their wheels but could not hold on. I waited for the field, and tried to recover a little. Tom did what he could to get across to the break, but he was of course incredibly marked, and he was only riding with the strength of about 3 men as opposed to his typical 10. After taking some pulls to try to at least make it hard and maybe give Tom a chance to get away, I was toast. I even lost contact with the group at some point, and hobbled in alone for about a lap. The 3 chasers caught the 2 ahead, those 5 stayed away, and I see that David Potter won.