Quabbin was going to be my day, I could feel for the past couple of weeks. My rides had been going increasingly well and there have been times that I have been absolutely flying. Following the Wednesday Night Ride I was certain that I would have the legs to bring home a result at Quabbin.
The story really does not begin there if I’m going to do it any justice. The story really begins two years ago following my last win on the road as a cat four at the Killington Stage Race. It was my first year of bike racing and I was blowing races up at will and having a great time in the process. Why would I think it would be any different once I upgraded to cat three the following week. Unbeknownst to many I had been dealing with some pretty severe gastrointestinal issues for the previous three years and had been diagnosed with a relatively rare form of colitis. The treatment plan that we were using at the time was ineffective and I was still having diarrhea up to ten times a day. That summer season as a three I got destroyed. Following a shameful last place finish at Hilltowns when I could not hold wheels on the flats the writing was on the wall. It was back to the gastrointestinologist for more testing and a new try at some other forms of treatment. I took some solace in the doctor telling me that I probably had not absorbed an electrolyte all summer which explained my exceedingly poor performances. Following a long stint off the bike I was able to rebuild some form and made my cyclocross debut in the second half of the fall season. My stomach issues were now behind me thanks to a new medication and I was looking forward to coming back in 2015.
Training thought the winter and gearing up for 2015 went well and I was poised to have a great spring. I did the first critt in Plainville and nabbed a solid fourth place finish in the 1/2/3 out of a break that I drove nearly the whole way. I was feeling good heading toward Battenkill but I hastily committed to doing Rasputitsa the week before. On a forty plus mile descent a mud rut blew out on me and I went airborn. I unclipped my right leg as I flailed through the air desperate not to crash. I managed to hold off the worst of it but my right leg dug into the ground at forty mph totally torquing my hip. The pain increased every week and despite some fairly solid results at MSR and Sunapee I could barely walk without pain let alone ride a bike. Thankfully a friend of mine is an orthopedic Physician Assistant and was able to look at my x-rays and determine that a cortisone shot would do the trick. In the world of quick fixes I literally drove to Portland, Maine to my friends house and she gave me a cortisone shot in my right hip while we all laughed about the absurdity. Fortunately the shot worked but I ended up being off the bike for around twenty-five days total.
Fast forward to summer and again I was on the comeback trail gunning to have the form and legs to win the cat three race at Concord last weekend of July. As always form built and confidence grew as July slowly passed. I was optimistic given my strong three race series at the NCC summer practice critts where my worst finish was fourth behind the likes of Hyde, Durrin, and Clark. I didn’t know it at the time but I also clashed sabers with future teammate Tom C. a few times at the series. Hilltowns was semi successful but I left pissed with fifth place knowing that I had the legs for the win had I been more aggressive. Things were lining up nicely and I was ready for Concord when disaster struck. In a freak accident on the bike path in Keene at a random blind, spot I collided head on with another cyclist. This was by far the worst and scariest crash of my life which resulted in three separate fractures of my right orbital bone and a fractured and displaced nasal bone and septum. On top of the fractures I had a severe concussion that left me not at 100% until January. Following my brief hospitalization and meeting with several surgeons cyclocross was in doubt. The admitting doctor was sure that I would be off the bike for six months given the severity of the fractures and concussion. Even as I sit and write this I still have problems breathing and need to schedule surgery for after this coming cross season. What the doctor did not know is that I basically have mutant healing power on par with Wolverine and I was back on the bike within fifteen days. Cross was semi successful with the exception of some ill timed flats and rolled tubulars when poised to pick up some massive points at West Hill and Midnight Ride of Cross.
Training through the winter went well again and I was buoyed with the knowledge that I would be racing on an awesome team in 2016. As I said above it was a long road to get to the race which is what made Saturday so rewarding.
Saturday morning I was up before the alarm and downing dark roast shortly thereafter. I had packed the Volvo V50 the night before and just needed to get coffee and my body out the door. On the drive the grey weather hung over me like a dark force. My old friend self-doubt came back and I wondered if I would be able to deliver the goods. I reminded myself that given Jeremy’s race plan that I had fifty miles to figure out how I was feeling so it was senseless to worry about it during the car ride. Upon arrival check in was pretty straight forward given that it was Mike Norton race and I had time to mingle and relax before the race.
Despite the cloudy cool conditions I was certain that it would clear and committed to only wearing my skinsuit. I read a silly VeloNews article earlier this spring about Tom Boonen and arm and leg warmers and wanted to honor the Tornado with bare arms and legs. At the line I was over the moon with excitement. Teammates everywhere with different strengths all ready to animate the race with their talents. Hearing Tom tell another rider that I was the guy to watch brought my confidence to another level because I thought he was the guy that could win the race!
Off the line and down the hill I chilled (literally and figuratively) with PJ. We had a few good laughs about how long it took him to shave his legs Friday night given a winter of beastdom. Our fifteen mph descent was more like a thirty mile descent and we were out of the park within minutes. Initially on the road I was way back in the bunch. There was a lot of energy being expended by some of the other riders establishing position in the bunch. I was in the second half of the group and kept an eye on all the red Lazer helmets. I got excited as I saw Scott take a dig off the front as planned and started working my way through the bunch. I found Jeremy and John and figured that my best plan was to settle in with the two of them as long as possible. Throughout the first half of the race I was hyper vigilant about fueling. Given the prescribed “big move” from ten to fifteen miles out I knew that I would need all the fuel I could stomach throughout the race.
My excitement continued to grow as more and more teammates took flyers off the front. We even lined up a pretty awesome dig for PJ at one point and managed to block the whole front row of the race. Despite none of these moves sticking they were having a palpable impact on the race. Teams were growing frustrated with our control and were constantly wasting matches chasing down our moves. All the while my confidence was growing knowing that I would be ready when the time came.
Between forty and fifty miles the race really started to heat up. Jeremy had told me to shadow the CycleOps kid and that resulted in me being in the first five to ten riders which really set me up to make a strong move. The pace and duration of the race was apparent on the faces of the riders around me as I continued to feel relaxed. I’m not sure what mile it was but the guy I will refer to as Red Dude made a huge attack off the front. Jeremey being the ultimate badass of the day countered to try and close the gap. The pace on the front dawdled as some of the riders complained that the race was over. Up the road I could see that Jeremy was struggling to bridge when it happened. This wicked lanky kid Will exploded out of the group looking like a million bucks. I could tell that that was the move so I pushed all my chips on the table and attacked at full power to bridge across to his wheel. I made contact and we got down to business. First we picked up Jeremy and for a moment I thought the two of us would go to the line together. Unfortunately Jeremy’s massive efforts throughout the day finally caught up and he exploded after a mile. Will and I kept digging and swept up Red Dude and and we formed a solid paceline.
The first twenty minutes of an attack are all sunshine and rainbows. My digs on the flats were hurting Red Dude which I thought was a good plan. My pulls on the flats were around thirty to forty-five seconds at thirty to thirty one miles per hour. Once my heartrate would get to 177 or 178 I would pull off knowing that I would need the big guns on Route 9 and in the park. Through that weird park stretch and onto Route 9 the moto told us that we had forty-six seconds on the bunch. It seemed plausible that the move could work but our chances took a huge hit as we hit the unrelenting headwind on Route 9. Red Dude did his best to hang but he dropped on the first climb and it was down to Will and I to make this move stick. The last half of this break was pure hell on earth. Every muscle fiber was screaming in agony and my heart felt like it was going to explode under the weight of the effort. Snot, sweat, and tears blew off my face with each desperate pedal stroke. Whatever was going to happen would surely happen but I was giving my max to make this move work. With each hill and each gust of wind the gap dropped. Our best bet was to make it to the park which would hopefully demoralize the chase. At the entrance the gap was down to thirty-two seconds and I was totally gassed. I had struggled to hold Will’s wheel the last two miles and was starting to doubt it we would make it all the way to the line. Those thoughts were confirmed when I looked back and saw the group just down the road. Each turn of the pedal was an effort now as we climbed toward the finish. On the flatter sections of the climb I did my best to hurt Will by ramping up the pace to twenty-five mph. I committed to staying on the big ring the whole climb and just started laying down the power. At 2k to go Will started making audible breathing and grunting noises. I thought this was a head game so I started making noises too. I wanted him to think that I was hurting worse than he was in order to bait him into attacking too soon. The reality was that I could not hurt anymore than I was already hurting so I kept the pace high. I pulled even with Will at fifteen hundred to go and much to my surprise a small gap started to form. A quick glance and I saw Will looking at his feet seemingly trying to drudge up the last of his energy. That visual was all I needed and I found one more gear and attacked. The gap stretched and I could not see the chase coming so I went all out for as long as I could. Seeing the two hundred to go sign I knew I had it in the bag and the excitement started to grow. The last fifty I dropped it to the small ring and did my best to pose across the line. (Hopefully someone got a shot for the sponsors) I was beyond thrilled and could not wait to share the victory with the team. Initially we thought that Tom had nabbed third when in fact he was forth. Everyone met up at the tower and shared in the victory. As excited as I was to pick up the win I was even more thrilled to be able to deliver for the team. In years past at races I would simply ride back to the car pack up and head home. There was a camaraderie in the parking lot and nobody wanted to let the moment pass. It was so fun to hang out and reflect on the days work and share the experiences of everyone else. I am so excited to be on this team and I am beyond excited that I was able to deliver the result that we have been looking for. It has been a very long road the last two years to get back to the top of the podium but that struggle made Quabbin that much sweeter.