Friday, October 3, 2014

Hill Climb Season...


Following my summer medical woes and subsequent decision to skip The Green Mountain Stage Race I choose to focus on two of the late season hill climb races. The Greylock uphill time trial presented by the Northampton Cycling Club and Kearsarge Hill Climb hosted by the Hopkinton Rotary are both unique challenges. Greylock is as advertised a time trial format that rewards the ability to suffer alone while Kearsarge is essentially a road race for the first half of the race complete with tactical games and maneuvers. I competed in both of these events last year and had mixed results. After a strong forth place showing at Greylock I raced like a moron at Kearsarge and got dropped before the real racing really began. With a year of knowledge under my belt I felt good about my chances in both events. Given my lack of racing miles but encouraging recent Strava stats my goal was to be on the podium at each event. 

Greylock is an awesome mountain for many reasons. The proximity to my home town and fact that it was the first big mountain that I had ever seen only enhanced its reputation in my mind. A car trip to the summit when I was eleven planted seeds that grew into my adult obsessions. Being high above the surrounding country was appealing. As I aged the thought of gaining that elevation under my own power was a constant source of excitement. Last year at Greylock I was an unknown quantity and raced with little to no pressure. I simply showed up and rode as hard as I could for just under forty-two minutes. In that time I passed twenty-one other riders that had started in front of me at thirty second intervals. I walked away psyched and eager to start my road racing career in 2014. This year I had established myself as a climber to be reckoned with with my victories at Quabbin and Killington and felt pressure to perform. Looking at the entry list the days prior to the race I had a feeling that I would be in contention for the podium with a chance at the win if the conditions were right, and if I managed to race like a rational individual. 

The drive to Greylock is always fun and this year was no different. Again Tool blasted as I had my greatest career drive over the curvy western features of the Mohawk Trail. Dead Mans Curve and Hairpin Turn are like candy for the euro handling package and turbo charger of the V50. The thrill of the drive only enhanced my excitement for the coming madness. As with every Mike McCusker run event check in was a breeze and I was back at the car preparing for my warm-up within a few minutes. Looking at the start list my excitement continued to grow with the knowledge that Erik Vandendries would be my thirty second man, and that we would be the last two riders in the wave. Erik had crushed me over the last humiliating mile of Keargarge last year and I was hell bent on revenge. I had great legs throughout my warm-up and my heart rate was cooperating. I knew I was on a great day and that I was ready to rock the climb. 

At the start the weather was already chilly with reports of sub forty degree temperatures with wind and freezing fog at the summit. Thankfully I had packed a summit bag this year so freezing to death was not going to be a concern like last year. Standing at the start the time seemed to fly by as my start time approached. My only strategy was to crush and to ask questions later. 

Three, two, one...

Off the line I hammered with everything hoping to demolish the climb. My heart rate quickly jumped into the low 180s as I tried to find a steady rhythm. I was riding a new 28 tooth cassette on my mechanic Nate’s Zipp 202’s for the first time and was trying to stay in the saddle as much as possible. In the first mile I had already taken twenty-five seconds out of Erik which only enhanced my frenzied state. I put another log on the fire and went to work trying to catch him. If you were to poll all of the great masters cyclists in America, unquestionably, you would find a common denominator, they’re all reasonable. While I was mashing out an estimated 450 watts near or beyond my lactate threshold Erik was quietly and calmly setting a reasonable tempo. (I would later see in the data that I was 1:07 faster than winner Gump over the first mile. Whoops!) Just as the pass appeared immanent past the ten minute mark in the effort Erik began to glide away. Part of me was already cursing myself but I told myself to shut the hell up and got back to work. I had committed to this suicide strategy and now I needed to suffer for another thirty minutes to salvage my goal of finishing on the podium. Through the middle steep sections that included the epic hairpins I continued to pick off competitors one by one on my way up the mountain. I was riding well and doing everything I could to go as fast as I could but I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to beat Erik. As I continued to gain elevation with every pedal stroke the temperature continued to drop while the winds increased. I was nurturing hopes of smashing the upper section as I had last year when I stole the KOM from the overall climb record holder. It was no surprise however that when I hit the exposed flats that the head wind combined with my dwindling watts was standing in my way. I fought and clawed for every second in the last mile but in my minds eye I knew that I was going slower. Across the line covered in sweat and nearly frozen spit and snot  my suspicion was confirmed. The crippling headwinds combined with the unsustainable early pace saw me finish a minute plus slower than last year. I quickly gathered my summit bag as my core temperature rapidly dropped. Being that it was roughly thirty-five degrees with three hundred meters or less of visibility I decided that there was no need to hang out at the summit. It was fun not nearly dying on the decent and I was back at the car and changed within the next half hour. One of the more appealing parts of the Greylock race is the after party put on by the NCC. The most satisfying beef stew, salad, and gingerbread cake is served in an old train yard with free Berkshire Brewing Company Steel Rail Ale. The results took forever which gave me time to catch up with my buddy PJ and his wife Katie over a couple of beers. In the small world department I even shared a table with a two random guys that now live in my home town and are friends with my cousin Wendy. Finally the awards started and I was psyched to find out that I had held on for third place behind the legendary Jay Gump and the aforementioned Erik Vandendries. Overall Greylock was again an awesome experience and will continue to be on my yearly calendar for years to come!


In the interim between Greylock and Kearsarge I had an epiphany thanks in part to my friend, colleague, and training partner Bill Gillard. Out on our Wednesday ride as we approached the legendary Leviathan climb in Hinsdale, NH Bill prophetically reminded me that Perceived Effort does not directly correlate with Wattage. In laymen speak, going full gas at the beginning of a climb to get my heart rate high probably means that I am making huge unsustainable watts. Settling in early and sustaining would produce a fast time. That knowledge and application saw me shave eleven seconds off my best overall time and twenty-five seconds off my best solo time on the climb that I had been hunting for over a year. The hard data that I was now only ten seconds off of Gump on a four mile climb gave me a huge confidence bump heading into Kearsarge. 

As I mentioned earlier Kearsarge is a different animal than Greylock. Essentially it is a four mile hilly road race followed by a four mile hill climb. The organizing committee spices up the early action by having a big prime bonus for the first rider to hit the base of the climb. Last year there was five hundred dollars on the line so every Tom, Dick and Harry within a hundred miles that thinks he can sprint showed up for the money making the race super fast from the gun. With the prime dropped to two hundred dollars this year I hoped that cooler heads would prevail. 

Always a good sign I was up before the alarm and out the door early despite being underprepared. I had left my socks at home and didn’t bring any warm clothing to warm up in due to the forecasted eighty degree temperatures. Also I was sans awesome dark roast and instead had to rely on my in laws brew combined with a terrible Dunkin Donuts espresso. Map Quest totally screwed me and without cell services I drove aimlessly until I happened across Route 89. My early departure had saved my butt and I arrived early even with enough time to stop in town for a bathroom break. Friday had been Mary’s birthday so I was giving myself a pass on my lack of appropriate preperation. This continued when I discovered that I didn’t bring a skewer to use with my trainer for my warm-up. No way I was going to use Zipp skewer for this race! I quickly shifted and headed out on the road with my parking lot neighbor John Cico. My warm-up garb was very New Hampshire to say the least. Throw away purple running gloves, the race tee shirt topped by a brown plaid shirt. I won’t lie I was actually very comfortable in this get up. John being an awesome dude hooked me up with a sweet pair of socks after the warm-up that matched my kit. Even better was the fact that the socks had skulls and crossbones on them with the words Death Ride woven in to the top collar! What was super awesome about John was that he is a former University of Penn runner that volunteers at the Penn Relays every year. We exchanged stories from the Relays and I bragged about the fact that Mary is a two time champion which blew John’s mind. 

Following the pre race meeting I scanned the faces on the line and knew that I was in for a battle. Winning was going to be tough, in fact even getting on the podium was going to be a victory of sorts. Hill climb specialist and defending champion Eric Follen was front and center at the start along with last years runner up and former GMSR cat two champion Sam Evans-Brown. Greylock vanquisher Erik Vandendries was looking fresh as was CCB’s Kai Wiggins who has been tearing it up all year. To tie it all together in a nice box of suffering year long rival and all around badass cyclist Will Crabtree lurked out of the shadows in the last few minutes before the start. Whatever was about to happen I was sure of one thing, the shit was going to hit the fan on the climb. 

Off the line, much to my surprise, the pace dawdled. Last year my heart rate was was redlining in the first three minutes as I chased down attacks. This year it felt like all hundred riders rolled together as one big group. I am in no way a sexist but I knew the pace was slow when everyone seemingly let the lead woman set the pace at the front of the bunch. I worked the group as I had all year finding the right wheels. I was focused most on Evans Brown and Crabtree because their styles most closely resemble mine and I knew that if they moved early that I needed to go with them. With every pedal stroke more and more of a pissing match broke out on the road and nobody wanted to do the work. I was content to sit in the bunch and watch for any serious threats. Four hundred meters out from the sprint prime Follen, John Badessa, Evans-Brown, Crabtree, Wiggins, and a few followers contested the sprint. My lesson learned from Wednesday burned in the back of my brain and I held off every competitive instinct that I have and let the sprint go. Into the park I was sitting eighth and slightly worried about the gap that had opened as a result of the sprint. The seven man group was settling in and I went to work upping my pace. The pretenders fell off right away parring the group to five. Wiggins was next to fade and I quickly dispatched him on the early steep sections. Follen and Badessa had gotten a gap on Crabtree and Evans-Brown as I sat in forth roughly twenty seconds down. Crabtree began to falter and I jumped across the gap thinking that he would hop on my wheel one last time this season. Unfortunately Will didn’t have the power leaving me to chase solo. I was feeling great and a tiny voice tugged at me to be content with forth. Why should I hurt myself to chase a seasoned racer like Sam? Instantly I hit the override button on my brain and told myself to shut the hell up and got to work. The gap seemed locked at twenty seconds until we got to a flat section on the mountain. Rather than recover and prepare for the next steep section I shifted onto the big ring and went full gas easily making the gap vanish into the high mountain air. On Sam’s wheel with three miles to go I could see the two lone leaders up the road a further thirty seconds. After a brief recovery I again shifted to the big ring and attacked Sam. His years of experience and power quickly covered the move and suddenly I was where I didn’t want to be, pulling a strong climber and sprinter up to the leaders. At this point the blinders went on and it became a two up race. Third place was going to be my own personal victory on this day. Rather than chase I let the pace slide and I made a few paperboy moves across the road to try and get Sam to pull. I made a few pseudo attacks to keep the pain level high before Sam counter attacked me on a steep section with just under two miles to go. I fought unbelievably hard to get back up to Sam’s wheel and felt a strong sense of satisfaction at making it back. Just as I settled in on Sam’s wheel however he again powered away and established a quick ten to fifteen second gap. I was hurting pretty bad with a mile and a half to go but I was having so much fun at the same time. With a mile to go I decided to trust myself and restarted the chase. I utilized another big power section on the course and raced back to Sam’s wheel. My heart rate zoomed through the 180s and I crossed over into the haze of the 190s. I knew that Sam must have been hurting from tying to drop me so I hit him right away, and I him hard. Finally the gap opened and I could taste the blood in the water. Over the two tenths of a mile when I went full gas I hit a maximum estimated wattage of 630 with an average estimated wattage of 400 for that minute for a 5.9 watts per kilogram number. None of these numbers mattered as the gap continued to open. In the last four-hundred meters I continued to crank knowing that no lead is safe in the mountains. Across the line I allowed myself a small fist pump to mark the occasion. In all honesty I was totally stoked with third place because of the epic battle that Sam and I had embarked on over the previous fifteen minutes. Weather at the summit was sensational and Sam, Will and I hung out and caught up on all things cycling and beyond. The awards were again long and the free beer and cold fog was replaced with free coffee and high temperatures setting the scene for another beautiful fall day in New Hampshire. 

Time to gear up for some Cyclocross! The next big objectives will be PutneyCross, Northampton, and New England’s. 

Cheers!

Mark


Addition: Though my time of 33:41 was only twenty-eight seconds faster than last year the real pearl in the data is the last four miles of the climb where I was a minute and fifty-seconds faster than last year. With Vandendries forty-five seconds back my reasonable approach worked and makes me think of the missed opportunity at Greylock.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

Concord...


Saturday afternoon I headed down to Concord to hopefully recapture some form following this most recent medical debacle. Thursday afternoon I consulted with a new gastrointestinologist and discussed my recent woes. I walked away with some sound information regarding my condition that really explained my recent struggles. The most startling revelation is that my electrolyte absorption has essentially been non existent for the duration of this flare. My recent struggles with hydration and cramping can been seen in a much different light with this fresh perspective. On top of a hardy dose of information I also walked away with a new medication that should right the ship over the next few months. Heading into the Concord Crit I would be forty-eight hours into the new medication. Given that I wasn’t expected to see any real results for the first seventy-two hours I was hoping I could at least get a mental bump knowing that I was on the path to recovery. 

I showed up with nearly two hours to kill before the start. The awesome Elm City Velo Specialized tent was set up and waiting for me in the team area. After unloading the car and going through the normal number pick up and bathroom routine I settled in for a few minutes before kitting up. Shortly before I started my warm-up Darren arrived closely followed by Tim and John. Once I was on the trainer our little group swelled to include Mary and her parents. My warm-up actually felt great despite the high humidity in the air. My legs were spinning well and my heart rate seemed to be cooperating under the effort. This was going to be my longest crit ever so given my lack of riding during the week I wanted to make sure I was running hot headed to the line. I debated my fluid options for the race and decided to err of the side of hydration by bringing two bottles for the thirty plus mile effort. 

On the line I chatted with a few of the guys that I had been racing with for the majority of the season. I shared a quick conversation with John echoing our earlier discussion. Given the right opportunity I was going to jump into the break and work hard if it had enough horsepower. If the right group didn’t come together I was going to sit back and maintain position for the sprint. Looking at the amount of teams that were well represented on the line I knew that it was going to be a difficult day to establish a break. There was too much interest from too many teams to let something get away that could potentially make it to the line. 

The start was fast and the group settled in right away at a high pace. It was immediately clear that this was not going to be a walk in the park for anybody. There was a near constant stream of attacks off the front by many of the pretenders in the race. They would quickly get five to ten meters and then sputter our and get reabsorbed into the group. Team Zip Car and Team Gougan seemed hell bent on keeping everyone together. I wasn’t sure who Zip Car was working for but it was clear that the Gougan’s were working for young Kevin that has been lighting up the scene all summer. Kevin and I had gone one on one last year in the cat five race but it was clear that I was dealing with a different animal. This kid has developed legit top end speed over the last year and had a whole team working for him to chase down breaks. Tim took and early dig to string things out but it didn’t last long because of the high pace. Early on I took a flyer up this hill and put ten seconds into field right away. I was hoping to take some power with me and establish a break. Over the top of the hill I was well clear of the group but decided to sit up. My heart rate had shot up to 188 bpm which I knew I could not sustain for another fifty minutes alone. Back in the group I shifted my plan and decided to fight for position the remainder of the race and to follow Kevin’s wheel at all costs. The pace stayed hot for the rest of the race. John put in two beastly efforts off the front which only increased the pace further. Every time John would attack Zip Car and the Gougan’s would look at him and then look back at me. Clearly I was a marked man and was not going to be allowed to get away late in race. As the pace increased so did the contact in the field. There was a lot of leaning and a lot of pointed elbows over the last twenty minutes of the race. With two laps to go as John’s last move was absorbed and the pace hit warp speed. There was a lot of disarray in the filed and it was clear who the good bike handlers were. At the bell the pace shot up even more. I held the wheels that I wanted to the top of the climb where the pace dawdled. There was shouting and chaos as a rider slipped off the front. I lost the good wheels and had to go wide into someone’s front yard with Dave Brown to keep the pace up. A gap had unfortunately developed but we were able to get back in a line heading through the big sharp nasty corners. I was further back then I wanted to be maybe in fifteenth heading into the last corner. The lead out train stayed to the inside as the sprint opened up on the outside. Gougan launched right away and everyone else got right after him. The rider directly in front of me either took a crappy line or sat up forcing me to sprint from behind. Once I was clear I was flying and seemed to be picking off riders left and right. I shot across wheels to catch drafts and managed to catch one last rider on the line for what I thought was forth. Apparently I hadn’t noticed that there was one other rider on the extreme inside that I didn’t see and barley missed out on passing. 

The end result was fifth place in the sprint which was still good enough to pick up the New Hampshire title. I was very pleased with the effort and proud of the patience that I displayed. I think with a little more work on my positioning and bike handling skills that I can be a constant threat in bunch sprints. Back at the tent the cost of the effort caught up with my still recovering body. I was dry as a bone once again indicating that I was really dehydrated. After Mary and her parents left I had a few dizzy spells and almost fell over. Darren had me sit for a few minutes before my cool down just to drink extra fluids. Once I got thirty-two ounces of fluid into the system sweat started to reappear on my arms and I felt a little better. This incident really shook me a bit and is leading me to a new position. Proceed with caution. My best estimate is that I am operating at about eighty percent of my maximum right now. Rushing through this medication adjustment is only going to delay my progress further. The Green Mountain Stage Race was a big objective for the year but I’m not willing to risk my health to have a sub par race. I am going to try to get back to semi-normal training the next ten days and will make my decision then based on how I am feeling.  

Cheers!

Mark

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hilltowns...


Writing about epic awesome victories is much more fun than terrible death marches that make you question why you compete. Writing a blog about training and racing makes you accountable to readers that deserve to know just as much about the awful days as the awesome days. 

Saturday morning I was up without the assistance of the alarm and could tell that I had good legs for the Tour of Hilltowns Road Race presented by the Northampton Cycling Club. After reaching the kitchen I had the unpleasant realization that my coffee grinder had broken. I was a little stressed about his development but a quick trip to Target in Keene quickly made the complication a distant memory. The biggest complication of the morning was the unrelenting diarrhea that accompanies my microscopic colitis that I have been battling the last month. I was diagnosed with this relatively rare autoimmune condition three years ago just after we moved to Marlborough. Unfortunately over the last month my symptoms have flared pretty dramatically and I haven’t been able to get things back under control. Over the last ten days I have been super diligent about addressing my symptoms without any relief. My ability to absorb nutrients or stay properly hydrated has been significantly compromised lately. Being the stubborn idiot that I am I really thought I could continue to train and race through this unsettled period. Saturday those delusions vanished and I accepted that I need to take a step back and address my health before I can be competitive on the bike. 

Upon arrival at the race I realized that it was pretty muggy and that hydration would be a major focus of the race. At the packet pick-up the woman that was running the table wasn’t going to give me my number because my racing license didn’t say that I was a cat three racer. Fortunatly pro cyclist and all around nice guy Anthony Clark stepped in told the woman about my racing prowess. She relented and gave me the number thanks to Anthony! I was truly grateful and even happier at my decision to race all of the NCC crits through the month of July. 

Back at the car I got kitted up and ready to rock. I wore my traditional Elm City Velo kit and S-Works Evade helmet to cut through the wind. The high temperatures led me to forego a traditional warm up knowing that the early climbs would surely suffice for such a long race. The race was two thirty-one mile laps with six climbs per lap that required respect and attention. At the rollout I was confident and settled in at the front end of the field. On the early steep hills I followed PJ McQuade’s wheels and we succeeded in stringing out the pack. Over the summit Will Crabtree joined me on the front and we crushed the steep scary downhill. Around the dangerous high speed corner in Buckland center, where my parents were standing, I had established a ten second gap. I sat up and waited for Will and we debated making a run for it only ten miles into the race. Once the bunch realized that it was Will and I they quickly got organized reeled us in on the downhill. Up the major twenty minute climb of Clesson Brook Road I felt fantastic. PJ was setting a hard tempo on the front trying to string out the field. My legs felt fantastic and I did my best to maintain position in the first ten riders. My heart rate was hovering in the 168 to 170 range which is completely manageable. Over the top of the climb I took a flyer and established another gap. Scott Yarosh from NCC joined me and immediately went to work crushing the downhills. While I didn’t expect any of these moves to stick I did expect them to tire out the competition and get ride of any passengers or sprinters. Through the end of the first lap I felt great and was actively planning my strategy for a big attack on the second lap. My plan was to try and get separation on the early climbs with the hope that another two or three riders would bridge up to me to create a breakaway that would stay away for the remainder of the day.

On cue right before the climb I attacked off the front again I easily established a gap. This time however something was different. My power was zapped and I could feel the early signs of cramps in my legs. I was worried and sat up and waited for the group. Suddenly as the catch happened I struggled to hold wheels. Everything felt terrible up the climb and I started to suffer. I had to turn myself inside out to get back on to the back of the second group up the second major climb. We chased on the decent and were able to get back on to the back of the group. This came at a huge cost and warning lights were starting to flash all over on the control panel. Onto Clesson Brook I was fighting for survival with every pedal stroke. Despite my best effort at hydrating during the race my skin was already starting to feel dry. The cramps really started to take hold and three quarters of the way up the climb I blew up and got spit out the back. 

At the top of Clesson Brook I could have taken a right and coasted downhill all the way to the parking lot and been on the road before the race even finished. I scoffed at the notion of quitting, especially in a race that I cared so much about. Thus started the hour and fifteen minute solo cramp filled death march to the finish line. I tried to rally by drinking and eating everything that I had left but it was too late. I was cooked! I pedaled squares for the last hour and cramped so badly that I’m still sore two days later. The masters race came past me like I was riding a mountain bike. The cat four race came past me on the decent like I was on a single speed. I was so upset that I wanted to cry riding the last ten miles to the finish. Across the line last in my race with the exception of the dropped riders that dropped out rather than shamefully riding across the line fifteen minutes after the winner. I was so embarrassed and upset riding through the finish. I felt shame and disappointment. I really felt like I had let my teammates down that have supported me all season. We were all excited about this race and I laid an egg out on the course instead of delivering. 

Looking ahead getting my gastrointestinal issues at bay is the top priority. Yesterday afternoon I researched different treatment options outside of the conservative approach that I have taken the last three years. If I have any hope of riding strong at the Green Mountain Stage Race this needs to be fixed within the next week. 

Sorry to disappoint! 

Mark

Monday, June 30, 2014

Longsjo Classic...


A bad race was bound to happen sooner or later. Everything has gone so well on the bike this year that I was starting to think that I was going to kill it every time I threw my leg over the top tube. Unfortunately a few factors came together yesterday that resulted in getting shot out the back like a club rider in the tour. 

Tim and I headed out from my house around 9:45 and made the short drive down to Fitchburg. The drive was a snap and we were even able to find a parking space relatively close to the start finish line away from the major crowds. We picked up our numbers and did a short walk around the course before setting up for the action. I decided to warm-up on the trainer because I have a much easier time controlling my hear rate while working through the zones in a controlled manner. After fifteen minutes I was adequately warmed up and despite the heat I was feeling pretty good. I could tell I wasn’t great but I was feeling good enough to be in contention. As I was making my final preparations at the car Darren and Maddie joined us and informed us that the race was red flagged because of a major crash in the fifty plus race. I guess it was pretty bad and they even had to bring in a fire truck to wash the blood off the road. Scary, scary stuff! I hope everyone is ok! 

This delay really threw me for a loop. I went from being really locked in to unfocused over the course of the thirty minute delay. In hindsight I should have stayed at the car longer and done more work on the trainer. This was probably the big disadvantage of being parked further away than everyone else. I did get away for some riding on the road but I was hesitant to really open up the legs given the amount of traffic that was weaving around the city. 

At staging I got a good spot on the outside of the front row and was as ready to rock as I was going to be. At the start I botched my mount and had to do a little work to get back to the front to regain my position. This was the biggest criterium that I have been in so far which was very exciting. I had no real problems managing my position, and the crowds in the fast turns didn’t bother me in the slightest. Early on I took a few small digs off the front but nothing serious. I was just stretching the legs. While I wasn’t great I was still making good power and I seemed to have the ability to separate in the right company. I chased back a few moves and was establishing myself as a presence at the front of the group. The heat was a pretty major factor but I seemed to be managing it over the course of the short race. 

Somewhere around mid race I was sitting eight to ten wheels off the front coming down the fast part of the course. The rider directly in front of me made a fast move to his right. In the blink of an eye at thirty miles per hour I had to make a decision. I could jerk out to the right and cut some wheels or I could ride out the storm. Opting for safety I rode out the storm. The storm consisted of a triangle of cobblestones that led right into a bark mulched traffic island. I negotiated the cobbles like a pro and bunny hopped the traffic island but was still carrying too much speed to make the sharp turn back onto the course. I was heading directly toward the big sidewalk curb and a group of spectators so I had to get on the breaks hard. I was at a complete stop and had to unclip, change directions, and restart. By the time I was rolling again I was twenty seconds off the back of the race and thirty seconds from the leaders. The thought of stopping never really crept into my mind and I instantly went into chase mode. I chased as hard as I could for two laps solo. After the first lap I was able to overtake to motto. The second lap I was back in the group. Three laps later I was back at the front of the group. The cost of the effort was huge and I was having serious doubts about my ability to finish effectively. With nine laps to go I made an acceleration through the start finish and totally blew up. The warm-up, the chase, and the heat working in combination got the best of my. Three hundred meters later I was struggling to hold wheels at the back. By the downhill I was popped out the back struggling to survive. It was really weird because it seemed like my body totally quit. After I was dropped I kept fighting and was hammering the corners out of the saddle on the drops but I was going nowhere. My heart rate dropped into the 160’s and I couldn’t get it back to where it needed to be. It was like my body was saying game over but my brain wouldn’t agree. The heat really took over the last seven laps. I was able to overtake one rider which provided the slightest twinge of satisfaction. Richard Fries, the famous cycling announcer even noticed anomaly of me being off the back. As I was coming through with five to go I could hear Fries say. “The heat is really having an impact today. Guys that are usually off the front making races are totally exploding off the back.” For my part I gave a little wave on my way though. I kept trying my hardest but I was going slower and slower. The writing was on the wall and at the bell the USA Cycling official pulled me from the field. 

I rode over to the barriers and passed my bike to my teammate Brad. As I was attempting to climb the barriers I slipped and fell flat on my ass on the sidewalk. The final insult. Brad’s wife, Jen, thought I was having a major heat related emergency and went into pro recovery mode and got me all the water I could handle over the next few minutes. I managed to get myself to a bench and my frustration swelled to the surface. Darren was a pro talking me down and reminded me that I had very little racing experience in the heat thus far. Within then minutes Tim and I were back at the car packing up. Within fifteen minutes we were on the road trying to put the day behind us. Tim stayed in the group the whole day capping a week of four races in five days. Not the best day ever on two wheels but not the worst either. 

Time to build with some huge mileage in preparation for the Tour of the Hilltowns at the end of July. 

Cheers!

Mark  

Friday, June 27, 2014

NCC Training Crit...

Wednesday afternoon I ventured down to the old Western Mass. stomping grounds for the first of four Northampton Cycling Club training crits. I had been looking for a race of some sort for a couple of weeks considering I hadn't really gone full tilt since Killington. A training crit seemed to be the perfect option especially given the proximity to home. I only had to drive forty-five minutes and pay ten dollars to kick my ass for forty-eight minutes. What's not to like?

The drive down was a breeze and I kept things fairly mellow until I crossed over into Massachusetts. Once I was in the home state I switched over to my Tool mix that I had made for the Killington time trial. Upon arrival I chatted with Tim, Darren, and Evan about the plan for the night. Everyone else that  planned on coming had something come up so our numbers were pretty low. On top of that Darren quickly realized that he brought the wrong shoes. Despite pleading with him to borrow mine he decided to forgo the race and just spectate with his daughter, Maddie.

I got kitted up in the skin suit and S-Works Evade and made my way over to the loop with Tim for a few laps to preview the course. We lingered a little longer than I am used to so we could watch the first few laps of Evan's race. Evan raced super tough while we were watching and made a huge effort to bridge up to the big powerful breakaway. Once Evan was safely in the group Tim and I headed out for our warm-up. Out on the road the dark clouds looked extremely menacing and within a few minutes a steady rain was falling. When we got back to the course Darren informed us that Evan had crashed in the first corner and had taken an NCC rider with him. The NCC rider was standing in the grass bleeding from both elbows and knees. I was surprised to see Evan come rolling through a few minutes later. He refused to drop out of the race and was intent on finishing. Love the panache! Just then a flash of lightning illuminated the sky and the race official neutralized the race. Darren was thankful that he didn't race because of the dodgy conditions. After a few minutes of chatting Evan up my attention shifted to the A race. Everyone was working under the assumption that the race was cancelled so I went over and chatted with the director. He asked my point blank if I wanted to race and I simply said, "racers race." The other participants at the start agreed with my sentiments and we decided to start the race as planned at 7:00. We made a gentlemen's agreement that we would take it easy in the slippery corner and to stop if there was more lightning.

At 7:00 a group of roughly twenty-five riders rolled off the line. There was twenty-three NCC riders and two ECV riders, clearly I had my work cut out for myself. The only rider that I recognized on sight was Anthony Clark the famous pro cyclocross racer. I figured that Anthony was super strong so this race was going to be a good test of my fitness. On the first lap Tim took a huge flyer and established a sizable gap on the field. The NCC guys kept looking at me to pull through but I was content to let TT ride free all night if he wanted to. Three laps in Clark had seen enough and lifted the pace to reel in Tim with the assist of his teammates. Once we were back together there was a series of small attacks that didn't stick. On the fifth lap I took a huge dig and was easily able to separate from the group. A NCC rider was able to catch my wheel and went along for the ride. On the long roller to the finish my back wheel slipped out on some oil and I rode off the road into the grass. This allowed another NCC rider to bridge up to the front. We had a group of three and a gap of ten seconds so immediately we went to work crushing it together. Being in the familiar position of being off the front with two teammates didn't bother me. There was no money or no points on the line so I decided that it was my goal to just drill it on every pull to get in a beastly workout. My heart rate was constantly hovering between 183 and 186 which was an output that seemed sustainable. Within ten or twelve laps our work paid off and and the group came into sight up the road. My huge half to three quarter lap pulls had done some serious damage and nobody was interested in chasing us down.

Once we were back in the group I immediately tracked down Tim for an on the go strategy session. I told him which two NCC riders we needed to watch for the rest of the race. A series of attacks and counter attacks came and before I knew it I was off the front again with my two original breakaway companions. The only difference was this time Anthony Clark had gotten away with us. Three NCC vs. one ECV. My odds of winning were pretty much shot at this point as the attacking began. The next ten minutes was pretty terrible. One of the breakaway companions would attack and I would have to bridge the gap back to the wheel. Clark would sit on my wheel and tow the other teammate along. Once I closed the gap the other teammate would counter attack and we would repeat the process. Great strategy for NCC terrible for me. Finally on the fifth attempt I couldn't counter and one rider got away. By riding a steady tempo I was able to pull him back slowly but just as it seemed possible the second NCC rider jumped away. After another lap of me battling at 186 bpm the third went away. I could have packed it in the last four laps and rested on the knowledge that I made the race but I continued to grind. I was suffering pretty hard but overall felt pretty good about the effort. In the end it was a third place finish with forty-eight minutes worth of beastly work. After the race the NCC guys conceded that I was the strongest rider in the field and that they were going to keep hitting me until I cracked. Third sucks but I feel like I walked away with some serious credibility.

As we chatted at the line a terrifying bolt of lightning lit up the the darkened sky. Tim and I cheesed it back to the cars and packed up in record time. The drive home was an adventure through one of the heaviest rain and thunderstorms that I have ever driven in. Overall the day was a pretty fun experience and I can't wait to return in two weeks.


Cheers,

Mark

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Killington Stage Race...



My primary objective for the first half of the season was to have a strong showing at the Killington Stage Race. Following my victory in the 3/4 race at the Quabbin Classic I had enough points to upgrade to Cat 3 however my team mentors thought it would be in my best interest to race Killington as a 4. There is still a lot I need to learn about bike racing and the confidence boost that would come from a win would be important for my summer as a 3. Killington is a three day stage race that features a circuit race, road stage, and time trial. Heading into the action my goal was to be competitive all three days with the hope of taking the General Classification. 

Saturday morning I was up before the alarm. My Google Maps paranoia was in full flight so I left much earlier than I needed to. My excitement on the drive couple with empty roads and loud music led me to make great time. When I showed up at the Killington Chamber of Commerce at 6:58 to pick up my packet I was the first car in the parking lot. Check in was a snap and I was ready to set up shop at the Skyship Gondola. For the next hour and a half I chilled out in the back of the V50 and sipped dark roast while listening to some serious tunes. An hour out from the start I changed into my speed suit and hopped on Leviathan for a twenty-five minute warm-up. Just as I was getting up to speed Darren and Charles joined me which made the whole set-up take on a very pro look. The weather was cool and a light drizzle was falling. I considered wearing my rain cape with the echos of Quabbin still rattling around in my brain. Darren talked my out of the jacket thinking that I would overheat on the first climb. Final wardrobe consisted of my Champion Systems Elm City Velo skin suit, Smartwool Socks, LG race gloves, Specialized S-Works Evade helmet, and Rudy Project Magster glasses. At the line Charles collected my jacket and I was ready to go. 

On the roll out I was cool. Over the course of the neutral first mile down the hill I started to shiver. Once we got on the flats I quickly fell in line and started to work in order to bring my body temperature back up to a comfortable level. Early on nothing happened. The other riders were content to just sit and and cover ground as a pack. The circuit race consisted of two 18.5 mile laps with a KOM point and sprint point each lap. There was also a twelve second time bonus at the line for the stage winner. As we started the climb on the first lap I decided that toward the summit I would string things out to see if there was any strong climbers in the group. With four k to the summit the haves and have nots were starting to string out and the skinny climbers came to the front. At one k to go I took a pretty hard dig and was able to get some separation from the group. My excitement combined with the effort shot my heart rate up a little too quickly so I backed off knowing that I had a very long weekend ahead. Over the KOM point I didn’t contest the sprint and slowed as the peloton regrouped. The decent immediately following the KOM was fast! I’m talking fifty-five miles per hour fast with a ninety degree corner at the bottom. A larger rider came through and I quickly hopped on his wheel. Once on the flat road it became apparent that people were starting to battle for position for the first sprint at the finish line. Given that I had been sprinting pretty well I decided to position myself at the front of the group. As we headed back toward the finish I saw the red flags across the road. I took a big dig at the bottom of the hill and sprinted through the flags first. Just as I sat up the group went screaming by. I had inadvertently sprinted for the five hundred to go flags and totally botched the job. As the group came back together we had a nice laugh about my mistake. What I did take away from my mistake was an important view of how the sprint went. While I was impressed with the speed I was confident that I was faster. Now I knew exactly what wheel to follow at the finish. At the beginning of the second lap I rode around the group and chatted a few guys up about the possibility of shaking things up on the second lap. The climb was not selective  enough to really make anything big stick but at the same time I didn’t want to give the sprinter a free pass. Ironically the two riders that I approached would end up being my main competition over the next two day. I guess I have an eye for strong cyclists that are on form. On the climb I went to the front and set a steady tempo. I flashed my coconspirators some fingers indicating that I was going to make a dig at four k to the KOM. When we got to the agreed about point I moved hard, probably a little too hard. I didn’t take into account that we were on a six percent grade which is my ideal grade. My three man move didn’t come together so I shifted my plan on the spot. I sat up and waited for the action to heat up. My new plan was to counter attack after the KOM point and establish a gap on the dangerous downhill. Again, I was easily able to separate from the group but I didn’t want to commit to soloing to the finish this early in the three day race. A small move came together at the bottom of the hill but nobody was willing to put in any work. With ten k to go it was groupo compacto with a big downhill sprint on the horizon. Throughout the last five k the pace increased and their was a frantic energy in the group. Everyone was looking for wheels or taking flyers off the front. I set up shop on Luis Riveria’s wheel and didn’t give an inch into the final kilo. The pace crept up with every pedal stroke as I sat third wheel. Through the five hundred to go flags I went to upshift when I realized that I was already on the eleven tooth cog in the rear. At that point I said the hell with it and committed one hundred percent to the sprint. Luis launched with three hundred and fifty meters to go and I immediately responded. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any faster my legs found another gear all together. Suddenly my fifty-one second 400-meter speed was paying dividends in a bike race. The faster I went the faster I wanted to go. I easily overtook Luis and powered across the line with a sizable gap. I emphatically shot my arms and the air and let out a wild howl like a wolf on the prowl. I’ve won bike races before but the adrenaline fueled frenzy of winning a bunch sprint was an all time high. Back at the car Darren and Charles were equally as excited at the victory that seemingly came out of left field. I took my time packing up the car and headed home to get rested and ready for the following day’s Queen Stage to the ski area. 




Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty dam good! There was hardly a trace of fatigue in my legs and my energy and spirit felt strong and hopeful. The drive was the same frantic mad dark roast dash that it was on Saturday and despite leaving later I ended up there at the same time thanks in part to not needing a bathroom stop along the way. The Queen Stage of the Killington Stage Race is a sixty-five mile march through the mountains of Vermont. Following the circuit race I was leading the GC with a twelve second margin on second place. At the morning sign in I picked up my sweet Champion Systems leaders jersey which just happened to match my Elm City Velo kit, shoes, and helmet, perfectly. On top of that I was sitting second overall in the sprint competition. While the sprint jersey wasn’t an original objective the thrill of Saturday was still in my head. Given that the temperature was already in the high seventies I decided to forego a trainer warm-up. Instead I scouted the first K of the final climb. After driving what I thought was the whole climb upon arrival I thought seeing it on the bike would be equally as helpful. Basically after sixty plus miles of racing we were going have to do a climb similar to Greylock or Ascutney. 

The race started slow, I’m talking molasses slow for the first hour. Rolling out the three jerseys were across the road riding a leisurely pace chatting like magpies. The first five k was essentially straight up hill in the climbing lane of the main road. My heart rate hovered in the mid to high 140’s for the majority of this long climb. I was attempting to put out as little power as possible on the climb. Wearing the leaders jersey meant that I was a marked man. I had showed my hand the previous day on the climb and on the sprint. The group was going to have me on a very short leash for the whole ride so I figured I should keep the pace as easy as possible for as long as I could. On the long fast decent after the initial climb I hit a huge crack in the road that jarred the bike with such force that the brake hood on the left side of the handle bars dropped close to an inch. I thought of stopping to wiggle it back into place but I didn’t want to give anything away to the group. The racing started to take shape and the same players from stage one were the faces at the front of the group. In the field of fifty races there was probably ten to twelve guys that thought they had a shot at the GC. 

Thirty miles in we started to pass the signs alerting us to the sprint point that was fast approaching. Luis, clad in his green sprint leader jersey started sneakily talking with his teammate about the lead out. They kept looking back at me and whispering and then looking up ahead. I wasn’t planning on contesting the sprint but these two guys seemed genuinely worried about my presence. I almost felt obligated to go for the sprint to do the race justice. I wiggled my way through the group and without him even knowing, planted myself on Luis’ wheel. The cat and mouse continued like this for the entire four k leading up to the sprint line. At one k Luis’ lead out man jumped and a small group of five escapees were set to contest the sprint. Five hundred out it was down to three as we launched into our sprints. I went for the straight up power move and instantly started to overtake the other two. As I was passing Luis he leaned into me to throw me off my line. I fought back with an elbow before exploding away to take the sprint point. We had a good laugh after the sprint that would quickly fade as the first major climb was less than two k away. I did my best to settle my heart rate after the sprint but in hindsight it was a reckless decision to go that hard before the climb. 

The base of the climb was narrow and steep. My heart rate jumped back up at an alarming rate so I was content to just follow wheels for the initial onslaught. Once I found my rhythm I went back to the front and started tapping out a fast pace with Tim Tapply. The group strung out quickly as we hit the less steep sections where I turned the screws tighter and tighter. Tim and I had a quick chat and we decided that this was our chance to get rid of all the passengers on the day. We would go hard to the top of the climb and reevaluate from there. The climb seemed to last for over fifteen minutes with the last ten through exposed fields where the sun made the effort especially difficult. Over the summit we had whittled it down to a group of twelve. I was confident with a group of that size so I rallied the troops to work together. While it seemed like a good plan there was still some baggage in the group that either didn’t want to work or didn’t know how to work in a group. After roughly ten miles with the group the lead moto approached and I asked him about the gap. He disappeared to get the split as the racing slowed on a dirt road section that flashed me back to Battenkill. When the motto returned he informed me that we had completely blown the lid off the race on the climb and that there wasn’t a chase. The rest of the race was spread across the road in groups of two or three limping home. I didn’t share this information with my breakaway companions because I wanted the pace to stay high. Unfortunately I had lost the feed on my Garmin and was riding blind. I didn’t have a clue where we were distance wise at that point so I was content to sit in. Looking back I realize that where I was would have been the perfect place to leave the group with one or two others. After passing the Long Trail Brewery the whole race turned into a massive pissing contest. Nobody wanted to be on the front and the pace dawdled. I had my eyes on three or four riders that could climb and ignored everyone else. Just then a rider that had been all over the place all day crashed into the back of another rider and took five guys down with him in the middle of the road. The race fractured at that point and the pace quickened as we approached the final climb. At the foot climb things quickly separated and Tim, Eric Ingalsbe and I established a gap on the field. The back side of Killington is STEEP, easily reaching 18% grade in a few places. Tim was next to fall off and it was down to Eric and I as we hit the steepest part of the climb. Eric made a slight acceleration and when I shifted my weight both of my hamstrings began to cramp. I took a few deep breaths but when I went to dig in again the cramps started to grab again at the back of my legs. I was at a critical junction. I had the lead by twelve seconds and figured I would see how quickly a gap grew between Eric and I. Unfortunately for me Eric seemed to be on fire and he easily established a gap. I don’t remember the last time I was dropped on a climb? I had to make a decision on the spot. I could either chase and risk completely locking up or I could limit my losses and fall back on my strength as a time trial rider the following morning. I decided it was in my best interest to emulate Bradley Wiggins  and choose option B. I battled through the rest of the climb and did my best to keep Eric within shooting distance. If he were to falter I wanted to be there ready to steal victory. The last pitch to the finish was simply menacing. The pitch was easily 20% and totally exposed to the sun. I fought and clawed for every second through the line. I was totally gassed riding away and was tankful for Darren and Charles’ guidance to usher me to the cars. Thankfully Darren also gave me a ride off the mountain back to my car. I was totally smashed and the thought of another twenty minutes plus on the bike was more than I cared to think about. When the dust had settled I was down 1:10 to Eric. The bright side was that I had won the sprint and therefore locked up that jersey for the weekend. The GC gap seemed manageable but I was still nervous heading into Monday. I hung out Sunday afternoon around Killington and checked out some of the sites while I waited to collect my sprint champions jersey at the awards ceremony. Once I was home well after 8:00 I went into a frantic mad dash to prepare everything I needed for the the Time Trial. 

Monday morning I was tired when I woke up but surprisingly the legs felt great. Once I got in some dark roast I was bursting with energy. I made a special Tool mix for the ride that was sure to inspire a big ride. The dive was equally as frantic as the previous two day with the added pressure of needing a big ride to pull of the win that I had been shooting for all spring. The drive was however starting to have an element of drudgery and I was looking forward to sitting at home in my lawn chair all afternoon. When I arrived at the Long Trail Brewery for the start there was a buzz of intensity in the air. I knew what needed to be done and I knew that I had the tools to perform at my best. My friend Tom had lent me his Cervelo P2 for the day which was going to be significantly faster than the Tarmac. Rattling around in my hectic brain was the additional knowledge that just two years ago I was one of the best sprint triathlon cyclists in the nation. Coincidently stage three would be the exact twenty k that I was used to on the triathlon bike. Once I was set up I did my best to appear “tranquillo” in the back of the Volvo while my competition stalked around. Darren and Charles stopped by to provide some last minute reassurance before taking off to find some checkpoints on the course. Darren was direct and said something along the lines of, “your in perfect position, execute, etc...” My warm-up was great and my heart rate easily climbed into the high 170s with little effort. Given my fitness my plan was to ride just below my anaerobic threshold. Given my most recent numbers I figured this to be in the neighborhood of 180 to 183 beats per minute. Had it been a single day time trial I would have pushed it to 185 but I wasn’t sure how my body had recovered from the previous two days. With fifteen minutes to my start time I packed up the car and headed to the start line. I was slightly at ease seeing Eric riding a road bike. Given his size and and strong head and cross-winds I knew that I had great chance to put some significant time into him over the half hour of the race. At the start house Eric all but conceded victory by saying that he hates time trials and that he sucks at them. While for some this would have been cause to relax a little, for me it fueled the fire further. Blood in the water, enter Jaws theme. Suddenly I didn’t just want to win I wanted to destroy. I wanted to stamp my authority on the race with a emphatic win leading into my upgrade. One by one the top five GC rides took off down the lonely road. Twenty k of gradual climbing into a headwind on the immediate horizon. Nowhere to hide, resenting every tick of the clock that ground through our heads like a drumbeat. 

Three, two, one, go...

Out of the start house I cranked a massive gear with my gaze locked on my thirty second man. My heart rate quickly settled into the low 180s as I had hoped and I seemed to be gobbling up ground on the riders in front of me with every pedal stroke. Within the first two miles my thirty second man was a distant memory so I set about catching everyone in sight. Time trials are the most punishing and rewarding experience in cycling. It really comes down to how much are you willing to hurt yourself in order to demoralize your competitors. On this day I was willing to hurt  and would not let my heart rate drop below 180. My mouth and nose dripped with spit and snot as sweat poured out of my body onto the road. Every stroke of the crank, a personal challenge to keep making it hurt the exact amount that I could maintain for the duration of the race. On the last climb I refused to stand and powered over the summit on the aero bars. Onto the last flats and rollers my breathing was audible and the signs of cracking began to show. Through the five hundred to go flags one last painful push to catch one last rider. Over the line and silence for that one perfect second before all the pain and noise rushes in like an out of control stream down the side of a mountain. 



The result was a twenty-three second victory over second place. Additionally I had taken three minutes and six seconds out of Eric over the course. When the dust finally settled and everything was added up I had won the GC by 1:43 over Tim Tapply and 1:56 or Eric Ingalsbe. Darren and Charles were thrilled with the result and snapped some great pictures along the way. They gave me a ride back to my car before heading out. Their support over the course of the three days was huge. Little things like taking a jacket or giving a ride back to my car made a huge difference. Essentially because of their awesomeness all I had to worry about was racing. The outcome may have been different without their support!

Back at the car I packed things up and tried to get out of race mode. I made the necessary phone calls and updated the appropriate social media outlets. Just then Eric came by and asked if I wanted to head inside for a beer before the awards. After five hours of racing against one and other it was such a relief to see that Eric was a normal person. We shot the breeze about life and racing (In that order) before heading off to the awards at the finish line. 



Overall the Killington Stage Race was an amazing experience. The organization and feel of the whole event was completely top notch. At the end of the day I walked away with two amazing Champion Systems jerseys for winning the general classification and sprint competition, an extra five hundred dollars in cash that balanced out some repairs I had made on the Tarmac, and a bonus six pack of Long Trail Ale. 

The drive home was forgettable but the sweet satisfaction of the lawn chair remains. 


Cheers!

Mark  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Quabbin Classic...


The story of the Quabbin Reservoir Classic really started in the immediate aftermath of Battenkill. So much time went in to scrutinizing every detail of the race in an attempt further my knowledge as a bike racer. Clearly my numbers from Battenkill were impressive and my heart rate data was shocking, however, I walked away with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth. I had missed out on winning the American “Queen of the Classics.” Quabbin was going to be different and I was dead set on taking a smarter tactical approach that would leave me fresh for the last half hour of the race. 

Preparation throughout the week went perfectly. My fitness and form seemed to both be on the rise and the confidence of a vacations worth of mileage bolstered my spirits further. Thursday night at the Elm City Velo sprint practice I was firing on all cylinders. Planning ahead for Saturday I tested out my new team skin suit, S-Works Evade helmet, and aero gloves. Given that Quabbin was going to be a fast three four combined field I wanted to save as many watts as possible with my equipment and gear. After the workout that all changed when I got home and looked at the forecast. The conditions for the race were slated to be forty degrees with a one hundred percent chance of rain. With that in mind I decided to fall back on the same attire that I had worn at Battenkill. I just needed to make sure that I didn’t bring the same strategy! 

Rolling out of bed Saturday morning I felt awesome. Those first steps to the bathroom can be so telling. Generally if I don’t feel like a feeble old man I know that I’m in for a good day. The Cafe Monte Alto Peruvian Dark Roast was extra robust. I’ve started taking my coffee black in the last month and it has been life changing. Generally the brew I take down is dark beyond comprehension. When served black it adds a whole new Belgian hard man appeal. Given that I really didn’t know where I was going I left on the early side to err on the side of safety. Car ride tunes consisted on Nirvana In Utero, Black Keys Brothers, and White Stripes Icy Thump. The drive was inconsequential with the exception of the unrelenting rain. The drive was actually quite simple and I ended up being one of the first cars in the parking lot. After a watery check-in I retreated to the Volvo for the next hour and forty-five minutes. I passed the time by texting with several teammates and fellow races that decided to bail on the race. Given that my thermometer read thirty nine degrees and the rain was falling as steady as ever I can’t say that I blamed anyone for staying home. The consensus from everyone that I spoke to was to forego a warm-up an just sit in the car for as long as possible with the heat on. I waited until four minutes before staging to emerge from my Swedish heat nest. I pulled Leviathan out of the back and circled around the parking lot a few times while I waited. One thing that I realized with alarming concern was that this was going to be the first time riding the all carbon 404s in wet conditions with cork brake pads. Even rolling up to the line the decreased modulation and stopping power was evident enough to make me nervous heading into the race. 

The start of the race was an unfortunate slap in the face on the cold wet morning. The first three and a half miles of downhill out of the park are neutralized. Essentially we all just got soaked while coasting at twenty-five miles per hour for ten minutes. Any delusions that I had about staying remotely warm or dry were out the window heading out of the park. I made the last minute decision to not wear my warmer thicker winter cycling gloves because they compromise my ability to get food out of my jersey pockets. Fueling in the cold and rain was going to be critical for a strong finish so I ended up wearing a pair of cotton running throw away gloves under a pair of half gloves. Within the first mile I was already squeezing water out of the soaked cotton. Out on roads in the first five miles there was an immediate attack. I didn’t put any credence in the move because the rider had been in the three/four cirtts that I had done earlier in the season. While he is assuredly a brave racer he does not seem to have the fitness or power to make any of these moves work. The idea of a sixty mile solo breakaway seemed preposterous so nobody chased. As the skinny guy continued to telescope away things were fairly relaxed in the group. Everyone was so cold and miserable together that a feeling of good will seemed to consume most of the group. 

Fifteen miles in Will Crabtree, my Battenkill nemesis attacked on a climb. Having an unfortunate knowledge of Will’s power I knew that he could not be allowed to take off alone in pursuit of a lone breakaway rider. The group was uninterested in chasing so I sprung from the group and bridged the twenty-five meter gap and jumped right onto Will’s wheel. We exchanged smirks and nods and got to work distancing ourselves from the group. The two of us caused a stir in the bunch and seemed to wake everyone up. Our gap seemed to be pegged at twenty seconds. I looked at Will and told him that going this soon would be foolish given the conditions and length  of the race. I literally sat up and stopped pedaling and took advantage of the down time to fuel up for the counter attacks that would surely come when we were caught. The next ten miles was a constant stream of attacks and counter attacks. The reality was that everyone was just trying to stay warm and wanted to get their heart rates up for a few minutes before retreating to the comfort of the group. Skinny breakaway guy was easily brought back through the series of attacks. Despite having good legs, I was getting killed on the downhills! My hands were already numb beyond comprehension and I was having difficulty shifting and breaking. My Gore Cycling shoe covers were not up to par for the conditions and seemed to be trapping moisture in my shoes rather than keeping it out. I felt like I had freezing cold soaking wet pillows on my feet. We were all experiencing this collective hell together and riders started to fall off the back of the group never to return. I was shaking so bad on the downhills that I retreated to the back because I was afraid my wobbling was going to cause an crash. Twenty-eight miles in I had had enough. I was off the back of the group shivering in such an uncontrollable way that I feared for my safety. Mary’s words of be safe were echoing in my mind as I thought about spending the afternoon in the emergency room being treated for hypothermia. It was decision time as the group started to pull away. I could stop and wait for the broom wagon to come by picking up all of the riders that were dropping out. My best estimation would be that after stopping I would be left to stand on the road side for twenty to thirty minutes waiting for a ride. All while my body temperature continued to drop dangerously low. Then my bike would be crammed into a packed van with a bunch of cold wet racers while we made the remainder to the loop around the reservoir. On top off all of that I would have to spend hours if not days processing the fact that I had quit. Having to look at myself in the mirror when I got home with the knowledge that I wasn’t tough enough to finish was simply too much to bear. The greatest shame would be the knowledge that I could never truly call myself a hard man if I dropped out of a race because I was cold and wet. Yet again my own words echoed in my head. Not everything in life is supposed to be easy! The deal that I cut with myself was that worst case I finished in the bunch and walked away knowing that I didn’t quit when the going go tough. I jumped out of the saddle and attacked all out to get back to the group. I had to turn myself inside out to get back onto the back. Ironically Will from Battenkill was parked at the back having just as hard a time as I was. 

Back in the group the turning point of my day unknowingly presented itself and brought back my  boiling hot competitive spirit. A rider, who will remain nameless really started to piss me off. This rider has been having an incredible successful spring as a Cat three racer with several big wins under his best. Regardless of all of that this guy was racing like a dick. He was chopping wheels every time he made a pass and routinely darting over the yellow lines to gain position in the group. Several riders attempted to talk some sense into this guy however his sketchy style continued. On top of all of that this guy was clearly the rider to beat in the group. He went up hills like he was floating and had an incredible ability to accelerate. The straw that broke that camels back came around the fifty mile mark of the race. Somehow despite being desperately cold after fueling up with a banana some Hammer Gel and a water downed Redline Extreme energy drink I was ready to rock. The excessive shot of caffeine threw me into beast mode and my rage toward the punk rider started to boil over. A group of eight of us were off the front however when it was punk riders time to pull he sat up. Bike racing is bike racing but the way he sat up lacked class. Myself and some to the others shared a few choice words with this young man but they didn’t seem to make a dent. Rolling up to next significant climb I decided that I was going to accelerate and try to draw someone out on a break with my for the remaining fifteen miles. I easily established a gap up the climb but there were no takers willing to go that far out. Over the top of the climb a lone rider came up to my wheel when the gap was down to roughly five seconds. I was blunt and said lets do this. He agreed and we got to work taking thirty second pulls as we established a gap. There wasn’t a reaction from the group and we started to telescope away. Through some technical turns and onto some wider roads we were at a turning point. The group had reacted and seemed to have us pegged back to fifteen seconds with ten miles to go. My breakaway companion, Matt suggested that we simply ride tempo so at least the group had to work a little bit to catch us. Just then Will Crabtree my Battenkill vanquisher bridged up to Matt and I. With Will on board I knew we now had the horsepower onboard to make this move stick. I took a monster pull to let Will catch his wind while he recovered from bridging the gap. We were putting time into the group again as we hit the hilly stretch of Route 9.  The group was still in sight so I knew what needed to be done. I went to the front on the hills and dragged the breakaway with me knowing that the group would be setting themselves up for the inevitable catch and barrage of counter attacks. My mind was set that this breakaway was not going to get caught. Over the top of the last hill on Route 9 the rain started falling harder than it had all day. While following wheels on the downhill I couldn’t see through my glasses because so much water was hitting me in the face. The effort on the hill had succeeded and the bunch was out of sight as Will, Matt, and I turned into the park for the final five kilometers of climbing. The winner was going to come from the three of us. At that point it was just a matter of who had the better climbing legs after sixty miles of the most grueling conditions imaginable. Past the five k to go sign Matt and I ditched our water bottles and the battle began. Things were about to get serious. I could have waited and fallen back on the confidence derived from my recent sprint workout success. I could have followed wheels and attacked in the last mile. All of that information ran through my mind but I settled on the strategy that nobody was a better climber for three miles than I was in that instant. So without anything better do I attacked! Within two hundred meters I had a gap of five seconds and so I cranked even harder. When a solid gap was established I settled into a rhythm and set about demolishing the final climb. Past half way I looked back and Matt and Will were attacking one and other and seemed to be reducing the gap. I had a momentary break in my confidence and worried that Will would dash my hopes for a second time in a month. Just then my teammate Tim’s words shot into my stream of thoughts. I needed to flip the deck and show my power. In an instant I shifted back onto the big ring and cranked as hard as I could for the next thirty seconds. The gap stretched back out and the show of force seemed crush Will’s spirit. I soloed the rest of the way up the hill and coasted across the line with an emphatic fist pump. Will came in second fifteen to twenty seconds down and Matt followed shortly thereafter. The punk from the group apparently attacked late and got the best of the group nearly a minute down on the win. 

Picking up the win felt so awesome! Battenkill was a bitter, bitter pill that really shook my confidence. I needed to get past that disappointment if I had any hope of racing to win the remainder of the year. Furthermore, attacking late and soloing away on an uphill finish has always been one of my biggest dreams in cycling. To achieve that dream on such an epic, miserable, cold, and wet day was the icing on the cake. The fact that I was close to quitting and managed to rally makes the victory that much more special. A huge thank you to my teammates that have supported me though this early difficult part of the season. Thank you to my awesome wife Mary for the constant support! Lastly thank you to the team at Andy’s Cycle for supporting this new venture which is hopefully putting the Monadnock Region back on the New England cycling radar. 

Cheers!

Mark