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. 



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