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. 



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