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.