Looking back in the rearview mirror 2016 2016 was probably my most successful year ever as a bike racer. To start it off I started racing for the best team in New England in Minuteman Road Club. I had incredible fortune and managed to avoid injuries and bad luck throughout the entire year from March until November.
Signing on with MRC was a huge boost through the winter months as my training started to take on the most unpleasant monotony that only the trainer can produce. With Elm City Velo imploding by the second an impulsive text to my buddy PJ changed my prospects as a bike racer forever. For the past two years I had become what could best be described as a steady performer. I had my moments where I was in contention but I was continually banging my head against a glass ceiling of my own inexperience with training and racing on the bike. MRC changed who I am as a rider and racer and at thirty-six I'm looking at a few more years of upside before the inevitable decile of age.
MRC and its infinite awesomeness took hold the day before my first race at Plainville. Mark Beard changed his vacation plans to meet me at a random industrial park to give me my race kit. Mark talked my ear off about racing and rides before hopping back in the car with his wife en route to Maine. Driving home I was flabbergasted and emboldened by Mark’s commitment to the team. I was instantaneously committed to this team that I had never met. The following day I worked on getting into breaks and raced without a ton of confidence. Coming off a terrible year plagued by injury and illness I was a shadow of my former self. I raced scared and raced like a rube.
My year changed the following Wednesday when I attended the MRC spring meeting and ride. My memories of the ride are so vivid that I could write a mile by mile account of the ride if I were so inclined. Somehow I got on a group email for the ride and brought up the possibility of riding my CX bike with road tires. Jeremy Cratty scoffed at the notion sarcastically suggesting that I would be “fine” on my CX bike. The nerves driving to that first MRC ride were maddening. I did’t know these guys and how could I ever expect them to take me into their well established file to race for me at the bigger races? Unpacking Leviathan in my fancy boy purple shirt and party boots I struck an image that was less than intimidating. My mismatched kit of the new freelancer was only set off by my leaders jersey from the Killington Stage Race.
Within five miles it was apparent that the ride was going to be hot. While I sat back and played it conservative the initial miles fellow newbie Tom Colman started dropping bombs from the beginning in his NCC kit. At the foot of Oak Hill Tom took a massive dig. Realizing that this was a bid for status amongst my new teammates I went full gas to get to his wheel. Tom’s attack jettisoned everyone except Chris Pare and I within a matter of meters. I remember being so close to cracking but digging that little bit harder knowing that the harder it got the better off I would be. Pare soon dropped and it was down to the two new guys trading shots across the bow in an attempt to prove their worth for their new teammates. Tom and I have become great friends throughout the year and I firmly believe that the relationship was cemented that first ride on Oak Hill. We traded punches all the way up the climb, neither rider willing to concede anything to the other. As we dead pedaled over the top and the group came back together Tom and I shared a look knowing that we had cemented our status as solid additions to the team.
The rest of the ride was a series of land mine attacks by everyone. Flyer after flyer was launched in good humor with the frustration of thousands of miles of trainer rides throughout the winter finally manifesting themselves in real time. The ride was a success and the team meeting that followed set the stage for the season. Powerpoint presentations galore, free gear, a stern warning that we needed to earn our keep through racing and promoting our sponsors. Oh and great beers and conversation. I immediately felt at home and connected to this group. I rode home with a ear to ear smile knowing that I had found my home as a bike racer.
Somehow I didn't race again until Quabbin which blows my mind given my form. The race itself was a watershed moment as a bike racer. In terms of racing smart I've never done a better job, in terms of suffering on the bike I'm pretty sure this was an all time high. My biggest regret of the year is not getting a power meter sooner. I would love to know the numbers from the last forty minutes of that race. Red line city doesn't begin to describe the feeling as the attack went from fun to terrifying. Jeremy set up that race like the wily old racer that he is. When he was up the road chasing Al and the attack came out of the bunch I was certain that the winning move was unfolding in real time. Given how close the chase got on the lower slopes of the last climb part of me is still shocked that I managed to stay away until the finish.
Myles Standish was my next outing and once again MRC showed up in full force. While waiting in line to get my number the guys behind me were conspiring against MRC and admitting that our presence was overwhelming the lesser teams. When they started discussing Quabbin and the guy that won I had to chime in that I was in fact that guy. We had a good laugh, well I had a good laugh, they were clearly frustrated. Standish was another victory for the team with a perfectly executed attack for Pare. I had never been a teammate in a win and I relished the role. I blocked and was a general pest for the chase that tired to organize itself in pursuit of Chris and his attack partners. Such a great victory for Chris!
My biggest disappointment of the year was undoubtably Battenkill. With this being the last year of the race in its traditional form our team had serious designs on the top step of the podium. Perhaps it was our success up to that point in the season that was our undoing. Rather than racing tactically smart as we had been the previous month we simply tried to overpower and strong arm the race. Admittedly there was a palpable frantic energy in the bunch that led to an attack fest however we were far too reactive to everything the first forty plus miles of the race. On Joe Bean Road late in the race I drilled it at a high wattage. What I know about myself and my power at this point I venture to guess that I was making 420 watts the majority of the climb. The effort shelled the field and four MRC riders were in the group over the summit. My predetermined attack hill was significantly closer than I thought and I was feeling the effort. I was there when the winning move went. In fact I was practically on his wheel. Unfortunately I did not have the goods to follow given my haphazard racing and cramped. Man I wish I had that first forty miles back! As a team we tried in vein several more attacks but nothing stuck. I made a last ditch attack on the final climb to try and set up Pare and PJ but it was all gone at that point. Somehow I managed to attempt to lead Pare out before I nearly blacked out and fell in the bushes. I think we all left Battenkill with a bitter taste.
With the heat of summer my racing took a significant negative downturn. At Harvard I was poised for a great result before being foiled by debilitating cramps the final assent of Oak Hill. Bad luck and heat limited my success at Critt Week. Heat destroyed me at Hilltowns essentially reducing me to a recreational cyclist the last six miles. One final spat of bad luck at Concord where I had a high speed blow out in the last turn put a nice little bow on my road season.
The one exception to my summer of discontent was our teams Gran Fondo powered by Wachusett Brewery. While I’m still not 100% sure what my responsibilities were as the lead rider I am sure that we had a blast. Unintentionally this turned into a hammer fest as we approached the New Hampshire line. A couple of dudes that were doing the shorter version started crushing. My natural response when people start crushing is to crush back. Apparently we had ten guys with the same reaction. By the time we fueled up at the last aide station there were roughly ten MRC guys and two dudes that could hang. The final climb of the ride is an ascent of Wachusett before plunging back down the hill to the afterparty at the brewery. On the climb I decided to take a big dig and try to drop everyone. The move succeeded and I had five or six minutes to take in the scene at the summit before regrouping with the boys. Cratty and I demolished the decent and our attack would have gone clear to the line had we not been thwarted by a jeep not willing to yield the road to us. After we regrouped there were a series of digs and counter moves. Pare and I worked free over the last mile and sprinted the last two hundred for the imaginary win. Pare cracked and I rode solo to the empty parking lot! Huge imaginary victory. Perhaps the biggest imaginary win of my career. The after party was awesome and good cheer was abound as summer kicked off in style.
Part two of the year in review will be posted soon. I will cover my first experience with coaching and a power meter and retell the tales of a fun and successful cyclocross season. Stay tuned.