Raced the Masters 40+ at Tour of the Hilltowns Saturday. This was my first time racing Hilltowns. I was familiar with the descent and infamous East Hawley Rd climb. The descent scared me. The climb had opportunity written all over it. This is opposite of most other rider's sentiments going into the race.
It was a very muggy morning. Having been an unusually cool summer, I was deeply concerned about keeping the core body temperature in check. I put two giant water bottles in the frame and threw a third small bottle in the jersey. Anything more than that would just kill me on the climb.
Our race started out fast with guys testing the field right from the start. It took a concerted effort to stay near the front with constant churn. Nothing got away, but then again I don't think anybody going off the front was serious either.
We reached the steep, treacherous descent down Rt 8A in no time. This road is about 10 years past due for repaving. Longitudinal cracks ran 100 feet, up to 4" deep. Nasty stuff. I worked diligently to stay near the front. John Funk (Cycle Fitness) bolted off the front, I believe purely as a self preservation move, not an attack. With riders leap frogging up in the draft, we caught back up to John. I was at the very front a few times too. Somewhere in this melee I went over 50mph. I did not hear any tires explode or carbon rims shrapnelize. Dave Penney riding in the Cat 4 field said he heard about six tires explode through this section.
We get down to Rt 2 with nearly 30mph average (best I can tell, my silly computer started dropping out). I was still feeling pretty good, having taken the week somewhat easy after finding myself in a bit of a hole last weekend. Then we get to it, East Hawley Rd. OA/Cyclemania pretty much had their whole team in this race. Two contenders I knew were Fred Thomas and Stu Abramson. Hank Pfeifle was in there too. The first few hundred feet of steep vertical went well. I drifted back a little, but still in the mist of the leaders. Then OA/Cyclemania sends a rider off. I was not sure which one, but nobody responded. It could well be the case that nobody could respond. I knew I was at my limit.
Suddenly I didn't feel so good anymore. My legs disappeared on me. I was burning up, getting that nauseated feeling. I watched my race ride away from me in a pathetic helpless state. The 20+ leaders group then split into two groups. Then they were gone. I was riff-raff discarded off the back. I pretty much lost my will to race right then and there. How could this happen? Is it really that hot out? Am I over-trained? Did everybody else suddenly get that much faster than me? I competed quite favorably against some of these guys earlier in the season.
A rider or two caught me, and I caught another rider or two. One was Paul Wonsavage (Onion River Sports), a good guy to be in break away with. Another was Ed Angeli (Target Training), whom I did not know. These two guys established a very nice pace. I contributed what I could, which wasn't much. My body felt like it pretty much shut down. We worked together to Rt 9, then began the long descent into the wind. Ed was quite persistent in keeping the pace up. I figured what's the use, we'll never catch the leaders group anyway.
But wouldn't you know it, we see a wheel car ahead of us. At first I thought it was for Cat 3's, as no way could our guys have slowed up that much. It was in fact our wheel car, and the 40+ pace car was in front of them. We were looking at the front of our race again. Apparently whoever attacked on E. Hawley did not stay away and the split leaders pack came back together too. We had trouble bridging the final 200m to the leaders pack. Ed launches and bridges up solo. I was not able to grab his wheel. I go it alone too, the other three not responding. I made it, barely. It seems someone in the leaders pack attacked just when we were ready to latch on.
Ok, so now I'm back in the race. Except I'm not. That was my last match, getting back on. I got on just as we reached the first lengthy section of passing lane at 7% grade. Of course, the pace was hard. I kept popping off the back despite a pack of 15+ guys blocking a strong head wind for me. The grade levels a bit. Driving in on Rt 9, I knew there were several steep passing lane sections before reaching the finish up top. I knew I would not survive the next one. I didn't. Ed from my chase group didn't survive it either. I might be to blame, as he was behind me when my bungee cord snapped. Another rider or two got shelled out of the leaders group working our way up to the finish. The stair step pitches just wouldn't stop. Me, Ed and another rider pretty much threw in the towel at this point. Ed commented all that hard work chasing was for naught. There were five of us chasing, and Ed probably put in 40% of the total effort.
As we levelled off at the high point of Rt 9, I accelerated like it really mattered. In reality, I probably accelerated no faster than I do from a stoplight on a lunch recovery ride. The other two were not interested in sprinting for 20th or whatever place it would be. As I came around the turn for the final 200m, I see another 600# rider from my field who had sat up. He hears me coming and puts his head back down. I kept a little power to the pedals, come along side Mark Gunsalus (Fuji/Clif Bar), and he really decides he doesn't want to give up another place. He got me by 6" at the line. This silly maneuver nearly caused every muscle in my legs to cramp up. It is a wonder I made it all the way up Rt 9 in the sun.
When the results were posted, I was surprised to see I came in 13th. I had high hopes of placing in the cash here today, a top-5 finish. I was quite disappointed. I was also surprised to see some big names not in the preliminary top-15 results posted. Maybe it was a hard race. Maybe it was muggy conditions. Even though our five man group chased for 20 miles to catch (or at least see) the front of our race, I don't think any of the five held on all the way up Rt 9.
I talked with coach Jay Gump after the race, commenting that my performance seems to have dropped a tad the last few weeks. It does seem I have lost some top-end snap. Jay said I need to take a week off. I don't really periodoize my training. But this year has gone a little differently for me. I was as fit as ever through June. Maybe my ski fitness wore off now. But I've been doing a little more intensity work too and racing quite a bit more. Good chance I bumped into a limit. I've never experienced a deflection in fitness before, choosing steadiness over peaking for a priority event. I have no doubt Jay is right. The question is, can I force myself to take an honest rest week now?
With a week in Colorado coming up soon and big MTB events in September, I'm more apt to back way from intensity work for the rest of the summer and focus on endurance. That's the sweet spot for enjoyment factor in my riding anyway. Next weekend I head to Mt Equinox to defend my BUMPS leader jersey. I typically do the Bow road race the next day but may do something at lower intensity and more endurance related instead.