Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best recovery drink on the planet

The Tour of the Battenkill has been the informal kick-off to the cycling season for me five years in a row now. I first did the race in 2006, racing in a masters field (35+) for the first time, and won. This year's race was going to be challenging. The Westwood Velo guys would be there again. A heinous wind was forcasted. And it would be chilly. Driving over the Green Mountains of Vermont, there was a light snow dusting on the high peaks that fell overnight. At least the probability of rain was now down to about zero since the front moved out.

As for all long road races, I do minimal warmup. I take my chances I won't have to go all-out first thing in the race. Lining up at 12:30pm, the sun started to come out and the temp broke 50F. I ditched the knee warmers. The only cool weather articles I wore were wool socks and arm warmers. I was nervous. This would be my first group ride this season. Yeah, I haven't done a hard training ride with more than one other person yet this year. Now I'm lining up with the best on skinny dirt roads.

We go, neutral for a bit. As soon as the pace car peeled off. Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo) bolted. Just like that we're strung out single-file at 30+ mph. We'd catch him, then another Westwood guy would attack. This was the exact opposite of last year's race where everybody was talking the first 5 miles. I sensed a plan in action here. One of these launches would be for real.  I did not want to miss a successful break, but I've learned my lesson too many times chasing everything that goes off the front or trying myself early in the race. The Westwood guys were softening us up, making us complacent for when THE break happened. Last year Roger dispatched Todd Cassan, then single-handedly controlled the rest of the race to ensure his teammate's win.

Well, in all the mayhem, Roger, Fred Thomas (OA/Cyclemania) and Sammy Morse (Corner Cycle) got away. I was boxed in. They rode away from us after we passed through the covered bridge. So this year Roger was going for it, and his three teammates would work to ensure his success.

We reached the dreaded Juniper Swamp Road climb. The gravel was like pavement. Somebody was drilling it. I had no trouble staying right at the front though, unlike last year. It wasn't long after Juniper Swamp that Sammy dropped back into the fold. Now only Roger and Fred were up the road. Our pace became ridiculously slow at times with Westwood blocking. With three strong guys policing the front, all attempts to break away were rewarded with Westwood dragging the whole pack back up to them. This was maddening. Pisses you off, yet at the same time you have to admire how well that team works. I got off the front a couple times. One time Mark Gunsalus (Fuji) joined me, but it didn't take long at all until I looked back and saw fifty riders on our wheels.

We stayed at least 40 riders strong through all the dirt sections of Mountain Rd, Becker Rd and Meeting House Road. The gravel was in mint condition. Becker Rd, where I believe multiple serious injuries occurred last year, was an all-out no brakes speed fest. No fear. This year multiple caution signs and volunteers waving flags were in place warning racers of impending doom. I doubt there were any issues this year.

My computer started flaking out. Think the battery was dying. So I kind of lost track how far it was to the final climb, the dirt Stage Road climb. I was really bumming that we had such a huge group still, at least forty guys. Westwood kept it that way. I think if a few of us, like me, Eric Gutbier (CCC/Keltic) and maybe Gunsalus made a go of it, we could have gotten away. CCC/Keltic had a strong contingent of five guys in the race too, and they conceivably could have thwarted Westwood's ability to reel us back in. Kind of like counter-counter measures. But nothing ever stuck for more than a minute.

Were on Rt 59, strong tailwind, heading up a hill. I went to the front to set pace. Not kill it, but hard work. I felt no wind in my face. That meant everybody in the pack was going to work just as hard. We bomb down the other side. A guy in an orange jersey rolls off the front. We were now in a countinuous stream of smoked Cat 3 riders. It was hard to keep track of who was who from a distance. Nobody wanted to up the pace from what Westwood was setting. So I roll off the front. Nothing happens. I apply some power. No response. The orange jersey guy was way up the road now. I thought if I could catch him, maybe we could work together to the end. Due to my flaky computer, I was surprised to already be at Stage Rd. I thought we had 8mi to go, but I knew this was only about 5mi from the finish, 1-2 miles up, 3-4 miles down to finish. I did the only thing I don't suck at. Put out mad Watts up a hill and dare them to catch me. One other rider managed to latch on to my wheel early in the climb. It was Stephen Gray (IRS Medic). We very quickly overtook the orange jersey guy. I hollered out to him "let's earn some cash!" I figured three of us were better than two with forty guys chasing.

At some point, the orange jersey guy petered out. It was just Stephen glued to my wheel. The pack was not more than 15 seconds back at the mid point of the climb. I made sure the Watt-o-meter (the fictitious one in my head) stayed pegged on the flatter parts of the climb. There were about four steep sections. It'd level off, you'd think "whew, glad that's over," then you round a bend and see more wall. Walls are my friends. I continued to bury myself with Stephen clinging on. Then we see two riders with purple numbers. From my field. Could this be Roger and Fred? It clearly was a Westwood and some other guy. I thought wow, were going to overtake Roger? I told Stephen that it looked like the front of our race. He said no, those guys got away earlier. How did I miss that? Must have been snoozing. As we crested the top, we picked up Robert Lattanzi (Westwood) and I think John Spittal (Thru-it-all). We're up to a four-some now, the pack comfortably behind us. Now just if we could work together for the next 3+ miles, which was mostly downhill. I was suspicious of Westwood though. By this point, Roger was probably finished, so no need to block. How motivated would he be to score that third podium spot? John and Stephen worked pretty hard those last three miles. I did my best too, having destroyed myself on that climb.

Cooperation began to peter out at about 2km to go. One of the guys complained, noting the field was right there. I took a couple more hard pulls. We get to 1km to go, then cat and mouse games began. We had very little margin to dick around here. I didn't know any of these guys. I still think of myself as a pathetic sprinter. Maybe these guys are all climber types and my odds are good. Somehow I ended up front and I could not shake the lead. It was killing me. I did not dare take my eyes off any of the other three, and we were spread out all over. We're now 200m to go, I can see guys coming. Steve started to go. I put my head down and launched, immediately coming around Steve. I never looked back. I easily took the sprint from 200m out, securing what I believed to be third place.

I worked my way over the podium area to congratulate Roger and Fred. I also wanted to confirm it was just the two of them up there and third place was up for grabs. He asked me if I was sleeping, as there were four others that came through behind them. I was bummed.  I guess he assumed if I had to ask, I must not have been in that group of four, which included one of his teammates. Results went up. I did get third. I was less than six minutes back from Roger and Fred, which was surprising because of how slow we went at times. Upwards of 40 others finished two minutes behind me. Perhaps I need to reassess my sprinting ability.

From what I could tell, the results posting went smoothly this year. It did not take long from finishing to awards. Timing chips were used. On the podium, we were going to put our hands up without holding the milk and Pepsi bottles, but we had to hold them up for the sponsors. Turns out Pepsi's last minute sponsorship saved the race from being cancelled this year after a primary sponsor backed out. I gotta tell ya, that Battenkill Creamery chocolate milk is the best recovery drink on the planet. I chugged the whole quart within minutes of awards, getting an icecream headache in the process. I hope podium finishers continue to receive quarts of this fine post race beverage for years to come. It is a nice touch.

Just like last year, Westwood dominated this race. Last year Roger worked for a teammate, this year the team worked for Roger. It seems most races I do with the Westwood guys, I make the podium (Balloon Festival, Battenkill 2x). Probably has to do with how the race is controlled, and I have lots of killojoules left in the tank to do my thing in the last miles of the race. Probability of a win is near nil though. Another Battenkill win would be nice. What if I had made the early break? Would three been a crowd, and would I have been ejected? It's a fine line between being too cautious and too aggressive. I should have been more assertive earlier in the race I think.

Our race was a lot faster this year in harsher conditions. None of the other fields that did 62 miles finished faster than the masters 40+. My energy level stayed high despite hanging out close to the front for the whole race. I ate more than usual, a Mojo bar, bag of Sharkies and a Gu. I didn't cramp, although I sensed precursors. I speculate whether I found the solution to my cramping problems. I've been doing much more low rpm work at moderately high power levels. This basically means mashing. Singlespeeding on the Cape this winter is one way I work this in. Last year I went into this race lacking confidence in my fitness. I now know how well XC skiing preps the body for bike racing. In fact, I had only 100 hours on the bike since the beginning of the year. That's about 7hrs per week. Many of those hours were recovery. Add another 50 hours of intense skate skiing to this, that builds a solid base.

Next up looks like a mountain bike race down in Connecticut. Thanks for reading.


CB2 said...

Great report Doug!
I fully concur on the miracle of chocolate milk.
WT should be fun.

Anonymous said...

excellent race commentary! congrats doug.

Dave said...

How do you remember all the race detail? After the sm100 I remember little, except pain and fun. Hope the ss vs cramps works for me too. Been riding the El Mar fixed with 44x18 for a while. Pulling the wife and trailered twins with the boat anchor tandem is major work too.

Jonny Bold said...

Damn Dougie, I should say you definitely want to reconsider your sprinting prowess. Stephen Gray is one of the best sprinters around. He's won many, many big field sprints, and usually cleans up any smaller groups. I'm gonna start calling you Dougie Val Verde. A hill climbing sprinter!
Really great job! JB

Anonymous said...

maybe you took some of his sprint power with that intense climbing near the end? nice race and report!

rick is! said...

nice job man.