Turtle Pond Circuit (or Circus?) Race
I was beginning to think I had home court advantage at Turtle Pond. I've won the last two times I raced here. A couple days before the race, the Race Predictor had me pegged as the clear favorite. Then Tom Francis (Bike Barn Racing) signed up. This knocked me down a spot. I was so relieved, as the Race Predictor said I had to win, else I was a total failure.
I had unsettled feelings going into this race. Like last year, the field was stacked with OA/Cyclemania guys. They weren't going to just let me ride away for a win again. Along with Francis, another guy I was told to keep an eye on was Fabio Piergentili (WH Bagshaw). I think Race Predictor had him pegged for third, just behind me.
Lining up, we were informed that Hot Hole Pond Rd was taken out of the course. It contained a very steep, punchy climb. It was opening day of fishing season, and this road snakes narrowly through parking and fishing areas at very high speeds. It was just too risky with kids around and stuff. So I thought great, we just lost half the climbing on the course and we have a downhill sprint finish. At least in years prior when this road was not part of the course, the finish was at the top of Oak Hill.
We start off supposedly neutral up Oak Hill, but the pace was enough to get everybody to shut up by the top. It didn't take long before an OA/Cyclemania guy, another guy in a floppy plain blue jersey and one or two others rolled off the front. OA had 9 or 10 guys in place to immediately start blocking. I didn't know any of the riders that rolled off. I wasn't worried at first. I don't think a Sunapee or BOB rider was represented, and surely they wouldn't let this just roll away. I had a few teammates with me too. We played cool for the moment. But they sure did put time on the field in a hurry when we were just putzing along behind the blockers. Nobody wanted to come through and work. I got a little antsy. Tom Francis rolled up along side, perhaps sensing my unease, and commented that we didn't have to worry about those guys. Well, ok, I'll sit tight a little longer. This was my first huge tactical blunder.
We hit Oak Hill on our second lap. I think it was Fabio that unleashed massive killojoules on the upper steep part. Francis and I were right there to stay with it. We actually grew a little gap on the field. I thought this was looking sweet, the three predicted favorites getting away early. We'd catch the few up the road, mince them up, and duke it out three laps later at the finish. Yeah, right.
It was not to be. OA had some strong guys in the field, like Hank Pfeifle. They shut down the minuscule gap on the descent right away. There went a few matches for naught. Coming through the finish, we learned in just two laps, the break away put four minutes on the field. How can this be? I couldn't believe how effectively OA was blocking. Nobody else was getting away either. When you have so many OA guys in a modest sized field, like 15-20% of the field actually, there's no shortage of guys to sit on wheels and not pull through up front.
On lap three, Dave Foley (BOB/Goodale's) comes to the front to set pace up Oak Hill. I thought to myself he must have done a lot of repeats on Blue Hill since the snow melted this spring. On the steeper part, other riders like Pfeifle and myself came by, with the field cresting intact. Hank began the descent. He peeled off the front, and as he drifted back along side me, he looked back to assess the state of the field. As he looked over his right shoulder, he drifted left towards the centerline, unaware Mark Suprenant (Team Type I) was just on the other side of his rear wheel. Wheels crossed, and this catapulted Mark into the air. The sound of the crash was horrific. Sounded like a gunshot going off. Everybody in our field heard it, even guys way back. Not sure what it was, maybe his helmet? Mark hit Hank's wheel with enough force to take Hank down too. Then a third rider cartwheeled over the two of them. We were going pretty fast. This happened at the very front of the field with highly experienced riders. It is a wonder more riders didn't go down. Just goes to show it could happen to anybody, regardless of how good you are or where you position yourself in the field. This left my nerves in a wreck, like a sick knot in my stomach. I haven't crashed in a race yet, and this was way too close for comfort. With a break gone, I seriously contemplated just riding off the course and going for a long ride instead.
Coming around for lap four, the climb up Oak Hill was more civilized. I let myself drift a few positions back, keeping my eye on Francis. I was surprised he hadn't bolted yet. While I was boxed in, Tom bolted on the steep upper part of Oak Hill. OA/Cyclemania did nothing, even though they were right at the front. I wonder if they didn't perceive him as a threat. I was stuck. Tom cleared the summit with five seconds on us maybe, looked back, then drilled it. He is quite a bit bigger than me, so I'm sure he can put out mad Watts on descents and the flat. He was gone. It would be interesting to see if he could take probably more than four minutes now out of the lead break. Not staying at the front this go around on Oak Hill was my second tactical blunder.
The rest of our field remained intact. Things were looking like a massive bunch finish for fifth or sixth place now. I asked my teammate Brian if he felt like he had a sprint in his legs. I didn't want to go into a forty man sprint. Especially if a podium spot is not even up for grabs. I don't practice that stuff, and I'm apt to cause a wreck. I thought I would just go to the front when the pack typically slows down a mile or so out from the finish and string it out, with Brian a couple guys back. I'd bury myself to the line, with maybe 10 or 12 guys coming around me. It was either that, or I'd just stay way back and stay safe. But Brian wasn't keen on that plan. So now I was in a mode of just wishing this race was over. It was so frustrating. I had good legs. I could kill that climb, but not kill it enough to stay away on my own. Nobody else could get away either, unless OA let them. They surely weren't letting me get away.
We climb Oak Hill our fifth and final time. It probably was a hard pace. I don't remember. There were several attempts to get away from the field on the back side of Oak Hill. I initiated a few of these. Keith Button (CCB) launched a few attacks of his own. None were permitted to succeed. Two additional riders did get off in the fourth or fifth lap though. One was an OA guy, so this was permitted. The other might have been Piergentili, so they were golden.
Just before the right hand turn off Oak Hill Rd, two riders were dangling just off the front. Things were beginning to get disorganized, so I launched hard again. The right-hander is a narrow road and easy to miss. It seems our course marshall disappeared. The two guys ahead of me missed the turn, then like a lemming, I missed it, head down, going all out at 30+ mph. I TOTALLY missed the corner and couldn't figure why the other two guys were skidding their tires to stop. I thought flats. But then I looked back to see our field in total chaos, half of them riding through the front yard of the corner house. We turned there only four times already. You'd think we'd have learned it by now. Really beside the point. Where was the course Marshall? That corner is taken at very high speed. What if a car had been coming as we rounded the corner into the on-coming lane without a marshall to warn traffic? Not a good situation.
By the time I got turned around, the field was gone. Along with Jon Eichman (Quad Cycles), we were OTB DFL. Yeah, that just sums this pathetic race up nicely. Jon and I started heading back to the finish at a nice conversation pace. Should we even bother trying to get back on? He said he didn't have much left, so it was up to me. Why not. Let's get this suck-ass race over with. I went into TT mode for a good 7-8 minutes, catching the back of the field just before turning onto the road the finish is on. I thought to myself, I've never seen this view of a race before, from off the back. It was a sea of lime green and double yellow stripe jerseys.
So now with just a couple miles to go, do I stay way back and stay safe, or do I do my kill myself at the front and stay out of trouble that way? As we turned on to School Street, I rode up through the field and kept going, right off the front. I heard yelling behind me. Were they still marking me? For what, 7th place now? I just wanted to go home. Paul Wonsavage (Onion River Sports) was just off the front too. I caught him, dropped him, now solo about five seconds off the front, knowing full well I just blew everything my legs had left just to get back on this charade and I had zero chance of staying away to the line. It was still over 1km to go. I got caught just as things started winding up. This was exactly where I did not want to be. I have no business mixing it up in the sprinter's realm. Since now we had full road, I just got way over to the left so at least nobody could come around me on that side and hook my wheel. I have no idea what I crossed the line in, maybe fifth or sixth for the field sprint. Who cares. I was ready to go home and enjoy the rest of a gorgeous day. Still haven't seen the results. I wonder if Francis caught the early break and won? It would be awesome if he did. Had I been more careful and gone with him, I doubt I could take him at the line anyway. Sure would have been fun trying.
Mark Suprenant was pretty banged up. A friend drove him home, and he got checked out at the hospital later. He suffered a concussion. I wish him a speedy recovery. Hank Pfeifle is one tough guy, as he was able to get back into the race, and he was still mixing it up at the front. He's 59 this year! Not sure how the third guy in the crash fared. Guess there was major carnage in the Cat 4 race, upwards of 10 crashes in between the turn off Oak Hill Rd and the finish. This race left me rather unfulfilled. Doing yard work and shopping with wifey in the afternoon was more satisfying.