Another reason this race struck fear in me was the size of the field. I hadn't trained or raced in a large group in a year. At my best, riding in a tight pack gives me the willies. Make that pack upwards of 150 riders and "interesting" road surfaces, I start to freak out.
My predicted outcome of today's race was bleak. I thought I had maybe a 5% chance of finishing in the cash, the top 10, as at least my cardio fitness was pretty good. After all, my Battenkill podium average was 60%. More likely though, was the other extreme. I surmised there was a 20% chance I would cramp up so spectacularly that I would DNF. In a training ride a couple weeks ago which was much easier than Battenkill, this nearly happened to me. Cramping in that ride told me I was in deep trouble for Battenkill. I've learned over the last few years the only way to ward off the cramping demons is proper conditioning. Normally in winter, I ride my singlespeed MTB in hilly terrain. There is nothing better to build muscular endurance than that. It just didn't happen this winter. So that leaves a big 75% in between cash and DNF. My expectation was I would finish, but not without the cramping demons paying a visit.
Before moving on to the race report, I have to comment on the motel Dave and I stayed at Saturday night. It was the Knotty Pine Motel in Bennington. All the major chains in town were booked. So this was it. The room was musty. When I pulled the covers back, I found curly black hairs on the sheets. Dave about died laughing. Guess I'm not a total germophobe. I wasn't going to make a big deal of it. A while later, while Dave was cuddled up with his Kindle reading, I noticed material on the side of his bottom sheet. Looked like someone deposited the contents of nasal cavities there. It was my turn to laugh now.
Ok, so now the race report. It was friggin freezing kitting up, but warming up quickly. Last minute I decided the only warm layer item I would wear would be a thin long sleeve base layer under my anonymous jersey (my new team kit hasn't arrived yet). Good call, I was shivering until the first hill but just a little warm in the end. I lined up second row. Two seconds after the start, someones tire exploded. How does that happen? Sucked to be them. A mile or two down the road, we're still putzing along at 18mph and a motorcycle marshall pulls up to the front and says "you know you can start racing now, right?" Nothing happened. The pace picked up after we rolled through the covered bridge.
Heading up Perry Hill road, we kept bunching up and guys took the whole road despite the yellow line. Several times, the marshall came up beside screaming, intimidating us with his 500 lb machine to move to the right. With such a huge field and narrow road, riders didn't stay to the right for long. Then the motorcycle marshall came all the way up to the front and nearly stopped just left of the yellow line, causing mayhem in the field. There were several near crashes. Lots of screaming ensued. That was a totally unsafe, boneheaded move. He should have just DQ's a few flagrant violators. That probably would have gotten people's attention without risking life and limb.
We were still all together coming up to Juniper Swamp Rd. I don't understand why people dread that one so much. It is over before your heartrate even gets up. I did notice there were some fractures further back in our field as I crested. I got over no problem. I guess people don't like to get eliminated so early in a race. But say Juniper was taken out. The same guys wouldn't make the Joe Bean hill selection. It's not about the hill.
Later on Rt 64, were climbing gradually on rollers. Somebody up front was setting a stiff pace. Earlier in the race, I thought surely the Cat 3's would catch us, being staged 10 minutes behind. But not at the pace now. Gaps were opening up all over the place and I kept burning matches to get around them and stay with the leaders.
We still had a sizable field reaching Joe Bean Rd, maybe 40-50 riders. This is near the halfway point of the race, and since no selection had taken place yet, it would surely happen here. Joe Bean rises something like 400ft at a fairly persistent grade. Roger Aspholm (Westwood Velo), Fred Thomas (OA Cyclemania), and a Wheels of Bloor (WOB) guy slowly pulled away. Roger and Fred took the top two podium spots last year. I never heard of this WOB team before. I did not have the goods to stay with that crew. A fourth guy dangled behind them for a bit. I was fifth approaching the top and gave up any silly ideas of actually bridging up to them. The selection was made.
So that meant unless one of those guys flatted, no more podium spots were up for grab. And since those guys all had strong teammates left in the field, blocking ensued. I didn't really care this time. I could tell the Joe Bean climb did some serious damage. I felt strain in my legs that always precedes cramping.
Roger's teammate Troy Kimball did most of the blocking initially. A couple guys didn't seem to get it. They'd take a hard pull at the front, motion for Troy to pull through, and he'd just sit there. The WOB guy in the break had a strong teammate disrupting any chase attempt too. Both WOB guys were big guys. After a while, we got an update that the break was only 40 seconds up the road. I would have thought more with the blocking. Maybe we could still shut it down, but I was going downhill fast.
We turned onto the new section of the course. It was freshly graded gravel. Until that point, the gravel was safer to ride than some of the paved sections. It wasn't too horrible, you could still climb out of the saddle on it, but it rolled steeply up and down something fierce for a couple miles.
My computer stopped working part way into the race, so I was surprised when we turned onto Meetinghouse Rd. The race was going by quite quickly. On the second climb on Meetinghouse, my legs started cramping. These were upper quad cramps, both legs. My quads hardly ever cramp. We still had two more climbs on Meetinghouse, then the big one at the end. I was doomed. I got gapped on Meetinghouse. I kicked, scratched and clawed my way back on. It was so ugly. I could not rise out of the saddle at all. My quads wouldn't allow it. Somewhere around here Paul Richard (CCB) and another rider peeled off the front. Now five were up the road.
Back on pavement, I was licking my wounds. I was barely hanging on to the back of the main chase group, maybe down to 30 riders now. Prospects of me staying with anybody over Stage Rd, the dirt 400 footer before the finish, were bleak. I might not make it over at all. That happened to me at Everest Challenge 200m from the finish of the first stage several years ago. I still have nightmares about that. A sixth rider was now off the front as we approached Stage Rd. I thought surely he'd be caught, but nope.
Interestingly, the pace up Stage Rd was civil. Maybe that's how it normally is. The Stage Rd climb is were I do my thing, snagging the last podium spot the last two years. I can put out well over 400W for 5-6 minutes at the end of 3hr race like this. But not when my quads want to fire on their own, causing excruciating pain. I could not stand at all. I had to stay seated and spin it out, barely tapping into my VOmax. What really sucked, is about 20 of us made it over together. The modified course put two right hand turns right before the finish. I dread straight-in bunch finishes, and a sharper than 90 degree turn less than 200m from the finish was just plain stupid for a race of this type.
With about five flat kilometers to the finish, nothing much happened. A couple guys tested the waters a few times, but with about five CCC Keltic guys there, nobody was getting away. Seems every year I finish with these same five guys. With 1km to go, things got crazy. I got boxed in, spit off the back, came back up the slipstream to a nice position, but then the turns. I don't do turns layered like sardines at 30+ mph. The second, sharper turn was chocked full of small potholes and loose stones. I lost my nerve and my will to race by that point. Cliff Summers (CCC/Keltic)
Despite my weakest finish yet at Battenkill, not all is bad. A top 20 finish in perhaps one of the most stacked and diversified amatuer fields in road racing is respectable. I finished with a large group of solid contenders. Riding 23mm tires with latex tubes again, I'm 6 for 6 without flatting. The weather was great, the course was in superb condition, and camaraderie with bike folk is always nice.
I have some soul searching to do. There's a chance my ankle will continue to limit my potential on skis. At least on skate skis. If this is the case, I should treat skiing as a secondary activity and focus on riding first, skiing second, especially in the critical months of February and March. Yeah, the prior two weekends I skied when most others were finally getting big miles in as the snow receded. Brett Rutledge questioned my choice of activity on those days. I did get him to join me last weekend though. This past winter, I primarily rode after doing hard ski workouts, diminishing the quality of bike work. Lots to think about over the summer.
Next up: Fat Tire Classic and maybe a short time-trail the day before as an "opener."