“When life gives you lemons…”
Just to recap, if you haven’t been keeping up at home, the prologue on Friday made me a GC contender, before some cheese weasel decided it would be sweet to ride to the front and then crash on Saturday. So I went into today’s epic contest with my options pretty much open. I could ride for the win, try to take some points and go for the green in the crit, ride to support a friend who’s doing well, go nuts on Middlebury Gap and try to steal the KOM competition, pretty much anything my heart desired.
During he 4 mile “neutral” rollout down from Sugarloaf, I wove a crazy thread, Robbie McEwen style, through all the brake-happy knobs who ran carbon rims today, and came out right near the front as we hit Route 100. The first attack came, I think, before we were unneutralized (the officials had been instructed to wait until the entire field was on 100, and this jump came superquickly. About 50 people jumped on it, and so it became physically rejoined to the field without anyone chasing. It was so big, in fact, that the people on the front even did a few rotations before they realized they weren’t clear. Then things slowed up a bit again for maybe a k, until the top of the first little rise, where I cranked it over the top, and was away.
Now, I had been pondering this since about 15k to go on Sunday, when I realized my GC chance was gone. But planning and doing are two different things. After about 500 meters, I took a peek behind me, expecting to find the field, or at least two or three riders, strung along behind me. Nope. Just a (big) gap and riders sitting up from shoulder to yellow line. I was at once psyched and dismayed – I wouldn’t have to share points with anyone (assuming I could make it anywhere), but I wouldn’t have anyone to sit behind either, and there was a decent head/crosswind. But fortune favors the bold, as the Romans said, so onward.
The pace car was not on its game, and I caught its bumper pretty quick. This is expressly prohibited under USCF regulations (Rule 4H12(c)), but first offense is merely a verbal warning and I wanted to get out sight as fast as possible on this twisty and rolling, but still wide and open state highway. They eventually figured it out and drove off, and all I got was a dirty look. What I didn’t get, for a long while, was a time split. Within a few miles, I was out of sight, but had no idea how far. I just kept cranking and moshing, biggest gears I could move at 80-90 rpms. My average speed was pretty good (about 25 mph, maybe? I didn’t bother to check) and the heart rate was a pretty even (173-180, so I guess my lactate threshold is somewhere in there)
It was rolling at first, slowly netting altitude, which, if yesterday’s performance was any indication, played to my advantage. I dipped below 20 only twice before the top at Granville, but without any splits I couldn’t shake the feeling that, just around the corner, I was being reeled in. Finally the car pulled over: 1 minute, 35 seconds. Not bad, for 10k of work against an unfriendly breeze. I really cranked it up as a roared downhill toward the Hot Spot sprint. 53×12, spinning wild, touching 40 from time to time. My legs burnt at the edges, but felt good with the effort. Only my hips/buttocks really hurt. Not from lactic, I don’t think, just from hard use.
When I hit 5k to go to the hot spot sprint, was amped. I kept looking back, but no one showed up. I cruised through, much to the joy of the assembled viewers. It really fired me up that my break hadn’t been entirely worthless, and I felt no letdown afterwards. Then I got another time split, giving me two minutes right before the turn onto 112 and Middlebury Gap, which, I thought, just might be enough time to hold off the bunch.
Midd gap starts climbing immediately, but it’s easy for a while. Too bad the headwind got stiffer. I hit 5k way sooner than I thought I would, and cruised past the feed zone. Lots of cheering. I was very happy not to hear it again (it would mean the field passing) as the climbing began in earnest. Man, it was tough. It was climbing like I remember it, pre-altitude, just struggling to keep moving forward, shredding your legs as hard as your lungs would allow. I was making 12, then 10, then 9, then 8, then 7. It was agonizing. Greg says “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” No, you don’t even go faster. You just get able to hurt yourself more. For the last three k, I was fighting off visions of being nipped at the line by the yellow-clad race leader. I had to restrain myself from to panicking and attacking every citizen racer I passed. I just focused on trying keep my HR from getting too far above 180. Then I hit 1k to go.
Right before 1k, a cop on the side of the shouted “you’re looking way better than a lot of the guys in front of you.” Too bad they’re not the ones I’m worried about. I was trying to think of something to shout back when I realized that would be a real bad idea; somehow I had forgotten the 13% kick from 1k to 500 meters. That part sucked. Hard. I was puffing and gagging when I caught sight of the end, and the people on top seemed amused when I let out a slightly less agonized gag as I admitted to myself that I was going to clear this thing alone.
The descent was lame. The first two corners were quick, but then it flattened out, and I was having real trouble pedaling fast. Oh, and the headwind was as bad as it’s been all day. There were two lead cars most of the day, but during the climb, one dropped back. It passed me again just after the Breadloaf campus. Clearly, there were some doings a-transpiring. A few miles later, just before the second real descent, the Yellow J and some chap in red ripped by me. Would have been nice to have a companion to draft, and the race leader said “hop on,” so I cranked it, full gas, to try and snag their wheels up a short climb. Couldn’t do it. I just kept flooring it, but the wheels weren’t turning any faster. I held off the rest of the field until the corner at onto 116.
I was pretty pumped to be able to hang in, but really started to question why I was bothering, seeing as I already had all the points you could get before the finish line, and I clearly didn’t have much chance of putting up points over App Gap (getting up Baby Gap with the field would been a miracle in itself). But hanging in with everything flat out strung, after a 20 mile TT into the wind an a 5 mile climb made me feel tough. I relayed the leaders’ gap to the group (41 seconds at the 116 corner), received the felicitations of my competitors, looked around to try and figure who the red dude was, tried to extract what the finish order had been at the Hot Spot Sprint and the KOM (no one was ANY help here), and went promptly out the back as soon as the road tipped up. It should be noted that I pulled out the main line of riders, to avoid causing any tie-ups behind me as I battled uphill (hint hint).
After that, things went bad. I felt a bonk come on hard on the evil steep pitch on Notch Road, ate two Clif Bars in like 5 minutes, hit he gravel, got a flat, and then realized that I was exceptionally low to the ground. I checked out my seatpost and DANG, it had slid down a good two inches, practically losing it’s sweet FSA logo (already beat and faded) to the seat tube. This would explain the hip and buttock pain. The wheel pit (a few hundred meters ahead, as luck would have it) was staffed, and two older gents changed my tube (no free wheels) in entirely decent time, whilst I raised my post and tightened it down. Then I cruised along, occasionally chatting with other OTB guys, and generally enjoying the scenery. I drank a Fire Starter (pretty much the same as a Red Bull, but it comes with pills as well), but it gave me a tummy ache, just in time for Baby Gap. Then the 4/5B field passed me. It was suprisingly large, larger even than the 4/5 field (which had been like 50 dudes).
At the top of Baby Gap, my chain fell off (mechanical #3, for those counting at home) the 27t cog (which got a workout today, believe you me) and jammed between the cassette and the wheel. There was briefly some concern that I’d have to walk the remaining five miles, but it all came out in the wash, and after a brief cable tension adjustment, I was on my way. I passed the wobbly guy (see yesterday’s report), with 3 or so k to go, but this time he was weaving on a support bike. I thought he was sketch before; this time I seriously had no idea how he was staying upright. The last 500m was not so bad as I remembered, and got up it standing and without breaking rhythm. Then the worst thing that happened all day happened: I went over the Red Bull guys and all they had was Sugar Free. 3 hours and 20 some-odd minutes out on the road and 10 measly calories for the ride back to Sugarloaf? Uncool.
After finally getting back up that hill (forking MURDER after that stage), I spent a few minutes sitting the car and not doing anything. That felt good. Then I ate a sandwich. It was also good. Then I spent a while musing over whether my break had gotten me anything other than points. I reasoned no, as the race leader went into the event today with 5 KOM points and was the first to catch me after Midd, but it turns out he was barely 4th over the top of the gap, and none of the other 5 point holders scored, making me your 2005 GMSR Mens 4/5A KOM champion (provided I finish the crit). I also took the lead in the points competition, being given a clear first place in overnight results, despite being technically tied with two other riders at 5 points (the other two were each listed as 2nd.)