Filed under: road race
I had really high hopes for Battenkill. I even told a few people that I dared to win it, at the risk of jinxing it. I don’t believe in jinxing things, but I do believe in being careful what you get your hopes up for, lest you be ungrateful for what you actually get.
I didn’t want to put pressure on myself. I did want to do well. I was worried that I hadn’t raced enough this spring – not enough race miles in the legs to really withstand a hilly 100k of racing. The week leading up to it was a bit of a frenzy, and toward the end of it – after hastily gluing on a new tubular after flatting on a shakedown ride, after having to take apart my training wheel’s hub internals when I realized they were not in raceable condition (all the wrenching you hate to do a day and a half before a big race) – well, crap, I just wanted to race the race. I miss racing. No two races a week within riding distance up here in the wilds of Western Massachusetts – no, without a car, I race when I can get to ’em, which is infrequently.
So the race starts, as me and my teammates suck down a gu at the line, check our pockets, and hand off extra gear to the friends generous enough to be our ‘support team’ – they’ll make their way to the feedzone at mile 40. And when we roll off, more than anything, I’m just happy to be racing again. Making my way through a pack. Watching attacks roll off the front, and jockeying for position as we run into the first climb.
I’m climbing well. It’s hard – everybody is going close to their limit, it seems. But I’m staying in front of the group. We crest the second climb, on dirt, and I go to the front and hammer for a few seconds down the hill. But unlike last year, the group stays together – no severe fragmentation early. I go back and hide from the wind. It’s blowing capriciously.
Some attacks keep going off; a rider or two gets a minute here, visible but small up the road. They come back in due time. The hills do most of the work. We hit the monster just before the halfway point and the group is back together. And as the pack rolls along catching their breath after the climb, my teammate Greg jumps away. He gets a gap. Consistent with other attacks in the race, there’s a bit of a chase at first, and he’s reeled in, but I see him riding away again almost immediately. This time, there’s no chase. A few minutes later some people try to bridge up to him, but I look around and see that the people who had been leading the pack up the climbs with me are unconcerned. Interesting.
In the next ten miles, Greg rides himself out of sight. We hit a series of dirt climbs and the bridge group comes back to us, one by one. Trying to avoid a situation where people are well-rested enough to form a brisk chase, I hammer up the climbs and, on some of the fast, hardpacked dirt roads, push the pace. It looks like I’m trying to split the group on the hard terrain, but really I’m just trying to make it so that the flats are a respite rather than a place to hammer.
Greg stays away.
The final climb looms – this one is long enough to cause a split. Six or eight riders ride away from me, but I keep the gap acceptable until I can manage an in-effort recovery and spin up to them. We crest the hill together, hammer a little bit, and look behind us: a good gap. We settle into a haphazard rotation but before long there’s yelling to get better organization. I shake my head to a teammate in the mix – we’re not working. Another teammate bridges up and our sulking at the back becomes too noticeable, so two of us take a few pulls. But with Greg still off the front my pedal strokes are lackadaisic.
Not like I had a whole lot to give, anyway. I was rapidly wearying. Our plan of rotating attacks had fallen by the wayside – as Al, who made a heroic effort to bridge up, put it: My IQ was in the single digits at this point. I’m grateful to see the 500m-to-go sign; Al goes to the front right before a 90degree turn and I fight for his wheel momentarily with a guy I’d seen active throughout the race.
I lose the right; the tailwind turns into a crosswind and I’m on the wrong side of my teammate. The sprint goes up the left side and I’m on the right. I try to accelerate but give up and finish last in this chase group.
Greg is wheezing by the side of the road. “Yeah,” he said, face still hung over his stem. “I won it.”
Regardless of what the peanut gallery on any given bike forum will say, it doesn’t take a sandbagging muscle-bound monster to stay away solo in an amateur race. It might take such a person to stay away from a committed chase. It might take a team working the field from behind to inhibit the formation of a committed chase. But breaking away and staying away requires some smarts, some legs, and the willingness to go all in on a slim chance.
Every now and then it pays off.
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