Y’know, I thought we were done with this bike racing nonsense. But even after a week of subsisting on nothing but nachos and logging a fat 2:30 of training between GMSR and Saturday morning, I found myself back out at the start line of yet another Cat 4/5 race. This time it was the Doc Reilly Memorial out in Cobleskill, NY (just off I-88, the interstate to nowhere). Race goes around Howe Caverns for under 40 miles, and features some pretty nasty climbing. Despite the fact that most of my EPO, er, uh, altitude training, had worn off [the short-lasting effect is a pretty good indication that it really was altitude and not EPO -ed], my other option was the Topsfield Road Race, and a 100-man hour-and-half elbow fight ending in a guaranteed group sprint sounded way less fun than possibly getting dropped less than a week after being crowned King of the Mountains could ever be.
So I roll up to the race, expecting things to be toned-down a bit from the GMSR. But this was backwoods, man. Registration was in the lobby of a local restaurant, no porta potties, no real parking lot (or rather, most of the lot was kept free of us bikers so there’d be room for “the lunch crowd.”) Chamoised up, cleared the bowels, got pretty warmed-up, and then did lots of standing around. Saw Nathanial Ward of CRBC, who was battling for the points title at GMSR until he decided to check out the hay bales on Turn 1, was there. Steve Francisco of team NAV was on hand as well. He had been the caretaker KOM for a day at GMSR. So a decently strong field, and larger than I had anticipated at 50 guys or thereabouts.
We start 15 minutes late (officials were sloooooooow) and roll through our 100 meters of neutral roll out, and then hit the course, at which point, nothing happens. We do some more riding, going up the first few little climbs, still, like 15mph. I negotiate my way to the front, past some ultra wobbly dude from Team Roar, and take a look back. The field, even at this slothful pace, is crazy strung. So when we hit the first hard pitch, Ward and I find ourselves on the front, setting tempo (“What are the sprinters doing on the front?” he asked a few seconds into the climb [not knowing thanks to my new arch-nemesis ALAN ATWOOD that I was in fact KOM of our field at GMSR.]) I was worried about the 15% grade because I had moronically left my 27 at Rossman’s and so had to rely on my 23. But when we hit the section with “15%” spray-painted on it, I was just like “what? this is soft cheese, man. Barely sharp cheddar.” If this is 15%, Midd gap must have been like a billion (actually, 18%. Just checked the bible.)
It was real easy, despite having to deal with breathing hard again. It was a stair-step climb, and as we crested the first bit, I came to the front and soft-pedalled tempo for a bit, pulled off, and then waited for someone to come through. Nope. Right back down to easy cruise at 14mph. I thought maybe the rest of the climb offered nastier stuff, and though it kept going for a while without a descent, it was never hard enough to justify this pace. The descent, when it finally arrived, was hard – well, hard for me in that you got way up to speed and then had to hit sweeping 90s, which I invariably over-brake for. I like the twistier stuff – anyway, you had to keep your head up. After the descent, the course popped back out onto NY 7, went over two more rises, and then on to the finish. On the second rise, someone did the classic Cat 4 psuedo-attack, where you jump because the tempo is low, but then ease off because a few people have followed you and you don’t want to pull the field or commit any effort at all to getting away. Still, the field surged forward, and I was like “f- this sh!t, man” and drifted back to gauge field size. It was big. Like 40 guys still. I had enjoyed a super-easy time of it on the first climb, but I didn’t want to have to sprint against 30 guys. Guess I’ll just have to animate.
I worked my way through the field as we hit the lap (3 x 13-point-something miles) and, after some a little wild riding, got back near the front when we hit the steep climb. I went to ratchet it up, but then like 4 other guys beat me to it. I was working hard to keep pace and was like “phew. won’t have to animate.” Then we hit the crest of the climb and everyone threw on the brakes. Yeah, guys, god forbid we get a gap. So again I was like “f- this” and dropped hammer. Then the other dudes were like “uh oh, now he’s got a gap. And we’re not in it. I know: let’s chase!” And it was on.
I hammered pretty evenly, making them work to catch up, and then even when they snared my wheel, kept banging out the pedalstrokes. It must have blown their minds, to see some guy keep riding hard at the front even after “the field” had caught him. I pulled off once, and then next guy came through and then stopped. I began yelling and he was like “no sense in pulling the field.” What a boner. This is what happens, OLN, when the only bike races you show Americans are the Tour de France. They don’t understand things like “animating” or “being a protagonist” – all they know is sitting on for the sprint, time-trialing or breaking away for a hilltop finish. No one ever won Tour of Flanders by doing the Postal Two-Step. I yelled some more and pulled more. The field was now way out behind me, and satisfied that I had inflicted enough damage to reduce the finishing group to 20 or so (and having doubts about how much more damage I could inflict before taking myself out of the race) I rolled back in the field, as the rest of guys near the front, surged and sat up, and surged, and sat up.
On one of these surges, some clown in the TdF polka-dot jersey (BTW, Fashion Point-of-Order: wearing a Tour jersey, or the World Champions jersey, or even the jersey of a Pro team that hasn’t folded in an amateur race? Just don’t do it.) got clear, because by the time the group reformed at the bottom of the hill (with about 15-20 guys in it, thank you very much) he was getting out of site. Team NAV had like a billion dudes (3 or 4 guys, actually), and so was all bent out of shape about getting a pace line going. I was like “damn, maybe some real teamwork or something” but some stump-humper from Cornell, and some kid in a blue jersey, really couldn’t seem to figure out how to do it. Things fell apart, and NAV was like “screw it, we’ll pull.”
Hit the bell definitely not pulling hard enough to catch anything but a case of saddle sores. NAV was getting flustered so one of the remaining CRBC guys decided to pull. Then someone attacked the feed zone senselessly, catching me totally unawares, and leaving me alone and off the back reeling in the group over the first foothills of the climb. I was genuinely worried that I was now totally boned, but kept my head on as we headed up the 15% pitch. Sure enough, the clumped field strung out, and by the top I’d hooked a straggler’s wheel. As we crested, everyone eased off and yours truly cruised back up to the front. I guess somewhere over the next few pitches, blue jersey guy got away and I, figuring my pulling karma was set after my second lap climbing, just hung in. Then some clown on a Bianchi-colored Cannondale yelled at me for not working. As if!
We caught blue dude on the descent and by the bottom, I was already thinking “sprint.” But everyone was like “we can totally chase polka-dots down.” Far be it for me to kill the enthusiasm, so I took my honest turns in the 4 or 5 man paceline that started to pull the group. Then we hit that last rise (3 miles from finish) and blue dude, after nearly taking me out twice by stopping to stretch his back was we were both standing during the climbs, attacked moronically. What’s even more dumbfounding is that some dude on a Serotta followed him. Idiots. There’s three miles left, two are downhill, and everyone in the group behind you as chased down faster over stiffer terrain, and is hell bent on making the sprint. Unless your name is Eddy or Jesus, you’re not getting clear. But they tried anyway, and each took pulls as we reduced the gap to 30 yards, then 20 yards; even with only a few bike lengths’ space they were hammering like maybe we’d give up on it. Fools. Then once we caught them, they all of a sudden sat up, like they’d never have a chance in the sprint. It’s a 12, 13 man group at this point, with lots of tired legs – position alone would probably have given them top 10’s. Honestly, I don’t understand. At all.
Coming into the sprint was fun. I don’t like this bunch gallop stuff. I can bump and shove ok, but it’s dangerous and not fun, and without any real leading out going on, Cat 4 bunch sprints generally degenerate into a wall of riders hurling themselves at the line. But with 12 or so guys, then it gets tactical while still staying kinda fast. I think at 1k to go, I was 2nd wheel, which was too far forward, but someone came by me on the left for reasons I can’t really figure out. Behind him were Ward and Francisco. At 200 meters, I had fallen a bit far back, and as someone fired up the sprint, I had to hop around the guy in front of me. To the left was pretty much everyone else, but we only had the right lane (weak!), so right seemed like the better option. I zipped by the guy in front of me, and caught another rider in the sprint, but still ended up 5th. Wish I could have had a shot at grabbing Francisco’s wheel and tearing by on the left, but, eh, what can you do? (I still wouldn’t have taken 2nd. Maybe 3rd.)
Still, 5th is ok; I won 20 bucks which covered either my gas or my entry fee. What’s f-ed up, though, is that the winner of the 4/5 race (the guy wearing the dots) was actually a CORNELL biker not wearing a CORNELL jersey. No wonder the Cornell guy in the lead group wasn’t pulling through. And the winner’s registration just lists him as “independent.” WTF? And, what don’t make that even more f-ed up (as Snoop Dogg would say), this chump magically overnight turned into a Cat 3, and came in second in the Men’s 3 race at Bear Mountain! USCF, help me out here! I get a $20 fine for not signing a friggin’ piece of paper at 8 in the morning, and this cheeseweasel is getting off scot-free after taking a dump all over rules that actually affect the outcome of races? Come on, RESTORE my deeply eroded faith in any type of authority and make me EAGER to pay my $50 license fee next February.
So yeah, hopefully that’ll be my last Cat 4 race. Depends on how Diane Fortini likes my Aspen Town Series results. The field sizes are too small, generally, but of those 25 guys who race senior Men A, like 10 are semi-pro mountain bikers. What they lack in tactical prowess, they make up for in horsepower. Like whoa. And if those races count as “qualifying races,” then I’ve got Top 10’s aplenty. Obviously, they don’t bring in any upgrade points, but I was/am never going to move up that way (and not having any Stage race GC points for 4-3 upgrades doesn’t help either). You have to win 3 races (or come in 6th in 20 races) in 12 months to successfully upgrade on points; I’ve won zero races in 3 years. I don’t think I’ve even ever been second. Upgrading or not, that’ll be my last race for the season because I won’t be here next weekend. I’ll be in Spain, getting fat and watching the Vuelta and then the World Championships. Live and in living color. Boo-yah.