Time to place your bets, people.
So in case you couldn’t tell from the sparse posting over the past month and a half, I’m getting pretty burned out over the state of pro cycling. Riders forced out of racing on still-unsubstantiated suspicion, Howard Jacobs exploiting the scientific ignorance of Americans, the inexplicable vitriol of Lance Armstong and associates, the media’s inability to find an attitude between dumbfoundingly impartial (insert link to any cycling site ending in “news” here) and chidlishly suggestive; It’s just an infuriating series of affairs to try and make funny. As W.H. Auden claims, the goal of comedy is acceptance, and in this case, that’s not what I want.
Compounding this issue is the fact that I can’t watch any races. Well, not that I can’t, per se, but that I would probably get fired for spending two hours a day sitting in my cubicle and watching the live Vuelta coverage. I suppose I could read live reports in the AM, and then watch the video and write the report in the evening, but the long gap between my learning of a result and my watching and reporting on it would be extremely detrimental both to the level of my writing and my motivation to produce it.
So that having been said, I think I’m pretty much hanging it up for the rest of the season. If cycling.tv carries Worlds or Lombardy, or if enough entertaining news stories (along the lines of Ale-Jet’s attempt to “punch through” for his first big win since the Giro), pile up I’ll post; other than that, probably not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t swing by this page every now and then; I’m working on setting up a “best-of” section, I plan on getting in some ‘cross racing (with the obligatory reports) and I’ll put up links to my occasional contributions at Podium Cafe and other sites. Don’t worry – you can bet I’ll be back for the ’07 classics.
Stage 4 – The Burlington Criterium
Remember that episode of “The Simpsons”, when Lisa introduces Mr. Burns to recycling? Anyway, he doesn’t know that word, and they have a little literal shot of him going through his internal dictionary, sounding out the word, but not finding it. That was me last weekend, man. “Cry-Tear-Eee-Um?” I hadn’t raced a crit since – you guessed it – last year’s Burlington crit, which didn’t go so hot. Seriously, this was where my months of not racing really caught up with me.
First problem was my relocating to Burlington the night before the event, and ordering a large Buffalo chicken pizza, because MAN, I was hungry. The logic behind the change in scenery was due to a number of things, but primarily, the short distance to the start. Except that my start was at 3pm, making that pointless. I hate afternoon starts, and I ended up sleeping for like 12 hours (too much) and until noon (too late) and then I ate a huge “rise and shiner” egg/sausagecheese breakfast samdwhich. Now, the 7-11 U-Reheat-It egg/sausage/cheese crescant was like my bread and butter race breakfast last year, but they worked a lot better at 6 am, with hours of driving before the race. Also, I didn’t drink very much, and had like 5 vitamin waters the night before (which really just dry you out – evil sugar). And I left most of my gear at Rossman’s so I was racing in a club-cut jersey. Oh, and I had no trainer, and no base of operation close on the course, so didn’t really get a good warm up. Or any warm up. And my number was upside down.
And (yeah, you thought the new paragraph would be the end of that litany) I made the mistake of listening to Alan Atwood when he told us not to push or surge in our ride to the line after call-ups. And even after the surge to the line that I didn’t do, I wasn’t especially aggressive in shoving my way into non-existent spaces in the crowd of assembled racers (A great way to move up). But what followed wasn’t quite entirely my fault (is anyting ever entirely my fault?), as race organizers claimed the start would be “neutral for the first two corners”. Now, I think this is a moronic idea, and they should just line everyone up further down the finishing stretch on Main street and have it active from the gun (you know, like a real crit?) and apparently, someone agreed with me, because while the back line was standing around cliping in, everyone took off.
I managed to at least catch wheels, but not after like banging into 5 guys at once who were similarly confused. According to Rudy, who got a call up, everyone on the front line who hadn’t been called up just took off, so everyone took off, then got bungled up when the nearly hit the car, which in turn took off because it was worried about geting hit by riders. Long story short, an evil double accordion shelled probably 20 guys in the first 6 laps. I fought decently hard but was entirely flustered by the bad start, and couldn’t get my riding together. I was not pedalling through the turns that needed to be pedalled through, on the brakes too much and generally making a retard of myself. I did not deserve to stay on.
I’ve never been pulled from a crit without crashing before. Occasionally, I’ll fall off but I can usually hang out solo at the back without getting caught. Not so here. I didn’t get whistled or honked, so maybe that was my signal to keep riding? I dunno. After the pace car passed me with like 18 laps to go, I just swung off onto the sidewalk. I was barely sweaty and still pissed off about the start. As I sit here writing this, I probably should have just stayed in and tried to reintegrate. Worst case scenario, they score me at one lap, best case, they forget I dropped off and I get a pack finish. Next time, I’ll do that.
The crit itself looked like an awesome race to be at the front of. Some dude made a good solo like 5 laps in, to be caught later by a group a 3 or 4 others. ECV’s Colin Murphy managed to win it all by taking the sprint from this lead group. Sucks for the BRC guy who won the prologue and road stage, but he worked up some bad karma by riding the first stage with an illegal (no shell) helmet. Rudy was on the front mixing it up, but I think he missed the split. I’m thinking he was probably top 10 overall, with Pech somewhere in the top 20. I didn’t even get placed, or officially DNF’d and just sort of dissappeared from the results, furthering my suspicions that had I just cheated, everything would have come out ok. So I guess the morals of the story are a) don’t alter your stage race routine mid-stage race b) race frequently during the season and c) ignore the instructions (“don’t surge to the line”, “neutral start”, “if you get pulled, we will place you with a -35 point GC penalty”) of the the officials.
Stage Three – All Road Races Should be This Road Race
So this is the classic New England road race, and apparently served as it’s own event before being integrated into the Green Mountain Stage Race. Two big gaps (Middlebury and Appalachian), a hotly contested points sprint, Roubaix-esq dirt sections, plus a few Amstel Gold-style short/steeps in between for good measure. This year’s event also featured some classic New England weather – low 50’s, decent wind and awful, awful rain. It was cold and fell in big drops that felt like freshly melted ice. Normally I’m too hardy and beefy to care about such things, but as I haven’t ridden in the cold rain since, like, college, I am a bit nervous about it.
My primary concern, however, is fixing my bike, which refuses to shift into higher gears in the back. I was *this* close to getting a sweet Colnago Dream with the new SRAM Force gruppo on it, but some jerk mechanic got it running again. Apparently the pawls were worn in the shifter and there’s “nothing you can do about it” except dial eveything superfine and take deep breaths and try again lightly if it won’t shift. He began to litanize about all the other things about to break on my bike, but I cut him off with “yeah, I just need a new bike”, a statement to which he offered no objection. I also swiped a Mavic 12-26 wheel, seeing as I had left my wheels with the 27 at Rossman’s house.
Now out in the rain, I cave to being a wuss and wear leg warmers and a long-sleeve jacket over my jersey. Neither is waterproof and I am very cold and wet coming down the hill for the “neutral 3 mile downhill”. Already people are skidding and swerving, so I drift to the back, hoping that in the event of _another_ neutral crash, I’ll land on bodies instead of pavement. I’m told like 20 dudes bailed out of our race as soon as it went active, but it sure wasn’t from pace. A few surges went, but even from my cheap seats, it was easy to move up. ECV, NCC and NEBC put riders on the front and rode something resembling tempo, but when it came time to remove my jacket, I was able to keep pace riding alone, off to the right, sitting up, going uphill, all while attempting to maintain balance as I contorted furiously to extract myself from the wet, clingy garment. And of course, it was too big to fit into a jersey pocket, so I had to shove the wet mess down the front of my shirt.
At this point, the rain has eased off, but it’s still very cloudy, wet and cold. The course climbs subtly for the first 20 miles, and it was plenty to get warm for the 5 mile descent, which culminates in a hot spot sprint. I’ve got no shot at the points jersey, but I’ve got no shot at anything else, either, so why not have some fun? It was a nifty run in, with some late attacks and lots of teamwork. I executed my first real “move” of the race, shooting to the across the road behind a row of riders, darting through the almost-too-small gap between a guardrail and a rider on the inside of a sweeping right, then snagging the back wheel of the weaving lead out train. NEBC drove the train again, but pulled off way early, resulting in a 500 meter seated sprint (which – undeservedly – their guy still won). Despite my dancing, I spent too much time in the wind and started with poor position. I took 4th, but the points are only 3 deep, so lord knows how many people who could have beat me for it just sat up.
Things continued easily enough to the base of Midd gap, which is like 3 miles from any real climbing. I seem to always forget this, though, so I pulled out my jacket in anticipation of tossing it off at the feed zone. If you’re ever looking for a nice way to lose a ton of positions before the base of a serious uphill, I’d recommend riding while trying clutch a massive wet lump of microfiber. Finally the zone comes up and I toss it away. Climbing Midd feels fine, aside from the fact that I am riding 200 meters behind the pack (due to losing postion with the coat/non-climbers just bagging it immediately), picking off stragglers as they fall. Other than last year’s heroics, I’ve always been able to get over Midd fairly easy, but it was infuriating to have that gap.
I hit the top with two other dudes about 30 seconds-one minute back of the leaders and let them lead the descent, since I haven’t gone down hill like I meant it since the last time I went down this hill. On the first sweeping corner I put it over as hard as the guy in front of me, and the rear wheel (neutral, remember) starts dancing like the rim is wildly out of true. I’m told this “kind of happens” with dual-compound tires a lot, and it certainly wasn’t a confidence booster. I’m now on the clamps way too much, which is no way to make up the gap to the guy I’m following. Another dude kamikazes past me on a corner, which is when I realize that on this side of the mountain, it’s 60 degrees, sunny, and much drier, and I should be going way faster. Still, I can’t kick the caliper habit, and end up hemorrhaging time all the way down.
Finally at the base, it’s an 8 man chase group and were mostly motivated and strong. I’m the engine, no doubt about it, but not a standout, and there’s only one weak link, but he’s not all that much slower. I’ve got leg a-plenty for the flats, but any uphill turns my thighs to goo. We work our way through a good sized tail of cars, and jubilantly regain the field – immediately before an Amstel hill. I had instinctively continued up through the pack upon the catch, but still couldn’t put anything together to move my fat ass away from the center of the Earth. Some meandering flats and downhills later, I recapture the field again, but I know Amstel #2 is coming up, and probably should have pulled in the flag right there. Still, I got some pride and I was entertaining the SRAM support guys in my moto-draft yo-yoing, and I managed to keep in sight of the pack for most of the second Amstel.
From there, the course left-turns onto dirt, which is normally hard and bumpy, and, since it’s slightly downhill, a good spot for a solo (with balls) to catch back on. This year, the rain left it silky smooth, feeling something like a 90psi tire. I put in two more minutes of controlled churn, but there’s no getting back. I sit up and pound goos until a real live autobus catches me. I’ve never ridden in the bus before (don’t usually get dropped in stage races, and people tend to just quit if they fall off in a one-day), and to tell you the truth, it’s really fun. Everyone’s either fried or saving it, and the latter generally understand their unspoken duty is to set the pace. It’s about 30 guys once we clear Amstel #3 and head out to the bipartate climb of App gap.
We hit the first part of the gap (Baby Gap) just as the Masters 30+ field is catching us. It’s got one guy like five minutes up, and then a pack of say, 15 behind. Must have sucked to ride that race. As we grind away, I keep expecting to get dropped, but everyone just keeps churning along, some light conversation here and there, but not too chatty. The 39-26 is feels like a much better riding gear than 39-27, which has too much dead space between strokes and can really only be used as a bail out. I know it sounds ridiculous for 1.4 gear inches to make a difference, but when your legs are trashed, it does. We clear Baby, and I look back to see our group shaved to about 12 or so. No complaining, no attacking, no surging, just a bunch of dudes who’ve become temporary teammates. Good times. Also, we passed like a billion public urinators who’d been dropped our and other fields.
I never really understood how Euro pros stay inside the time cuts after getting dropped on the first climb of a 200km day, but I have somewhat of an inkling now. It’s way easier, in terms of both physical and mental effort, to slog along with a handful of other guys. As we rolled back into the rain and wind in the last 4k of App gap, we clustered up tight and ignored idiot American spectators who told us to “give it everything” because we were “almost there”. As we approached that last 25% grade up to the line, some French Canadian was like “man, it’s it gonna be windy” in just atrocious English, so I gave him a “Oui, tres vent mal“, which got some laughs from the other Snow Frogs in the group.
The UVM/NCC guy who’d set tempo the entire time pulled ahead slightly over the last 100m, but no one cared. We rolled in, said “good riding” and then charged back to sugarbush to get warm. It was pretty fun, though I was internally upset at being dropped on the descent. Some Good Samaritan even picked up my jacket and brought it back to the Sugarbush lodge. On the road ahead of me, Rudy had taken 8th or so, with Pech not far behind. In the pro race, pretty much everyone I know finshed, and Will Duggan (4th) and Matt Rossman (like, 18th, maybe?) even had good races. I just can’t believe people were soft enough to drop out in the first kilometer.
NEXT: The shortest crit ever
Circuit Race – The Green Mountain Terror
This course is kinda dumb. It starts mid-loop, goes up a hill, then downhill for like 20k to a sprint/finish line, then uphill (slowly and rolling until the last little bit) to a KOM (which is near the start). The feed zone is mid-climb which leads to unecessary complication. My main beef with the parcours is it’s essentially (for my fields) breakaway proof. From the KOM to the finish is miles of almost uninterrupted descent. I was scared for my life in the final KMs when the Green Mountain Stage Race included it two years ago, and, as the “Technical Guide” (damn race organizers joining the War on Christmas by renaming the Race Bible) points out, this time there’s no crossing the yellow line. Ever.
Arrived to an empty parking lot at like 7am (Sat & Sun race times for Cat 3: 0830 and 0840 respectively), visited the cleanest porta-potty I’ve ever seen, and exited to find a lot full of cars. No real reason to warm up with a 1.5 mile moderate controlled climb to start the racing, and besides, warming up on Rte. 100 is illegal. That doesn’t stop anyone, and while the officials can’t get enough helmet and yellow line penalties in, no one is fined/deducted for it. Inexplicably, I am like the first rider at staging. They did call ups (which they didn’t do last year, probably because I was in the Top 10) and Mr. Jon Awerbuch was late. Race starts, and it’s 10mph pace car action, regarless of the grade. Real f-ing dumb, considering 10 is a muscular uphill clip for some, and death slow on the flats/descents.
Finally things get rolling and we shoot down the hill. I miss the first sprint becuase for the first lap, I was still skiddish about shoving my wheel in where it needed to go. Pace was good through the sprint, but things toned down after some aborted break attempts. So some dude with “Go Vegan” written on his backside starts hammering and weaving right up until three k to go for the KOM. Maybe he was trying for it, but he just lead out everyone else. Being well positioned, and not inclined to passive riding, I found myself right up at the nose of the field with 1000m to go. I laid off an early move, and was clawing back up to two leaders at 500m, thinking “I could take this if they don’t jump at 500m”. Of course, they did jump at 500m, so I just sat up and ate a goo. I’d kept HR between 185-190 for about 3k, but still lacked that overdrive.
Riding back into the valley, things got positively Fred. Much slower this time, and lots of bottle dropping. I dropped a goo for the first time ever, but since it’s a 72 mile race (my longest ride all year), I packed like 20. As the sprint drew closer, I moved up for a better view and to at least get used to the speed, jostling and yelling of a Cat 3 sprint. At 1km, I found myself 10th or so, with a pretty obvious alley along inside of a sweeping left, right up to the front of the field. I gave it some stick and by 500m I was in the top 6. NEBC did a great leadout, but an NCC/UVM guy had inflitrated the train. He launched the sprint just as I was thinking it was getting to be that time, and while he and the intended NEBC rider jockeyed for first, I gapped the other chumps for third. We all had a fat pause to sit up in after the line.
This result was kind of a surprise, so I went into sit-on and sprint mode. Missed the next KOM, but found getting over the hill a bit tougher this time around, probably because I had gone so hard in Lap 1. Still, no real risk of getting dropped, except by yet another bottle that got dropped in front of me. Some no-accounts “broke” (kind of rolled, actually) off the front and stole all the sprint points. I had entertained thoughts of bridging, but was sure the sprinters’ teams would bring it back. Guess not. After we crossed the line, consensus was made to take it up a notch, and the break was reeled back by the feed zone. I guess a lot of people wanted to feed 63mi in, because it was madness: guys dropping off the pace, guys slipping up the right, panicked shouts for bottles, bags going everywhere.
Immediately following the feed zone, some guy wanted to cut by me on the left. I was eyeing a gap after the rider ahead of him, and he was all like “I’m on your right”. I was like “I see you…” and then I stole the gap. He seemed miffed, which is moronic; all I did was confirm awareness of his presence. At any rate, if you want a wheel you generally don’t signal it by letting a gap form. I never heard from him again, so I figure that means I was battling well enough to keep up against a fervent KOM battle being waged ahead. I was suffering, which, after five months of not, was really hard to deal with. I just kept telling myself to keep pedaling, and I crossed in the first 30 or so guys. But somehow, ahead, a break had formed.
I rolled up to the front where there was the usual “Go Faster! No You Go Faster!” pulling war. Rider 253 was doing an outstanding job of blocking, pace-dropping and generally flummoxing everyone, and despite the fact that I got in front of him and dragged him back about 10 wheels on two seperate occasions, people kept bringing him right back up. The shouting was especially fervent, I gathered during all this, because a couple of GC threats were away in the move, which was moving and had actually shed a few riders. I could really care less, I suppose, but I was eager for another sprint, and Rudy would probably appreciate the help, so I took a few turns. We were closing in, but very slowly. Then the crashes began.
It started, apparently, with the vegan dude landing on his face and bawling like a child. Then some guy in a Carbon Soloist with Zipp 404s packed it in after a touch of bars going into a roller. My reaction (and the reaction of many others) was simply to shoot out into the left lane to avoid the carnage. This elicited much honking from the officials, and made me glad the gestapo motorcyclist who’d ridden right through the field along the yellow line earlier was not there. It seemed like every few seconds, you’d see the teltale twitch of a tire rub pass like electricity through the pack, or hear spokes ping against quick-releases, followed by irritated shouting. I thought this was just a consequence of too easy a course and too tight an enclosure, but as I later learned, nearly half the field had missed the split!
All of this, plus the effort of 70 miles hard riding, really took the fight out of my legs. Rudy came by and asked me to pull a bit, but I was like “dude, I am cooked”. Somehow, it all came together in the final 200 meters, with spokes breaking and riders bouncing off each other and flying all over the place, yet everyone somehow managing to stay upright. I was no where near any of it, because that was the sort of “Everyone’s a Cipo” finish I’d hoped upgrading would eliminate. Guess not. I received 100 GC points for a pack finish, and having the whole road for the last 3k definitely would have improved things. (None of this was anywhere near as bad as the Men’s P/1/2 field, which got piled up on a VT State Cruiser and canceled its own race in protest).
NEXT: The day the softmen cried
Yes, I realize there have been no race reports since April. That’s because I haven’t raced since then, due a wide variety of factors. But hey, did Valverde need “racing” to come in second at Worlds last year? Nope. So peak performance on no racing should be a piece of cake at something as comparatively easy as the Green Mountain Stage Race, despite the fact that I’ve done one Cat 3 race since my upgrade last fall, right? We shall see…
Stage One: The Hillclimb Formerly Known as a Prologue
Story here begins Thursday at noon when I get free Sox tickets for the 7:05pm game. That scratches any packing plans for the evening. So it’s a rush Friday work/pack/pick up Kevin Wolfson/travel scenario, punctuated by slow mass transit service, holiday traffic and the occasional emergency pee stop (sorry Kevin). Long story short, arrive at race site approx. 30 minutes late, T-minus 1:30 to race start. No big deal, though, as without throngs of wormy little Cat 4s cramming the tent, registration is a breeze. Course is the same as always, 8.1 miles, 5 easy, 3 hard, roughly 2,000 of elevation gain.
Two options for warm-up on site – stupid little loop road, big hill road. Surprisingly large numbers of people on loop road, including a few familiar faces who say I look thin. I think many people (mostly from Dartmouth) remember cyclist Cosmo as this 180lb yeast-ridden behemoth (interestingly, I look back at myself cycling just a hair over 160 with a haematocrit as high as mother nature can provide). Matt Pech (looking less emaciated) and Rudy (Jon Awerbuch) (who is always training these days) are in my field. I tool about on the loop road until T-minus-30 then ride up the hill for a bit to get the heart up. Report to start very late as per usual and steal good spot. Some guy rides by in a car and shouts “go Rudy!” so loudly the USCF offial interrupts her rule rundown to turn and look.
The start is slow and controlled, and I make a point of punishing Pech for lining up behind me (I told him not to) by taking a long time to clip in. It’s a decidedly neutral rollout, and I move “up” (still like 30th wheel) easily enough. Somehow there is a crash like 2 minutes into the race. There’s talk of stopping, but no one does, and given the light pace, I’m sure everyone caught back on. Doesn’t say much for the Cat 3 bikehandling skills, though. Finally, we hit Rte. 17 and the race goes active – definitely a change from the clusterhumping wind-avoidance of last year. There’s people burning matches on the front, no doubt, but it wasn’t (as the pro field) strung out single file.
I’m hanging in ok, HR 170, but I’m really skiddish about having riders on all three sides of me, probably just due to rust. Even so, I only lose a spot or two before the “real climb” begins. Some duffer surges predictably at the first 5%+ pitch (about .5 miles before the Mad River parking lot) and everyone goes with it, regardless of whether they can sustain it for three more miles or three more seconds. I’m a bit delayed in this, since my shifting is a bit fussy. (The “service” I received on Wednesday included lengthening a brake housing with recycled derailuer housing, among other unacceptabilities. I won’t name the shop, but suffice to say, if I’d wanted a half-assed job, I would have done it myself). I finally sort things out with a little barrel adjuster action (again, problematic, since the DB wrench crossed my cables under the downtube).
The trick for the non-flyweights on this course is to not blow up. The real climb doesn’t start until the vicious double-turn at Mad River. I let some chump drag me back through the stragglers ’til then, before sliding around him to plow my own furrow, hopping from draft to draft in a sea of combusting and self-destructing riders. I’m holding the HR up around 185 no problem, but I can’t really red line it for more than 5 or 6 seconds. That’s probably lack of racing. At 100m to go, I approximated a sprint to test the jets, which felt ok. Bit of a gap behind, so I eased up and rolled accross in 37th, netting me 14 GC points. Not to shabby, all things considered. Plus I ran into Luke Krisch and drank some of his beer on the way down. Good times, and a nice way to re-enter racing after a few months off. Rudy was third, and Matt Pech was despondant because he lost to Rudy.
UP NEXT: “The Terror” Returns