Monday, June 22, 2009

Housatonic Hills Road Race

This course is quites simply BRUTAL. Tough extended climbs and lots of little kickers in between. We knew we were gonna be racing Roger Aspholm on this course and he's already won 5 different versions. He always tough to beat, but especially here.

We decided to be agressive, and John Mosher followed the early move of the day allowing us to sit tight and see what happens. They didn't look too comitted up there, never getting out of sight and didn't last long. We rolled fairly easy up the first climb of the day and then another roller.

At the sight of the old feed zone, a long false flat, I launched a serious attack. The response was quick, but I think I caught everyone off guard with this early move and so I had a decent gap. Sean Groom almost got there, and I wish he had, but Rob Lattanzi was the only one to make it which was very good, because he's Roger's teammate and so Westwood wouldn't be chasing....for now. I wish 2 or 3 more riders got on because we had a long way to go, about 48 hilly miles.

I know Rob well as a rider as we often end up near each other at the end of grueling races like the App Gap road race stage at GMSR, plus I had had lots of dealings with him just recently at the CT Stage Race. He's an honest hard worker and a good bloke.

So, 2 it was and we got on with the business of snapping the cord. I was feeling really strong and was going pretty hard. Rob seemed to be able to pull through and hold the speed briefly, but each time there was a fade. Thats when I took the initiative again. I was also going uphill a bit better and just stayed on the front for the climbs, which was quite a few. I accidently tried to go the way the old course went and Rob quickly alerted me that I was going the wrong way. That didn't help, but we were still outa sight.

It wasn't long after that, that Rob said he had to ease off. He wasn't bullshitting me, because I had watched him work as hard as he could for a bunch of miles and his breathing was very heavy. You can't really get upset with a guy in that situation. All you can ask is for a guy to try, and if does that for as long as he can, then he's cool in my book. I just told him to sit on my wheel and get some energy gels into his body. I figured he was just as helpful sitting on, because Roger and Troy wouldn't chase their teammate. I hoped he'd recover and get back into a good rythm at some point. This is why it would have been nice to have 4 or 5 guys. We would have been stronger and more durable.

We came into what was obviously the new climb that we hadn't been up before and I asked Rob if he knew the climb. "Nope". I just rode it at a hard tempo and I could tell it was about right, because Rob's breathing was pretty loud. This stinkin' thing was long with lots of different punchy steps. The worst being the last one. Finally a bit of flat road and a sweet 55 mph descent. I didn't know it yet, but we took a hard left hander at the bottom onto another tough climb, the KOM climb. I looked up and thought, "Wow this is a long hill, if I look back at the top and the field isn't in sight, then we're in good shape". Half way up I couldn't resist and looked back. The field was around the corner and it looked like a small group was in the process of breaking off the front of it. So much for that.

When I fixed my eyes up the road again I noticed a KOM sign and that made perfect sense to me. Rob was off a bit at that point and I decided to go now and not worry about the other stuff, because the big players were rollin' up the hill now. I was happy to take the KOM in such a tough race. A prestigious title on it's own, but a part of me wished I was as fresh as the guys coming up behind me. I had been on the absolute front for at least 10 of the 18 miles we had covered. I bombed down the other side and Rob actually got back on, we took a few really fun corners on a beauty of a road and then I noticed a shadow on the grond next to me. Roger, no doubt. I looked back just to see who else was there. It was Sean Groom, a great rider that also races Cross, David Taylor, and another rider that I didn't know. We started to rotate, but Taylor was doing his typical crap....sitting on. I yelled at him and he said some ridiculous bullshit about the field being right there. I had been drilling it for 45 minutes while he sat in the field, and now 3 minutes after breaking free of the bunch he's telling me they're right there. Naturally I didn't want to hear this rubbish, and just said...OK yelled, "They won't be if you just F'ing try". He got in line and rotated through almost hitting the wheel of his previous rider each time he pulled off while the rest of us took 20- 30 second pulls. Of course I ended up behind him, since I forced him to work and his bail out pulls were leaving me in the wind before I had really recovered. I suppose that was just what he wanted, so I guess good job, but no "atta boy" from me. The thing is, he's a very talented rider, so it makes it hard to swallow.

We came to the end of the lap and I was pretty maxed. The start/finish climb was gonna be tough and it was also the new feed zone. Shortly after the feed I looked up at Rob's wheel I realized he had let a small gap open. Oh NO! Ever try to make up ground on Roger on a long extended hard climb? I don't advise it. It hurts.....a lot! Somehow I clawed back on by the top and Rob blew sky high. Near the top out of nowhere Joe Reagan showed up. WOW! Very impressive bridge. I know this guy to be a great climber, and he just refreshed my memory. I was pretty smoked and I had a good reason to be, and if I nursed myself at the back of the bunch it would have been sort of justified, after all I had been out there a lot longer than anyone else. But after giving Taylor a hard time, and knowing how Roger operates, I felt like I needed to show that I was there to work and kept trying to pull, even though my strength was seriously compromised and my pulls were more or less week.

I did my best at the beginning of the next climb but started to get dropped. The gap grew and I was at my limit. I stayed at my limit and even upshifted when the hill lessened a bit, and drove it hard over the old KOM hill. They were right there still, but starting the descent while I was suffering through the false flat before it. When I got to the downhill they were at the bottom of it already which was long way. At the bottom they looked closer again as it went up hill for a long way to the old feed zone. I was suffering and cramping. I told myself not to die a useless death chasing the guys that just dropped me on yet another climb. I thought maybe I could settle in and hang on till the end. I stayed steady.

I decided to have a look back to check on the field and to my surprise they were already closing on me, but it was a pretty small group. I surrendered and actually rode a turn around loop in the road toward them, for a brief second, just to get a break from the climbing. Kevin was the only teammate I had left in there and there was only about 20 guys or so total. I was toast!

So that was it more or less. Roger eventually dropped all those guys one by one and he was already doing most of the work when I got dropped. The guy is a true BEAST, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. There's no one in this sport that I respect more than Roger. He's won everything there is to win and then some. And he's won them all the right way! Plus he races in the dirt too, and oh ya.....also won Cross Nationals. He's one of those guys that really makes a win a lot more legit if you should ever be lucky enough to take one from him. Lots of people say he should race PRO, and he does that very often, but the guy is well over 40 and to me, at that age you shouldn't have to race guys half your age. What really needs to happen is for the rest of old geezers to step it up a bit and challenge him.

The rest of us battled our way in and were glad to get the suffering over with. Kevin rode super well, dropping me off the back of the survivor group several times in the last few miles, but I always managed to claw back on. We must have gone through 20 or more guys from the Pro, 1, 2 race that started 10 minutes in front of us. There was carnage all over the place.

Fitchburg here we come.....after a little fun in the dirt at Putney of course!

Mystic Velo Crit

I know all the races at Ninigrit Park in Charlestown, RI are considered crits, but in my opinion it's not a crit course. It's a windy, FLAT power circuit. Sure we do 25 laps or whatever, but it's all pedaling, all power, all the time.

My goal for the race was to get a serious leg opener in for the next day's race in CT, Housatonic Hills. And to also have a crack at a win.

The field was pretty small which is a good thing at Ninigrit, because that means less coverage and more exposure for the "wheel sucking, I can't pull through, sprinters"......Hate those guys!

Good friend and 45+ winner, Todd Buckley gave me the scoop before the race that there's a new kid in town. Scott something...big guy, strong as an ox, and has been riding seriously good riders off his wheel lately. This was valuable info, but it wouldn't have taken long to figure out this guy was STRONG.

Mike Rowell went from the gun....atta boy Mikey! Shortly thereafter a small group went up the road with a member from 3 of the better represented teams. I wanted them to get established before I bothered torching a match. Once they did and they had a good gap, I attempted to bridge, drawing out a few of the aforementioned wheelsuckers, who like to base their race strategy around me. When I got close, I sat up to force them to make an effort to finish it off....they did. We got on and I believe Scott (Giles) was either already up there or also bridged....either way he was there.

We absorbed Mike and then guys did the classic "I'm not a real racer" move......nothing. I didn't want to go this early (we still had probably 21 laps to go), but there were some tounges hanging out and some crossed eyes, so I drilled it into the wind and got a good gap straight away.

A lap later the gap was the same, about 10 seconds I'd say. Soon after that, Scott and David Potter separated and were bridging. This was a good sight, since I had a LONG way to go and my real focus for the weekend was Sunday. Just as they got there, Potter began to crack, and when Scott got on I drilled it a little to make sure he went out the back door. I figured all I'd need would be this new guy that was built very similar to me. We ripped around for 15 laps or so, neither of us ever letting up on the gas or missing a pull. It was awesome!

With about 5 or 6 to go we were getting pretty close to the back of the field which had remassed after Scott and I checked out. I didn't really want to lap them, but we were locked in to our effort and weren't gonna slow down now. I love the next thing that happened. During the 3 to go lap, while I was plotting to attack after Scotts next pull and bridge to the field without him, he attacked me. YES! We have a racer ladies and gentlemen. This made me so happy to see a guy in a master's race roll the dice, that I had a big smile on my face as he punished me into reacting to his move. If we weren't about to catch the field I would have countered that shit straight away. Instead I had to really think about what to do next. I stayed behind him in the bunch and he was checking my position a lot.

With 2 to go we went around the far end of the course and started into the head cross wind. I let a bunch of guys go in front of me and Scott took the sheltered spot on the left side of the field. I knew we were about to come into a righthander, so I stayed in the wind for acess. When it bunched up he was stuck in the bodies and I launched my attack straight into the headwind and dove to the inside like Calvin Borell riding Mine That Bird. he he he. OK more like an old fart in an an old man's bike race in nowhereville USA, but I'm painting a picture with me.

I went as hard as I could for 20 seconds and then looked back as I went through the 2nd to last corner on the course, a left hander. I had the gap and the field hadn't really reacted since I was already a lap up. It looked good, but I still had more than a lap to go. TT time. I got the bell and that pumped me up. I checked my lead at the next corner and the Beast was coming. I knew I had to die 1000 deaths, because there's no quit in this new guy whatsoever. My good buddy and teamamte Sam Morse, was screaming at me that I could do it and I swallowed his energy as I flew by.

2 turns to go now.... headwind. Don't quit I tell myself as my body screamed for the opposite. I get through the corner and he's right there, but he has to be dying too. I try to win it by getting too big a gap to close in the final stretch. He's on me like Clubber Lange on Rocky (in the first fight).. "He's too strong, I can't get him off". With 100 meters to go a baby grand piano lands on my back, and I'm in that dream where you try to run, you must run.... but you can't move a muscle. Slow motion and quicksand are all I see and I look once more. He's coming like a freight train, but the anguish on his face is colossal. I stand and give'r everything I have left and throw the bike to the line as I sneak a look left.

I see him fly by going much faster than me....after my front wheel hits the line. Got it! Sa-Weet! When I get my breath back I yell "What a Race" to no one in particular. I'm a fan of racing, and even though I was the one racing this was still exciting to watch. I've been in some super exciting races before, but most are Cyclocross races. This is by far the most exciting bike race I've ever been in on the road.

Scott confirmed this when we spoke moments later. He said "I think that's the most manly race I've ever been in". Thats got to be one of the heaviest compliments I've ever taken. That means more to me than any result, and really it wouldn't be much different if he got me at the line....but I'm glad he didn't. What a feeling it is to meet an athlete in the full throws of competition, gain instant mutual respect and then bash each other's heads in. Most people won't understand that, and I understand that. But thats what makes me tic. The harder the battle is the more glorious the win, if it should come. If it doesn' least I threw it down and wasn't a wheelsucker!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sweet Ride

There's a place down here on the Cape called "Trail of Tears". It's conservation land in the town of Barnstable, which is where I live. It's basicly an enormous mountain bike park full of single track that is just perfect.

Today was the first day in months that I can remember actually not having to wake up for anything specific, and I was greatful to be able to actually sleep until 8 am....thats not easy!

I was tinkering around with bike stuff, when Jamie and I planned to ride mountain bikes in the afternoon when the gloom was scheduled to burn off. The cape has pretty sandy soil everywhere so the trails at Otis and Trail of Tears drain really well.

We hit it at 1 o'clock and planned for 3 hours. Thats a pretty tall order on the mountain bikes. It's not super technical, although there are a few spots. With that kind of teraine, it tends to be a fitness workout, even though it's a hell of a lot more athletic than a road ride. In other words, it's perfect training without Cape Cod Summer traffic to contend with.

Jamie is pretty much a beast on the mountain bike, especially at TOT. He's been riding there as long as anyone and knows every pebble. We went into Sandwich first which is just sort of an extension of TOT, and it's hilly as hell! Next time you hear someone say the Cape doesn't have any hills, send them down for this ride and they'll never say that again!

The grip was good, not dry, because we had rain all day Friday and Friday night, but not greasy or muddy either. It was just right in the corners and a bit tougher than usual on the climbs. The ride was pretty crisp and by the time we hit the Barnstable side we were at almost 2 hours. Barnstable is a lot more worn in and a little easier on the climbs.

I've been having some ongoing tire issues, and that continued, but I didn't let it discourage me. I just did the usual big loop on the Barnstable side and somewhere aong the way I realized I felt really good. I think my fitness jumped a level after recovering from the CT Stage Race. It's a nice feeling to have really good road legs in the woods. You can ride everything the way you always visualize it. Power helps everything on the mountain bike and if you have some pep on the tougher sections then everything just rolls well. Before you know it you're done with big sections that usually seem to take much longer.

Anyway, the sad part is that I didn't see one other mountain biker out there in 3-1/2 hours. I guess it's nice to have the place to yourself, but I feel like all the people I see at mountain bike races would LOVE this place. So consider that an invite. I'd love to experience somebody's reactions to their first ride here. I live close by, and ride right from my house. Theres plenty of room at my place for visitors, and overnighters. The deck in my back yard is a good place to eat and drink and talk about bike stuff. There should be another free weekend some time in the next couple years!

Oh ya, almost forgot why I decided to blog about a training ride. As I was riding the last little section of single track, before I go across cranberry bogs to my house, I saw this litte guy. I couldn't believe it! OK now you know I'm a birdwatching dork, but there's worse things to be. First time in my life I actually saw a Scarlet Tanager. They make a Cardinal look dull in color!
A sweet ride indeed!

Planet Cross For Sale

OK this just kills me, but now that I have 2 new Stevens Carbon rocket ship cross bikes, I no longer need this steel IF Planet Cross. I'll hang on to the Ti version for lots of reasons, but this one is on the block. 58cm. It's all Shimano 9 speed. Originally all Ultegra, but I upgraded the shifters for better performance to Dura Ace. Paul brakes, Alpha-Q carbon fork and much, much more. I'll sell it with the wheel set you see (Zipp 404 clydesdale) or at a different price with Mavic Ksyrium. Either way the wheels will include a new set of Challenge Grifo tires. Price is $1500 firm.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Connecticut Stage Race

WOW! This race had it all. Stage races are a different breed. They attract a slightly different crowd and day 1 is usually a Geekfest full of TT gear, not normally seen at the usual road races and roundy rounds. I always expect to see some dude riding around in a Speedo and no socks or shirt. Lets hope that never happens!!! (Again)

Stage 1 was simple enough, in theory. 8 mile time trial. Go as fast as you can for 8 miles. I did, but it never felt smooth, more like a slow slog through quicksand, but I know enough to understand that everyone is gonna feel the same way on this course. I went out under control, even standing up on the first steep climb just out of the gate. I usually never stand up in a TT. I was happy to hit the finish line although I had to avoid a Jeep Cherokee while trying to finish with a sprint to the line. I was even happier to see that I had won the TT by a solid 53 seconds over Westwood Velo rider, Troy Kimball. The Missile clocked in with a solid 4th place ride, but he wasn't thrilled with his effort. He thought he started out too hard and never really got fully settled, plus he had a car issue on course and one at the finish also. Even after all that he was 1 stinkin' second off the podium.

We had gotten down there the day before. Colebrook, CT is absolutely gorgeous, but it's more of a village than a town and no hotels to speak of. We stayed in nearby Torrington about 20 minutes south at the sweet Days Inn. This was key, because while lots of racers hung out in the heat at the venue we went back to the room, ate some nice lunch, drank recovery shakes, and got to take a nice shower and nap on the beds. We'd need the rest too.

Stage 2 was a punchy little 3 mile circuit that we'd do 8 times. It had a long power grade on it and it seemed possible to get a good break going in this field. I waited till 3 to go and drilled it on the hill. I flushed out Troy and we had a gap, but the bells and whistles were ringing in the bunch and a hard chase brought us back on a big downhill. Everyone was pretty crosseyed, so I drilled it again on the next little power climb. I got a good gap, but once again the field chased whole heartedly. On the next trip up the big climb I went again and this time Troy was right in my wheel again, but no one else was able to follow. We absorbed Steven Gray who had been on a flyer for a few laps now and the 3 of us were looking good for the escape. For some reason I don't understand, Troy's teammate Rob Lattanzi chased us down with Kev doing exactly what he should be doing....following anyone who tries to bridge to me, but not contributing. That would have been good if he had a solid gap, but the field wasn't too far behind and 15 seconds after they attached so did the field, we got the bell for 1 to go and it turned into a bunch sprint. I had burned my matches by racing the bike race, and some guy who never got near the front all day did an awesome sprint and killed everyone. GC was unaffected, so we were still 1st and 4th.

Stage 3 was an evil 90 mile road race with a 50 mile loop and then a 40 mile loop. This was the crown jewel of the race. This is the stage that will make this race grow like Battenkill has in the last 2 or 3 years. The word "epic" is overused in cycling, but this was a lot closer to actually being epic than some crappy training day story, where the lies get bigger every time the story gets told. There were 2 feed zones, and they were handing out neautral water at the end of the feed zones. This would be my life blood and critical to attempting to hold on for the win. I started with 3 bottles and every rider I saw had at least 1 bottle in a jersey pocket, many had 2.

I knew someone would go early and I had speculated it might be Andy Ruiz. Sure enough he went, not more than 3 or 4 miles into it. I chased half heartedly for a brief time trying to get the rest of the guys to share some interest in getting them back before they built up some crazy 4 minute lead. Quickly they went from 4 to 2 riders and I felt a lot better about that. 85 miles is a long way in the wind and I sat tight and drank my gatorade. Still no one really wanted to touch the front and Kevin and I found ourselves riding tempo on the front with very little help. This would be the first of many selfless acts by Kev. We really rode easy for a long time, but hills are hills and there were plenty of them. Basicly there was no flat ground to be found. Lots of up, but lots of down too. Finally after about 30 miles or so we started to see the last 2 guys again and they were starting to come back. We got out to rt. 8 in MA and I know this road well, as we used to do the regional 40K TT on it a few years ago. A race I wish someone would bring back, but thats a story for another day. With the others in sight and everyone all fueled up with sugary goo's and cliff bloks, some attacks started going off the front and it got pretty racy for a while. Kevin and I nailed back one that had Troy in it and then a good counter by Rob and John Stonebarger went up the road. With John in 3rd overall, we weren't gonna let it go too far, but with Rob in there Troy wouldn't chase. Good job by the Westwood guys to pressure us. Kevin and I sat on the front and chased in a controlled manner so as to not blow ourselves up. Eventually after some cussing we got some help from a select few. I have to say that Steven Gray did a tremendous ride all day and was very strong in his efforts. He wanted to win the stage and had full confidence that he could and he was letting us know by the way he was riding. I respect that. I know it's smart to sit back and wait, but when you feel like it's gonna slip away, you have to work to make sure you have the scenario you've visualized. Anyway we kept them semi close, no more than a minute up the road, but they were paying a price up there. Just after we went through town and started our 2nd loop, 3 of the 7 riders popped and came back rather quickly to the bunch. Andy was one of them and I told him I liked the way he raced today. The other 4 weren't too far away and we rolled up the attack hill from yesterday's circuit race. I had a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich and went to the front for another pull to keep things moving and let the others have a good look at the guys that we were gaining on. I saw the road pitch up pretty hard and I put in a dig. After a few seconds I looked under my arm and I was alone.....and surprised. I had gapped them off and I suspected I caught them sleeping. At any rate, I didn't have to burn a match to get the gap and so since I now had it I decided to go. I bridged fairly easy to the break and the field was of course in full chase mode. I had no intention of working in the break, or any break, after all I was 53 seconds ahead, why wear myself out taking hard pulls in the wind with anyone? Unless I was chasing to preserve my lead. It was all strung out and it quickly came back all together for the first time in 2 -1/2 hours. I brethed a sigh of relief and I felt really good. After a few more hilly miles we did one of the best things I've ever been part of in a bike race. I have to credit Bill Shattuck from Bikebarn.....he asked me if I needed a piss and I said "hell ya, I've needed a piss for 40 miles". There was no one up the road in a break at the moment and we were alongside a beautiful meadow overlooking green hilly terraine and not a house or person in sight. We yelled for a pee break and it quickly spread through the peleton and all 70 of us pulled over and had a squirt. I'm tellin' you it was a thing of beauty! Very PRO! We took on some more tough hills and I even watched in amazement as Gerard O'Shea from Keltic hung on and steered out a broken hanlebar at about 40 mph down hill. A more impressive piece of riding I've never seen! He saved his own ass and a lot of others that were right behind him. An awful break for anyone, and he was high up on GC too. But you gotta like the way that turned out and now he can race again this weekend and not have to have surgery on anything. It was looking good until the 50 somethings started mixing it up and since we were scored differently, I wasn't gonna burn any unnecessary matches chasing guys that essentially weren't in my race. 5 or 6 of them slipped away, but one 40's rider who I didn't know slipped in too. I knew he had to be more than 1:30 back on GC, but I didn't want to blow it this close to home. We came back out onto rt. 8 again and now we were back on the road we all knew from racing the first lap. The break gained some serious time despite some hard chasing from Kevin and I and Steven Gray again as well as many others this time, and I was worried, but I also knew we had a 4 mile gradual climb coming off rt. 8. They had a solid gap when we made the tuirn, and I went to the front along with Kev and we drilled it. Pretty soon we had them in good sight at about 40-45 seconds, and I felt pretty secure in the stage race win, but you never count it till it's in the bag. We eventually caught them with about 2k to go and had a bunch sprint that I didn't take part in. I surfed across the line in the back of the bunch and raised my arms for the GC win. Over 4 hours on one stage......not bad for a bunch of old farts!

I quite simply wouldn't have won this bike race without my teammate and good friend Kevin (The Missile) Hines. Thanks Kev!

We made quick work of the goodbye tour and got into Providence around 7 pm for some sushi, and a few cold brewskies. A fine way to end any day, but especially this one. Another hour in the car and we were home.....well Kevin was home I was climbing into my work van that I left at his house Friday after working half a day. whew....long weekend....but a good one!

Time to race the mountain bike again I'd say!
C-Ya, JB