I wasn't racing bikes when the original Killington happened back in the day. Actually I was, but it used to be prefaced with a swim, and followed by a run. What was I thinking? Anyway thats a story for another day.
Corner Cycle had a 3 man crew for the race since Kev was in Italy with Roger doing another awesome training camp. It was Bill Shattuck, Sammy Morse and myself for this one.
In an interesting twist they put the TT in the middle as stage 2. I liked the dynamic, because it felt like a lot more was on the line in Stage 1 on Saturday. And indeed there was. 3 jersies were up for grabs. 3 uphill sprints for the KOM jersey and 3 downhill/flat sprints for the sprint leader's jersey. Of course the stage winner would be the race leader in the Pink jersey.
Arc en Ceil was active and agressive right from the rain soaked start. It eventually dried out, but Arc never stopped being agressive. I love the way these guys race. If everyone raced like that it would be awesome!!! Every race would be a shootout, instead of "don't work contest". Lots of attacks stayed out for a while, but in the end it was a sprint finish. When the dust settled it was our man Bill Shattuck in the KOM jersey, John Grenier (who's old enough to qualify for the 50+ field) in the sprinter's jersey, and Ron Bourgin from O&A uncorked a hell of a sprint for the stage win and a nice new leader's jersey. Ron's teammate and TT favorite, Fred Thomas played it as cool as a cucumber and never showed his face at the front of the race. He burned no matches and finished in the same time as everyone else, leaving him as fresh as possible for the TT on Sunday.
The hardest thing about the TT was waiting until 3 o'clock to start. The next hardest thing was the wind. Man it was brutal! 11 miles uphill into the wind is a really good test of strength, speed, aero position, and mental fortitude. I had a very good ride and caught some pretty quick guys from behind. I knew Fred had been faster than me in recent TTs, but I was hopeful that I nipped him or that I was at least close.
Well it turns out I was neither. Fred was the class of the field by A LOT and pummeled me by 43 seconds. I was 2nd, Canadian David Ghazi was third, and Teammate Sammy was 4th. Bill had a great ride on his new TT rig and look for him to continue to improve in this discipline, as Corner Cycle riders pride themselves on all disciplines of the sport. Ron Bourgin also had a strong ride and combined with his 12second time bonus he slotted into 4th overall on GC while the top 3 from the TT were top 3 on GC.
I had a hard time swallowing the TT loss, but I give Fred all the credit in the world. The guy is as tough as nails and very dedicated and talented to boot. So O&A took the first 2 stages and traded the leader's jersey within the team. Pretty dominant I'd have to say.
Stage 3 was an opportunity to put the pressure on. We had driven the course the day before, while waiting for the TT to start. It was a beast! Pretty easy at first, but then the hills start and there were a lot of them and some pretty steep pitches to boot. It eventually came back out onto rt. 4 where we made our way back to the skyship base area and took a hard left onto East Mountain Road.
Now this isn't a gap road, but I promise you it's just as serious. When the top is reached you're not done. There's a series of rollers that looked like they'd really hurt and the the dreaded left turn onto the famous Killing acces road, where we would ascend up the mountain until the pavement stopped and the ski hill began.
It was nice and cool in the morning and we rolled out at 8:50:00. At 8:50:15 Randy Rusk from Arc en Ceil attacked hard (I told you they were awesome), Corner Cycle rider and KOM leader Bill Shattuck quickly grabbed the wheel and a Danbury Cycling Club rider also followed. No one did a thing! Except those 3. They proceeded to drill it for 100K. Most people never saw them again. O&A took to the front and made steady tempo, Sammy spent time near the front interrupting the flow of their chase, and I sat back in the sweetspot and coasted as much as I could. Fred Thomas, and David Ghazi were doing the same though. The gap went out to 1:45 and eventually 2 minutes. Bill was gobbling up maximum KOM points along the way.
Back in the bunch it was pretty civil over the halfway climb and also the feed zone climb. We hit a nice dirt road section and that went uphill pretty sharply for a while too. Then it was a pretty fast descent on dirt and gravel, but it was fine and everyone kept their cool. We popped out on rt. 4 with a good size field still together. The sight lines were pretty long and we also had a slight headwind. To my delight the break was not in sight. O&A wasn't in the best of shape as they only had 2 guys left, and they looked like they took a few punches in the hills.
After some snacking and some high speed wizzin' off the bike, the chase got serious and Fred's last 2 guys went to work at the front. I really give that team a tremendous amount of credit for being a TEAM. Ron was in 4th overall and completely sacrificed for his leader. I'm not sure who the other guy was, but the 2 of them had us in a straight line for what seemed like 15 miles. It hurt a lot, but every time we went around another corner and didn't see the break, I got more and more excited that they'd make it, and Bill, being the highest place GC rider in the break would steal the entire stage race, and walk off with the climber's jersey and also the leader's jersey.
We got to within 1/2 a mile from the turn onto East Mountain Rd. and the 2 O&A comrades were done. I actually gave them both a pat on the back as they faded back through the bunch just before we made the turn. They did a great job being a team. I was glad we were able to put pressure on them along with Arc en Ceil and the other rider, but I really admired thier team work, and also our's.
So now it was on! Fred was straight onto the front with David glued to his wheel and me and 6 or 7 others right behind them. Fred amazes me on climbs. He looks like he's about to blow and he pushes a huge gear. Just when you think he looks bad, he rides away. He makes me feel like I don't try nearly hard enough. A poker face he doesn't have. But he doesn't care. He rides as hard as can and wears it on his face, and ignores you and dares you at the same time. If I put that much pressure on the pedals I'd cramp terribly in 100 meters. At 180 lbs. I have to try to emulate guys like Big Mig Indurain. I try to stay at my limit at my steady effort and limit my losses.
4 minutes into the climb after the big U-turn, Fred and David started to gap me. Mark Gunsalis, Rob Lattanzi, Bruce Diehl, Fabio Piergintelli, and several others formed the "rest of the best" bunch and everyone else was officially out of it. The hill isn't consistent, it changes pitch lots of times as it winds up the mountain. At one point Marky G. found a "good patch" and it looked like he might ride away from us. The next pitch wasn't as good for him though and he came right back to us as Fred and David inched away. When the pitch changed again a few minutes later I found some oxygen and grabbed another gear and discovered my own "good patch". I soon found myself off the front of the remainder bunch but still losing a little ground to the front 2.
All of a sudden Randy was in front of me and I hadn't seen him for 2-1/2 hours. He didn't look completely blown either. Still fighting in fact. Thats the sort of thing that really motivates me and it couldn't have come at a better time. In my mind his effort was heroic and I felt the adrenaline come up when I thought about what he had willingly put himself through for the last 2-1/2 hours. I was so focused on my own suffering that I had forgotten about the break entirely. I had in fact forgotten everything in my life except the hill, my body and my bike. It was absolute. NICE!
Fred and David slowly gained more time, and it was clear I wasn't gonna get back to them, but I was riding well and wanted my best possible performance. I hit the KOM line, and I hoped Bill had gotten there first also. I know he was at 2nd at the worst because I could see Fred and David go over it just ahead and Randy was behind now. The rollers at the top were a difficult challenge. Once I locked into the suffering it was as if I just wanted to climb right to the top. The downhills played tricks on my body, but I made sense of it and found the best rythm I could. I made the left turn onto the access road and saw the 1k to go sign. I also saw 1000 meters of steady machine graded 7 or 8% pitch. I could see Fred an David and others too. I hoped it wasn't Bill because there were lots of dropped cat 3 riders finishing up also. I held my gap to the finish and even tried a bit of a sprint, just in case my time cushion to David was still in tact, but I thought he had probably leap frogged me.
As I crossed the line I saw Bill being held up by a volunteer, but he had a big smile on his face and screamed for me. It turns out the other guy that was in the break with him, Carl Reglar, dropped him early on on the final climb, and held on to win the stage. That is AWESOME!!! He went 100k in a break away from kilometer zero in a mountaineous stage and stuck it to the end. Bill was about to finish 2nd and looked back at 100 meters to go and Fred & David were right there. After 100k in a break and surviving the killer climb he gets caught by 2 guys with 100 meters to go. Cruel!!! It was scarey too, because Carl got maximum points on the last 2 KOM's and just when Bill was about to get 2nd place points at the finish he ends up with 4th place points. It turned out he finished with 33 points and Carl finished with 32. Oh Man! I crossed the line in 5th place and slipped from 2nd to 3rd overall on the final GC. Still very happy to be on the podium at such a prestigious stage race. Bill's huge effort moved him all the way up to 4th on GC. Sammy crossed the line a short time later and we were all smiles. We congratulated everyone else and the descended at 50 mph to our rented house, that just happened to be off of East Mountain Rd.
What a great weekend. Bill and I are off to race the CT stage race, and while we won't have Sammy, we will get Kevin back. We'll need him too as we're out to defend my overall title from last year and maybe even have a crack at the other jersies as well.
Thanks for reading, JB