This is late, but thats because I'm in Kentucky for Master's Road Natz. It's been over 100 degrees here since I got here Monday, and real humid on top of it all, but more on that later.
I went into Catskills hoping to be in the mix. All I had heard was horror stories about all the climbing. Even the 2 mile prolouge (individual start TT format) looked like it went straight up on the web site's profile. I spoke to a few people that had done it and they said TT bikes were mostly not used, but they were allowed. I put mine in the car anyway, because I thought I might drive from NY to KY for Natz, but hadn't yet decided.
When I got to the prolouge course I was early enough to ride it a couple times. I went out on my road bike and it was uphill, yes, but not super steep. I thought I could lay down more power on the TT bike so when I descended back down I switched bikes and gave it a test run on the TT bike. My decision was fast. TT bike it is. I'm not big on following the masses, so the fact that everyone was using a road bike only made it better for my head. I've often said "if everyone is going left....I'm going right". Take a drive on any highway in the US and look at the driver's in the left hand "speed" lane and you'll see what I mean. Just a bunch of sheep following each other. You have to break free from that and stand alone. Well I do anyway.
The field was more stacked than any race I've been to this year. I had a good ride, I knew that, but I was surprised to hear I had won. I thought Fast Fred Thomas was gonna take some time out of me, but he slotted in down in 7th. I was 12 seconds clear of Carl Reglar from Danbury Audi, and a few more on the Canadian stud David Ghazi. Troy Kimball, John Funk, David Taylor, John Gee, and Wild Bill filled out some of the top 10 spots.
Stage 1 looked hard on paper, but after the TT I figured it wouldn't be as bad as it looked. I was right.......It was worse! Bill patrolled the front early on and a few things went away briefly, but Bill brought them back. He actually had a slight gap with Carl Reglar for a K or two but others pulled that back as well. Shortly after that we hit the base of the hill. It was steep too. I figured it would be about 2 miles of climbing based again on the profile. Bill's big effort just beforehand shuffled him to the back and soon a select group of 15 were at the front. It was most of the names from the top 10 in the TT but also present were Rob Lattanzi, Eric Gutbier, and Harry (Kip) Stover. At times it was very hard as the pitch kept changing and in turn the tempo. Eric was having a great day climbing and it was him on the front setting the hard tempo. After 2 miles of very difficult, hot climbing we saw KOM 5k written on the road. I almost shit. Thats still over 3 miles to the top, and lots of times theres more climbing after the kom line. That was the case here too, but as it got steeper near the top I actually felt better and by then I didn't think anyone was gonna drop me. We crested the hill and there was no one there to record the KOM points, no one at the second one either about 15 k later.
We had a long way to go and David Taylor tried a solo attack that wasn't gonna go anywhere. I went to the front and just rode tempo and left him hanging out there about 100 meters and laughed as he looked back constantly. David is not my favorite rider, I'll leave it at that. A few other things were tried and none of them went anywhere, so we were just dickin around really. Finally I said, "Hey lets just rotate for the next 10 miles so we don't get caught" I wasn't worried about the overall at this point because lots of guys were thinking about the stage win and so nothing was gonna get away on flat roads with 10 miles left. To my surprise, after a while, everyone fell into place and was working. It was really cool to be in a 15 man group working it right. I figured we were gonna make it to the line no worries. At that instant we got caught by 6 or 7 guys, one being Wild Bill.
We were told that we'd have a 2 mile road closure to the finish and that there would be no yellow line rule at that time. We kept looking for it because our odometers were at 50 miles and then 51 and counting. The race distance was advertised at 52 miles. Still cars were coming toward us and no 1k to go signs or anything. Suddenly we came around a corner and the line was 120 meters in front of us. Everyone went at the same time and the guys on the front stayed on the front and Kip took it. Carl Reglar was 2nd, jumping him 6 seconds closer to me via the time bonus and Fred Thomas was 3rd. Now my lead was only 6 seconds going into the "Devil's Kitchen Stage" on Sunday.
Sunday there was an early KOM line and a very hard move went from 500 meters. It looked painful, but it was clear that it was for points and not for a break attempt so I sat tight. Just a couple meters before the line, Rob Lattanzi went hard for 4th place points and kept on going right through the other's that had sprinted so hard. One other guy tacked on and they split. Good old Westwood Velo was bringing the race to Corner Cycle. The gap went out pretty good right away and then Marky G. and Mark Pohndorf got together off the front of us as well and they were also working well together. Bill was getting pretty smoked, both from Saturday and now Sunday doing lots of work. No one was helping at this moment. I knew I had to ride, so I did. Bill and I were taking pulls and we brought back Mark & Mark, but Rob was still way up there. We stayed steady and got some help from a few others. I remember John Funk taking some very good pulls. We had them right in our sights and then Rob's break away mate sat up and came back to us. Rob continued on. That sort of lulled us into a non chase mode and then we descended forever! Rob was outa sight and we were all eating and drinking and wizzin' off the bike. It was really a slow few miles. The pace never really hotted up again and this concerned me because there were places where we could see a LONG way and we couldn't see Rob. Bill was working his tail off, and getting no help. Finally when he took a breather and we slowed down even more I had to go to the front again and lay down some tempo.
Bill pulled along side of me and asked if I thought it was wise. I said "it was necessary and I didn't want to gamble". I said "Westwood did a good job putting us against the wall so it was time to tip my hat to them." I felt great though and the miles on the front with Bill were easy and it felt good to finally ride. We were getting close to Devil's Kitchen now. We had driven it the day before and it made App Gap look a roller. Hardest thing I'd ever seen, including Switzerland and St. Thomas. A few miles before we got there I went back a bit and munched on some food and gels. Poor Bill was now in full sacrifice mode burying himself to the base of the hardest climb we'd ever seen. I really admired him at that moment and look forward to returning the favor. I had commented at Killington how much I respected the O&A boys for doing the same for Fred, well this was even better because he was alone and he was doing it for me. It inspired me and I told myself I'd show my gratitude for his hard work by doing the best possible climb I could.
We hit the base and we didn't get the split, but we later heard Rob was 3 minutes up. Bill said "JB send a car for me". I gave him a fist pump, but I also knew he'd never quit and climb into a car. Of course he didn't and soldiered on to a very respectable finish. It was instantly the same 15 guys from Saturday climbing the first wall, and soon it was 12 or so, then 10. I was fine at the moment, but knew it was a long way to go. John Gee who was 4th on GC moved slightly ahead and I was surprised that no one matched him. After a minute I went around the left side and rode a bit faster and went right up to him. It was super hard, don't get me wrong, but I was still in my comfort zone. He quickly faded and then I was alone. A minute ago I could hear 10 guys breathing like crazy. Now it was silent, my own breathing disappeared into my mind and there was this beautiful absolute feeling. It was just me and the bike and the mountain, I relished it and thought of Bill's efforts and my word to honor that work. I was very inspired that I was riding ahead of all the best master's climbers in New England and Canada. A few minutes like this went by and suddenly I could hear breathing again. I had just about reached the worst part of the climb a savage 22% section with bad pavement. John Funk pulled up on my right and David Taylor on my left. I actually snuck a peek back which is hard to do without tipping over and I was happy to see it was just those 2 that had made it up to me. All the others were dropped, some were weaving now.
The 3 of us crested that section together and the hill lesened a bit, I recovered and set a harder tempo, actually grabbing a couple bigger gears before the next wall. Finally John pulled through and looked over at me and said "It's just us". I had popped Taylor off. That was the best thing I could have heard because he wouldn't have worked at all once over the top (I'd bet my life on it) and I still needed to ride as hard as I could to catch Rob and win the overall. The worst of the hill was behind us now, although it was still massive suffering, but John and I worked well together all the way to the KOM which I was happy to not contest him on. Then we started to descend, but thankfully there were lots of little uphills on the way down. I say thankfully because thats where I was able to hit it really hard and I think after 60k alone Rob was probably not enjoying those so much. I was riding as hard as I possibly could, saving nothing. Finally on a slight corner I caught a glimpse of Rob and knew that I just had to avoid a mishap now. We caught him pretty quickly after that and still had about 3 or 4 miles to go. He jumped on and couldn't work. I know Rob would have if he could have, but I didn't care either. I was riding for GC so I was content to hammer away. Funky John matched every pull I took and finally at 1k he decided not to come through. I wasn't gonna slow down and mess around with it, I wasn't in the mood. I just stayed on the front and drilled it. We could see the line from 1200 meteres out, so there were no surprises on this day and there were also signs every 100 meters. I drilled it all the way to 200 to go when John pulled through and accelerated and Rob followed. John held it to the line, Rob was 2nd, I was 3rd.
We had more than 30 seconds on the chase group of 4 or 5 too, so John moved into 2nd overall and Rob 3rd. That was easily my greatest win ever, and a jersey that I'll probably frame. This is one of those races that you have to do.....put it on the bucket list.
Oh and then I drove to Louisville, KY and promptly stunk up the joint with a 5th place ride in the TT. It wasn't that bad really, but I had different aspirations. I had a bad patch in the race and you can't win Natz with a bad patch in the TT. I hope to do better tomorow in the road race, but it's still over 100 degrees.....we'll see.
Thanks for reading, JB