This one is one of the hardest races on the calendar. The terraine is hard enough, but in recent years the roads have gotten a lot worse and it always seems to be near 100 degrees with high humidity when race day rolls around. Thats pretty much the recipe for complete and utter suffering.
With the famed East Hawley Rd. climb coming at mile 20 there is always a lot of guys trying to get the head start by getting into a break from kilometer 0. This is pretty obnoxious for a race this hard because everyone acts as if theres no hills to come for 58 miles. Nothing culd be further from the truth, but still we race and cover attacks for 10 miles every year before everyone settles in and faces the fact that the hills will tear this thing to pieces.
Bill and I rode the front on the chopped up descent leading to the valley floor that brings us to the base of East Hawley Rd. We had both done a good job hydrating to that point having rdank a full bottle of gatorade as well as some gels. Now with 2 full bottles we started up the climb. It was savage, like always. Some call it the hardest 3 miles of asphalt in New England. I don't know about that, but it's gotta be in the top 5. It's friggen HARD!
There was a lot of suffering going on and everyone was breathing extremely hard. There was no air to breath though it seemed and everyone's jersies were fully unzipped. The pack thinnned and I looked over at Bill at one point, he didn't look good, but no one did. Just before the right hander about 3/4 of the way up, I decided to push it a touch because it's usually a lot more broken up by now.
Ed Angeli (Target Training), last year's winner, took the pace over just a few meters before the turn and Rob Hult (Gearworks) followed him. I was ok just at that moment, but all of a sudden things got pretty blury. I was so hot and all I could picture was a full bottle of ice cold water being poured over my head and then a big gulp into my mouth. Instead I took a swig of 95 degree water that I couldn't afford to pour over my head because I needed to drink it.
Just a few seconds later a very strong Joe Regan surged and David Taylor and a 545 rider were able to go with it. A couple others stayed there briefly, but soon came off and the group of 5 gapped us over the top by about 30 seconds or so. That was it, we were now racing for 6th because 5 is pretty much the perfect number for a strong break away. They were the best climbers, so not much chance of getting them back in the hills. Our group was about 12 or 15 guys but we picked up a couple that got dropped late and a few more came back in the miles after we went over the top. The last guy to get back was none other than Wild Bill. It was very impressive too, because at one point when we were flying down the road I looked back and didn't see anyone, and I could see really far. I don't know how he did it, but when he rolled onto the back we had a few laughs. At one point he said to me "It's all you today". I just laughed and said "no worries". Then I attacked.
Even though we were all pretty wasted and the top 5 was now an impossibility, a couple guys got with me. Todd Cassan (Westwood Velo) and Mark Phondorf (Colavita). Both are strong guys with good climbing skills and will work in a break away. I though that would be perfect, and it would have been but everyone else knew it was dangerous too. It's funny how when 5 guys are gone for so long, we get lulled into feeling like we're racing for a win of some sort out there. There were still a lot of strong guys left and they weren't having it, we kept the pressure on even after it came back together, but it eventually failed. I went back into the small bunch and had a drink and my last gel.
With about 10 miles left to race, which was about 5 minutes after the failed break away attempt, I bolted again. I went from the last rider in the bunch in the wide shoulder on the right and got a nice gap straight away. I took a peak under my arm and they were all looking at each other. I had something to start with, so I settled into my TT mode. Alan Potter (Blue Hills Cycling) took over the chasing responsibilities and for 6 miles or so I kept them at about 20 seconds. I felt good enough still, but the last climb was about to start.
This finish climb is over 4 miles long and the very bottom is the hardest part, after that it's my kind of climb. I started to suffer terribly when I hit the hill and my now smooth rythm was interrupted by the sever change in gradient. I got it together just as they caught me and Alan put in a dig. I surged and got his wheel. I thought "well that was a waste for the last 12 or 15 minutes of flogging myself because now I'm caught on the hill and I've used way more than any of them". But it was wierd, just as they caught me they seemed to slow down and there was short bit of looking around. I couldn't believe no one would attack here. I had just been brought back and the worst part of the hill was over and it was as prime a place to attack as ever. But nothing! So I did what I do.....I hit it again. Maybe they thought it was the final act of suicide or something but only a few guys followed the surge. Then I looked around again, Kurt Gustaffson (CRCA) was there and I said "do some work" he said "ok" and proceeded to pull through. I moved over to let the others fill in and they did but they just let Kurt ride away. I felt like I was in bizzaro world. What were these guys doing? I let a good size gap go just sitting on the wheels as I sat there stunned, then I said "ef this, I'm going up to him".
I surged across and that was sort of it. Alan Potter, who seemed more comfortable just chasing me, settled in about 5 seconds behind and stayed there for the next 3 miles or so. I put in a couple of surges on Kurt to test him, but he was solid. Finally with about 2K to go Alan caught us, the others were out of sight now behind us. I didn't mind him catching us because I figured he could take a few pulls and I knew I still had a decent kick left to finish with. But bizarro world continued. Just as Alan caught us he went straight off the back. I'd had enough of things not making sense, so I attacked right then, now Alan was way off but Kurt was solid and he covered it. I didn't plan for that I thought he'd drop, so now I was screwed. He wouldn't pull through again since I attacked him (I wouldn't....would you?) so I knew I had to make the tempo the rest of the way. I settled into it and felt pretty good actually. I made no effort to ask him for help, I knew the deal. But suddenly with the 1K to go sign right in front of us he starts overlapping my rear wheel a bit. I eased off the pedals a touch and he just pedaled through. No attack, just tempo. Wow! Thanks, I really don't deserve this after the way I've treated you. Am I in an abusive relationship here? Am I the batterer? Bizzaro world to the max! So with a couple hundred meters left, maybe 100 to the final hard right hander, I attack in the big ring and bolt around the corner and across the line for the "best of the rest" placing. 6th. Kurt was 7th, Alan 8th. Wild Bill took out the remnants of the field sprint for 9th. Ed Angeli won for the 2nd year in a row, Good on ya Eddy. Joe Regan was 2nd and thats all I really know as far as results.
It was a true day of suffering with all the heat and all the climbing, not to mention 7 hours of driving.
Not sure whats up next, but it looks like I might be on a "Superteam" for the 24 hours of Great Glen in August.
Thats it, thanks for reading, JB