I can't even begin to tell you how effin hard this event was, but I'll try. Last year it was very hard, with a 2 mile uphill tt prolouge, then a very tough hilly road race on stage 2, followed by another 100k road race on Sunday that went up the famous Devil's Kitchen Climb with grades as steep as 28%.
This year was easily twice as hard.
The tt was 12 miles over beautiful pavement, and rolling hills with long consistent grades. It finished with a nasty little 200 meter uphill kick on the driveway going up to Hunter Mountain Ski Area. Stage 2 was the new Devil's Kitchen stage and it was longer, hotter and way, way hillier. Stage 3 was similar to last year until we got over the first, seemingly endless 10k climb to the first KOM. Then we found a new route back that included more climbing, including one particular ramp that was just insane. To me the pitch seemed steeper than anything on the Devil's Kitchen climb. It didn't go on as long, but it was more exposed and it was in the low 90's out there with direct sun beating down on us. After that the last 12 miles were extremely lumpy and we ultimately finished on another ski resort driveway. In case you haven't noticed, ski resort driveways are usually pretty steep hills, especially when you're cracked out of your mind and body!
Bill and I drove out Friday morning and we really tried to bring as much pre-cooked food with us as we could to save money while we were there and also not get into any situations where our recovery depended on the service at a restaurant. It also eliminated the unkown, in terms of how good the food would actually be. We got to the hotel and checked in to find a sweet, spacious double room with eating area, fridge, and big bathroom with jacuzzi. We got everything unloaded and organized for the TT, which we could ride to, from the hotel.
Stage 1 went well for me. It was pretty straight forward, I'd like to see a little more technical aspect to it, but it was gonna be hard with some hot, dry wind kicking up. I went out easyish and let the effort come to me. In no time there was much suffering and agony, and I found that sweetspot where I knew I could tolerate the self torture. Thats a little sick huh? Well anyway, thats how you do it. If you can't self inflict agony, you'll never be any good at tt's. I started 4th from the beginning (so much for the defending champ going last) that meant only 3 targets to chase down. I finished them off just after the turn around. Then it was just me against me the rest of the way. I saved a little tiny something for the final assault on the steep run in and crossed the line in a full out of the saddle sprint. 25:18, good enough for the leader's jersey by a scant 8 seconds over tt/stage race rival Fred Thomas out of Maine. 3rd was 40+ master's new comer Erin Korff, and 4th was another stage race rival out of Canada, David Gazsi. The rest of the usual suspects were over a minute back, including Dan Staffo who is on a bloody tear this year. That time held up as the fastest time of the day until after 7:30 pm when the tail end of the PRO field took to the course. It had cooled down quite a bit, and the wind had laid down too. Only 3 guys cracked 25 and my 25:18 would have been good enough for 7th. I always wish I could race the tt in the PRO race, but thats where it stops. I have no desire to race 100 mile, mountaineous stages with 23-33 year olds that train, eat and sleep, all day, period.
I didn't get the chance to catch up with Dan Staffo the day before, but at the start of stage 2 I saw him and could instantly see why he had been absolutely ripping it up all year. He had cut some weight, not a lot, because he wasn't a big guy before. But he was extremely lean and the look in his eyes was ultra clear and content. He exuded a quite confidence, and easy smile as we exchanged pleasantries, since we hadn't seen each other since Cross season last year. The deep tan on his legs said one thing to me. "I've been riding a ton". I knew instantly he was a serious threat for the overall.
As if stage 2 wasn't hard enough based on all the rumblings and the course profile, not to mention the enourmous planet on fire beating down on us from overhead, guys thought it was a good idea to be super agressive. 5 minutes after being let out of the neutral roll out, my heart rate was pinned chasing the first attack from Carl Reglar that would be the first of approximately 35 or 40. Carl doesn't have a lot of snap when he attacks, but he's the energizer bunny when it comes to long break aways. He's done it a bunch of times and stuck it quite a few times too, which usually earns him a high place on GC, even though his tt is way below the rest of his game. With the amount of steep climbs and high heat on the docket, most would be content to be patient, but the few that wanted to go hard made it hard for everyone. I simply couldn't let Carl get away, so I sat on his wheel and followed all 40 attacks.....all friggen day long. Of course it get's obnoxious at some point, but at the end of the day I had to tip my hat to him just for being willing to try so hard, when so many guys are the exact opposite.
Late in the race, after lots of the hard early climbs were over, Todd Cassan from Westwood attacked and there was no reaction. A little while later 2 guys went up the road after him. Still no reaction. Bill and I were at the front pulling hard. At one point he came through and I stopped pedaling hard and let him go. When he looked back I signaled him to take off, and he did. Max Lippolis shot up to him and maybe 1 more guy too. Now Bill was up the road with 3 or 4 non threats to GC, so I wasn't obligated to pull. Carl had shot all his bullets and was now in the middle of the pack trying to be ready for Devil's Kitchen. I sat 3rd wheel behind Staffo. On a short climb, he snapped out and I made the split second decision not to respond because it was the sort of acceleration that would definitely have burned a match and made me a lot more suceptible to cramps later on. He was over a minute down after the tt, and I figured everyone knew how serious a threat he was and that they would chase, gradually. That way I wouldn't have to work and would actually have a small advantage if he was caught.
Well I guess they didn't consider him a threat, or they thought I would chase. But I don't chase my teamates. Sitting on a rider trying to bridge is different, but that ship had sailed. It was time to be patient and let it play out, and not look worried. Fred Thomas eventually went to the front and worked hard with a couple other guys helping out, but it certainly wasn't 100%. Still I felt like I had forced the hand of one of the most favored guys to win it all, (Fred). Thats why bike racing is so awesome. In triathlon, the strongest guy wins. In bike racing the smartest guy wins....but not always, anyone reasonably strong can win with some smarts.
Well it didn't play out like I hoped. I was hoping to force the other contenders to burn some matches and then all start the climb together. A pretty tall order when you're in the leader's jersey, but not impossible with a strong, loyal teamate, which I have in Wild Bill. Dan did that, but was rewarded with over a 90 second head start on the climb. The others (in the break) weren't a serious threat for the GC. Fred burned some matches on the run in. David Taylor, David Gazsi and Erin Korff were ominously quiet all day. I had definitely torched a ton of matches chasing Carl all damn day, but I had taken care of myself well and was still feeling a little snappy. Plus I just love this shit, so I was having a good time either way.
The climb is quite obvious as to where it actually begins. It sort of looks like the side of a building. It doesn't take long at all to see who has it. Maybe a minute, probably less. Fred and Erin went to the front and set hard tempo right away. The way I climb, I need a minute to establish the new rythm and make sure I don't start out too hard. I settled in just behind them by a couple bike lengths, and quickly reconized the breathing tendancies of David Taylor next to me. I didn't have to look, I knew it was him. I've given Dave a bunch of shit in the past for his tactics in break aways and just when the races are getting super hard, but the bottom line is that the guy is a stud, with no real weakness except maybe for sprinting. In case you haven't noticed, sprinting isn't real important in hilly stage races with uphill finishes. Anyway, thats how well I know the other guys, I can tell by his breathing who's there.
We worked well off eachother for a long way, up over the worst part of the climb and it lessened in pitch. Just then we went by Bill and he still looked pretty solid. Thats the exact spot where I dropped him (Taylor) last year and I thought the rest of the climb wasn't all that bad. Bad memory, bad tactics. I surged just a little thinking there was a relief point just around the corner, but in actuality it was where it kicked up again to probably 18% or so. Now I was in oxygen deficit on an 18% ramp. How do you recover from that? I'm pretty sure you can't but I had to try. That meant watching Dave ease by and slowly creep away by a few bike lenghts. I stayed within myself and actually felt a slight recovery. Just then Fred fell away from Erin. This all played out just meters in front of me as it takes 20 seconds or so to go just a tiny distance. Dave got with Erin and I went by Fred who was all of sudden popping like popcorn. I knew I was on the razor's edge of doing the same, but tried to listen to my body's signals. I was in seriuos agony, but I was ok to continue. Now Erin and Dave were working well together and there was a short respite before we hit another super steep ramp. This climb goes on forever. I was in no mans land as the 2 went over the top and out of sight while I battled for another 30 seconds.
The strongest guy in the race (Dan Staffo) was off the front alone, and then there was Cary Moretti, who was in the original break away, then Erin and Dave who were working together of course, then me. I couldn't see anyone behind me. There was about 8 rolling miles to the finish. Time to suffer and do the best damage control I could. Erin and Dave caught, and dropped Cary. I battled cramps and fatigue all the way into town and even sprinted my ass off against no one for 5th place on the day. The remnants finished another 25 seconds back or so, then there was pure carnage. Guys drifting in, in ones and twos all over the place. It looked like one of those charity rides.
When the dust settled I had saved 3rd place by 2 stinkin' seconds over Taylor. My sprint was well worth it. Dan was in yellow, Erin was in 2nd, me 3rd, Taylor 4th, Thomas 5th, Gazsi 6th, with more strong guys close behind. Uber competitive!
With cramps throughout our entire lower extremities, Bill and I drove back to the hotel. We were detoured because of the race finish onto a pretty sweet road (they're all sweet out here) and we saw 2 black bears run a cross the road in front of us. Way Cool! The next step was an ice jacuzzi bath followed by 17 hours of laying around on the beds and eating and drinking everything in sight. I was pumped for Sunday, but was still a bit anxious about how I had heard that Sunday's stage was harder than Saturday's. That didn't seem possible, but I knew it was true. There was a steady ominous rain that had started soon after we got back, it rained into the night as we fell asleep.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, with the wetness steaming from the earth as the mercury climbed by the minute. The hotel was 100% full of bike racers and everyone had the same look on their face. Sort of a combination of anxiety, pain, concern, fear and dread, all trying to be masked by stoic calmness. Yup, we're a bunch of wierdos alright!
We loaded the car with everything, since we'd leave right from the race for home. That was an added nusance, but a necessary one. The start is at the top of the hill next to the lodge at Windham Mountain Ski Area. Warming up was not plausible, since you'd have to coast down the rough driveway and then load up your legs climbing back up. No Thanks. I rode from the car to the start line for a 200 foot warm up. We started and rolled out neutral, when the they waved the flag for race on, Carl Reglar attacked. UGH! It was a long steady false flat uphill and when I stood up to follow the acceleration of the field, the back of my right hamstring contracted into a cramp. Greeeeaaaat! I'm one mile into an atrocious 100k stage and I'm cramping. You gotta be shitting me. I convinced myself that it was just the residual crap left over from yesterday, and that with some steady blood flow it'd be fine. I didn't need to be drilling it right at this moment though. It seemed the field felt the same way and Carl got himself away with one other guy. He was drilling it and so were we. Dan was on the front crushing it and I started to smile, because with so much going on, I had forgot to consider that he had a tough day ahead covering moves. After a few minutes my legs felt much better and I stood up and took a few digs to make sure the cramp wasn't gonna come back. I was fine for now.
Carl hung out there and I visualized another one of his all day moves making it to the line. So I attacked and went across. I felt great actually and we started drilling it straight away, but the other guy wouldn't work. Then we hit a 6 mile descent. Ya, we got caught. 1 match burned. We hit lots of hills, just like yesterday. Around here, they're not really hills, but climbs. Long brutal pitches in 39-28 or 26 gears with lots of heat became the norm. We rolled into the first KOM climb thats at least 10k long. Bill had taken a flyer with Erin's teamate and we thought that was a great tactic, but Dan just slowly ramped up the pace with a long patient pursuit and as we worked into the climb they were dangling in front of us. Bill dropped the other guy and for the next 7 or 8k he hung just in front of us as the field was finally content to take one of the climbs off. Dan and I actually sat at the front laughing and joking with New England good guy, Eric Gutbier and a few others. Bill survived to take maximum kom points, but Dan flexed his shiny muscles near the top and just rode the rest of us off, to essentailly clinch the kom competition for the weekend.
Lots of rollers filled the miles ahead, until we took an obscure left turn into a wooded section. It wasn't super steep right away, but you got the feeling it was about to get ugly. Ugly was a serious under statement, it got down right sickening. We rolled off a slight downhill, around a corner and there in front of us was the most vicious looking wall of pavement I've ever seen. Including the world famous "Beast" in St. Thomas back in my triathlon days. I can't even really comprehend how they got asphalt to stick to the earth here. Plus it was fully exposed in the sun. There were serious groans coming from the behind us. I tried to psyche myself up for it, but it was all I could do to not groan myself. I knew it was gonna suck for everyone.
Like the Devil's Kitchen climb it took about 3 seconds to see who was good. Dan (who only had a 39-26 for a low gear by the way) took to it like a baby takes to his blanket. Fred and Erin looked good too. Fred had come out in July to pre ride the whole area and had decided a compact crank set was the only way to deal with this climb, and he usually pushes a big gear on the climbs. Dave Taylor moved up and so did Carl Reglar. Dave made his way up to Fred and Erin while Carl got dropped and made his way back to me. Gazsi was there as well as Monte Franke and Cary Moretti. It was so incredibly hard that it felt scary in a "scared of heights" sort of way. If you fell over, you'd probably roll back down to the bottom of the hill. Dan separated from the front, and I looked up to see a couple of the guys in front of me "paperboying" (that means swerving back and forth to actually traverse the pitch at less of a degree to make it tolerable, actually more like possible). I did the same thing. A little while later I looked back. I was maybe 350 meters up the 500 meter wall and the sight behind me was surreal. It seemed like every rider in the field was going left or right, rather than straight. Guys were swerving all over the place and head on collisions became a possibility. I looked at my computer....2 mph. WTF! I had to be putting out 450-500 watts and I was going 2 mph. Swell.
Taylor, Thomas and Korff went over the top and eventually got back to Dan who had nothing to gain by dropping everyone. Then Gazsi, Franke, Moretti, Reglar and I got reconnected and began our chase. We were over the worst part of the climb, but not near the top yet, then there were rollers all the way home, about 10 or 11 miles away. We were all super committed to getting back and we settled in to the chase. I was a tiny fraction of myself physically, but my mind was still ticking away. Unfortunatley, it was telling me I was a tiny fraction of myself. Cramps were everywhere and I tried to sit on the bike differently to recruit slightly different muscles or pull on them from a new angle, it actually worked to some extent, but I was on the ropes. Still I tried to drill my turn on the front. There were times when I just couldn't get there to pull. I was riding all out to stay on. Morretti started to have trouble and he came off, then we hit a short downhill and he came back. Then I was in a bad patch and was coming off. Moretti actually gave me a friendly push as it was obvious I had just hit the wall. The other 3 pulled away, then Cary proceeded to gradually ride us back up to them with an extended strong pull in the wind. We got there and he gave me a thumbs up. I could not have appreciated it more. I was completely and utterly smashed at this point. You know when dying seems as good as living.....ya that place. And yet there was the front group, 50 little meters away. So close we could reach out and slap them. My mind knew it was simple to ride across to them on the terraine I was on, but I was in quicksand. Torture!
Just when it looked like they had looked back and seen that we were gonna get on, we hit another short, steep, cruel hill. That was the last bullet they needed to fire. They were in front of us because they had climbed better and they did it again on this climb. They disappeared over the top and when we got to the top they were well out of sight. A minute ago we could have spoken to them and they would have heard us, now they were in another stratosphere. We only had a few miles left and we bombed a long downhill, but never caught another glimpse of them. They dropped us. Gazsi attacked with a couple k to go. I sat there and did nothing, then a short while later, Reglar and Franke went after him. Moretti and I just took turns keeping up the tempo, all the way home. He pulled the whole way up the acess road to the line.
Dan won stage2, stage 3, the GC overall and the KOM overall. To say he was the strongest guy in the field is a ridiculous understatement. As Bill said, he could have ridden onto the dirt ski trails on his road bike and ridden right to the top of the ski hill. I'm so happy for Dan. He desreves every ounce of his sucsess. He even smoked us in the cycling fan department as we rode over several sections of steep road that had been chalked with his name. It doesn't get any cooler than that. GOOD ON YA DANNY BOY!!!
Dave Taylor was 2nd on the stage, Fred Thomas 3rd, Korff 4th, then 40 seconds later Franke in 5th, Reglar in 6th, Gazsi in 7th, Moretti and I rolled in another 20 seconds or so later for 8th and 9th. It was almost 5 minutes before the 10th place group came in and that was only 3 guys I think.
Dan won GC, Korff 2nd, Taylor 3rd, Thomas 4th, Bold 5th, Gazsi 6th, Moretti 7th, Reglar 8th, Franke 9th. Man talk about a hard, competitive race. Bill and I fought cramps the whole way home on the drive, at times locking up over seemingly nothing. Good times.
Thanks for reading. If anyone would like to share pictures of those insane climbs, send them along and I'll post them.