Sunday, August 9, 2009

2009 Workingman's Stage Race

Workingman’s Stage Race—Cat 4

This is a great race for anyone who is curious about what it is like to race a stage race but doesn’t want to spend the 4th of July weekend out at the Fitchburg-Longsjo ( or can’t handle the climbing that race entails). Although it is called the “Working Man’s” Stage Race, it could more aptly be called the “Underemployed” or “Soon to be Fired” Mans Stage Race as it involves three days in a row of cutting out of the office early to get up to Amesbury Massachusetts by 6 p.m. Here’s the summary:

Stage 1—Time Trial: It had probably been about 20 years since my last time trial. The time trial is known as the “race of truth”, and it is true what they say—the truth hurts. I spent the 45 minutes before I started riding the rollers in the parking lot, occasionally catching a glimpse of the competition. I have to say I was pretty blown away by the equipment some of these guys were riding—full carbon bikes, deep dish carbon wheels, aero bars, the pointy time trial helmets…c’mon, really? Personally I borrowed some old aero bars from a Crack o’ Dawn compatriot, which didn’t actually fit my Cervelo because they were so old. Figuring the bars would be more important than riding the fancy new bike, I dusted off an old Giant which I’d been scavenging for parts, put it back together and installed the aero bars. I was definitely riding slag iron that day. The squeak of my chain definitely provided a contrast to the hollow whoosh of the full carbon Zipps which seemed to surround me.

Oh yeah, the race. It would be fair to say I came out strong. I looked down at the Garmin (which I had duct-taped onto the aero bars) after the first couple of gradually rising miles and saw I was averaging over 25 mph. This was much faster than usual but I figured maybe the aero bars were working for me. I looked up the road and saw I was closing on the rider who had started one minute ahead, a 25 year old from Cambridge Bike who clearly spends much more time than I do riding a bike. Before I could even consciously ease off the gas I started to fade. Not too long after that the Cambridge Bike guy was out of sight. At about the halfway point I got passed by the rider behind. I squeaked along (literally) for the next 3 miles, summiting the hill at a snail’s pace. I probably made up some time on the descent (on the downhills gravity is actually my friend) but then I ended up getting stuck in a rush hour traffic jam on the main road through town. During a time trial?!? I slowed to a crawl there waiting for traffic to clear (and actually was happy to have an excuse to ease up a bit, truth be told). I couldn’t stick around for the results (and I wasn’t all that eager to get them) so I packed up the bike and went home. I’d wait for the next day’s email recap from the organizers...

Stage 2—Circuit Race. Back on the Cervelo tonight. The circuit race was run on essentially the same course as the time trial, except they extend it out another couple of miles, crossing the state line briefly into New Hampshire. There’s one significant hill on the course—the same one that destroyed me in the time trial the night before, and there were two screaming fast downhills. I was feeling pretty good and was happy to have learned earlier in the day that I did not finish last the night before. That was all I wanted, not to be last.

There was an early break that really didn’t go anywhere. They were gone for two or three miles before they got reeled in. Soon after that one of my Boston Road Club teammates, John Starvish, got in a break with some guy who it turned out had just finished the Race Across America (RAAM). (Of course this tidbit of info, which I didn't learn until later on after the stage was over, begged the quesiton what a downtown lawyer like me was even doing in a race like this.) There were three of them and they quickly got out of sight. Another teammate and I went to the front to do some blocking. Since blocking essentially means going slow, it turned out I was pretty good at that. However since blocking means riding at the front, I was only able to manage that for a couple of laps before I had to fade back a bit. Also, I figured that by then the break was either going to stick or it wasn’t, and wearing myself out at the front probably wasn’t going to make much of a difference one way or another.

After drifting back into the pack I spent a lot of time recovering, taking advantage of the draft. I wanted to crack the top 10 since my performance the night before was so horrendous, so I figured I’d let Cambridge Bike and Threshold tire themselves out chasing the break. That’s pretty much what happened. We came down off the fast descent and into town (where I previously got stuck in the traffic jam) and I had pretty good positioning. The pack really tightened up and we were all elbow to elbow over the last mile. A few small gaps opened up which I took advantage of, moving up to second or third wheel. There was a gradual rise past the middle school and then the road tilted slightly down for the finishing sprint. We picked up speed and I dropped into my biggest gear and stuck out my elbows just as we hit about the 200 meter mark. A fellow BRC rider was just ahead and to my left. There was quite a headwind and two riders in the front row ahead and to my right both faded at the same time. I was feeling good and could see we were approaching the finish line. Basically, it was now or never. I jumped out to the right and put myself way over on the right hand edge of the road. I took third in the bunch sprint but I passed so close to the camera that it must not have picked up my number, and another rider was credited with my finish. Officially, I ended up with 9th place. Still not too shabby…

Stage 3—Points Race. The points race took place at Star Motor Speedway in Epping New Hampshire. This is a ¼ mile banked auto track (not sure what kind of car can run on a ¼ mile track--must be very small ones) and the races were run under the lights. I’d only done a points race once before, at Wells Avenue, and I knew that in order to do well in one of these races you have to be in pretty phenomenal shape--able to sprint hard and recover fast, because you are sprinting for points every few laps. Whoever has the most points at the end of the race, wins. In other words, a points race exposes a rider like me for the hack that I am. I tried sprinting a few times but I was pretty tired from the night before. Basically I rode around in circles for 80 laps, trying to hold on. We were hammering the whole time and there was no break from the action. My teammates actually scooped up some serious points and John Starvish actually won the race. The highlight for me was hitting the rumble strip at the bottom of the embankment at about 30 mph. and getting bounced around like a rag doll. Ouch. That pretty much summed up the race.

Overall a great race, extremely well run, and a great chance to pretend for a few days that I was a serious bike racer. Will I ever do it again? Long shot but I wouldn’t rule it out. As for my finish, I think I was 18th in the G.C.

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