If Ascutney was a small 3/4 race, Putney was a large one -- over 40 people were on the line, including some big names like all of Team Zanc, Rosey, and Jon Awerbuch (who is somehow still a cat 3 despite 5 Verge top 10's). It was pretty obvious that this race was going to be a real throwdown, instead of the faux-throwdown (don't you just hate those?) like yesterday.
Everyone should know the Putney course, but if you don't, the important feature ended up being the last 2 minutes of the lap -- a steady, gradually uphill grind into the wind, first on a slippery cornfield and then a dirt road, culminating in the mother of all runups, the kind that is so steep you have to fight to run instead of walk. After that, 100 yards to the finish.
The headwind section meant that groups were going to form, and getting left out alone was going to very bad unless you were one of those guys whose fitness dwarfed their technical skills.
The start was on a nice wide dirt road so we only went a little over 3 rows deep. I was second row right behind Zank himself, about as good a spot as you'll ever get on the front row. They blow the whistle we get two pedal strokes in, and just like Chainbiter there is a BIG crash next to me, the only difference was this time I just barely stayed out of it. What happened (I think) was Kenny slipping off his pedal while in full-acceleration mode, he had no chance to catch his balance as he suddenly dropped all his weight on his foot and the ground. There was the ugly sound of bikes and riders and ground all occupying the same space, but there was no time to watch because Zank was already dropping me.
Over the barriers I went on the outskirts of the top ten, I was a bit far back to be a big player but I was right on Rudy's (cool kid speak for "Jon Awerbuch" I have learned) wheel so I figured that might be a ticket to the front eventually. Around the first slippery right hand turn someone slides out, does an awesome body roll to stand right back up on their feet... which is awesome except that now he's standing in middle of the rushing torrent that is first lap B lap men and his bike is 5 yards upstream. I wonder if he ever got back to his bike.
Around the cornfield on the first lap the front is already stringing out, I might have gotten into the top 10 but there is already a guy off the front. Turns out it's Ben Coleman from BikeReg, and while I've been ahead of him several times this year I sure as hell am not going to do it today. He's on his way to the solo win.
Meanwhile the headwind is keeping everyone else together at the end of the first lap, so I'm still within spitting distance of second at the runup. Thanks to the typical accordion effect I end up getting wheels straight in my face on the way up and then having to haul ass once I remount to stay with the train.
Early on the second lap I am still riding behind Rudy and I have no idea why he is back here with me. It gets bad enough that I actually end up passing him on a corner because Mike Z and a group of 3 or 4 other guys are now getting significantly ahead of us.
As I duck inside he mutters something like "just wait" or "you just wait." I can't tell if he's talking to himself, threatening me, or chiding me for passing someone who is going to go a lot faster than me at some point -- in any case, the reality of getting passed by a scrub like me seems to awaken him and he roars into action on the next straight. Soon he's passed the Zank group and is on his way to a solo 2nd place. I still have no idea why he was back with me after a lap or what he was talking about.
Anyway, somewhere along lap two I make contact with the Zank group. There's five people here now, me, Zank, Ed Meyer from Darthmouth, Guenther Hofer (the guy who crashed in front of me on the last lap at Downeast) and Isaac St Martin, who won Sucker Brook B's. Lots of horsepower and I am the tail gunner, not an ideal place to be on course with lots of transitions. A lap or two passes with me getting pretty worked to stay on the group, then I make a move on the steep descent to get out of last and brilliantly pull through all the way to first. Right before the cornfield.
Turns out the only thing worse than being the caboose is being the engine in a headwind. Everyone happily sits behind me while I try to figure out the right combination of working hard enough to keep us ahead while not working so hard I blow up when someone else takes a pull.
It's a hard combination to find. There's a chance it doesn't exist. At some point, someone else pulls through after the runup and I very quickly go into damage control mode. I think Isaac got dropped even harder than me at this point, although he might have had a mechanical or crashed -- all I was watching was the gap in front of me. And it was growing.
Thus began the yo-yo. I fought back to get on the group by the cornfield. Then Hofer pulled ahead for a while and I went back to dangling ten bike lengths out. I was right at the breaking point but Linnea and Alex were yelling at me all over the top part of the course and I managed to get back on.
Next time over the barriers I'm dangling again, Hofer is holding a slim lead over the other two and I swear they are picking it up to chase him. My coordination is going down the tubes and I kick my pedal backwards on the barrier jump and hear the telltale clunk of the chain getting knocked off the inner ring.
Years of MTB experience with crappy shifting allow me to get the chain back on during the remount, but still the gap widens while I'm gingerly pedaling it back on. This time it's even bigger but the damn girls keep yelling at me so I have no choice but to sprint through the dirt jump area to show them I'm trying, once again making the catch just in time for the cornfield.
I'm pretty much toast at this point, but the lap count is down to two and we catch Hofer again to make it a 4-way race for 3rd. The pace slows down, painfully slow on the road, and this is exactly the reprieve I needed. On the penultimate lap we start marking each other, no one makes any big efforts and there's lots of looking back from whomever is leading.
Into the runup for the second to last time I try taking the lead, it feels great to fly in without brakes and no one in my way for once. I get a bit of a gap at the top but the idea of trying to hold them off for a whole lap, especially into the wind, seems utterly impossible, so I drift back.
Half a lap to go and I pull up next to Zank, who says "don't do anything stupid." I successfully resist the urge to crash him just to make a point and instead somehow end up on the front of the group, into the wind, for the last time.
But I've seen my share of Tour finishes. They can make me ride at the front but they can't make me work. We get to the road and I just sit up completely and look over my shoulder, doing my best "who wants some?" glare.
No one wants some at first. Much softpedaling ensues. I'm looking over my right shoulder and then suddenly Zank, who apparently has also see his share of Tour finishes, comes flying by on my left. It's go time.
He has a bit of a gap, which actually works out for the best because it means I can lead the chase back to him instead of riding the back of the train. I get his wheel with 100 yards to go until the runup, I'm feeling good about the position as we start braking into the 90 degrees turn before the runup... then suddenly Hofer is on my left, Meyer is on my right, we go three abreast under braking for the corner and Meyer hits my bars as he drifts by. I swing in and then out, my front tire rubbing his rear, and just like that I'm back in last.
We accordion, big time, on the runup, Hofer and Meyer go side by side at the front and Zank and I go two abreast at the back. I end up getting blocked out by a tree, Zank's bike is my face, I can barely get mine on my back and did I mention that my HR is like 200 right now?
Then something awesome happens. There are two lines on the run and everyone takes the short one, to the right. I head left and I swear, this must just be burst from my nordic classic sprinting career, because I just took huge frantic steps and passed all three of them. One last ugly remount and sprint, I can hear tons of people yelling wildly and they aren't yelling at me so I can only assume someone is right behind me. The last straight is too short to feel pain, thank god, so I don't realize just how hard I'm going until I'm across the line and wondering how my throat got so narrow.
End result: third place. I was the weakest rider in the group, but some dedicated cheering and timely slowdowns kept me on the back. I got squeezed out like a scared mountain biker at the end, only to get bailed out by fast-twitch muscles and a lucky open line. I guess this kind of thing should build confidence that I can hang even when every muscles in my body says I can't, but on the other hand there were so many times I would've been gone had they quit playing games with each other and decided to drop me.
A lot more questions than usual for a podium spot.
In other cross-related news, my girlfriend has a new kit and now looks even more pro than me.
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