So I had this great idea that maybe I would do a road race. Solobreak had been bugging me about it for a while, and when Bradbury Mountain Enduro got canceled I remembered that there had been some road race on the calendar that seemed attractive to me the same weekend.
It was called "Tour of the Hilltowns," and I figured that any race with "hill" in the title would be good for mountain bikers. The extent of my road racing experience is mass starts from cross season, so that makes me a Cat 5. I assumed that I would be a sandbagger, but possibly not the biggest one there. To keep the playing field level I selected my cross bike as the bike of the day... and also because I don't have a road bike.
I hitched a ride out in the Team BOB party van with solo and the one known only as Cronoman. During this time I asked stupid questions about how road racing works (wheels in/neutral out? huh?), but I knew it was all a mere formality since I was going to win solo, from, like, 40 miles out, in a daring move that would make Jens Voight jealous.
The race course is basically 20 miles rolling downhill, then 3.5 miles at 7-8%, then another 20 rolling downhill, then 10 false flat, and then 5 at 4-5% to the finish. The Cat 5 field was full, with a widely varied group of folks represented -- some 16 year olds, some old guys, some old guys on Cervelos with Carbon wheels, some hairy-legged guys, and some clowns on cross bikes. Oh wait, that's me.
The first 20 miles downhill were wicked easy, as expected. I got to experience the awesomely stupid accordion that happens when everyone rushes down a hill and then stacks up at the bottom, and I was no exception. The first hill of any size that we went up, the guy in front of me broke something on his bike and decided he needed to pull over. He didn't realize that some sketchy mountain biker was riding up the gutter, so he chopped my front wheel and I had to put a foot down. I ended up at the back of the field and was happy to see that some other people were having trouble already. Yes, I am going to win this quite easily, I thought, because this overweight man back here is getting dropped.
I hustled my way back to the front and achieved a semi-respectable position in the field as we headed into East Hawley road. Soon the road pitched up, and the pelican exploded as though it had been trying to smuggle a grenade in its beak-pouch-thing.
There was an initial surge from a bunch of guys near the front, but I expected this and was not caught up in trying to go with them. I fell back to probably 25th on the road, but I was climbing comfortably, staying seated as guys first stood up, and then soon went backwards. I weaved through various blown fat men and kept climbing at my own pace, while up ahead the lead group was shelling riders steadily.
I mistakenly assumed that my steady progress through riders dropped from the lead group would eventually ride me into that group. Near the big switchback I passed the last shelled rider, but still had a 20 second gap to make up to the lead group of five. I hadn't actually closed on them at all, and I wasn't going to do it now. As the climb leveled out into a false flat, they rode away from me and I was left in hurty land.
No matter, I thought, I will just wait until I get picked up by the big chase group and we will reel those suckers in.
I got caught by three guys. Three guys! This is the chase group? Man, we are in trouble. One guy, whose bike was worth as much as my car, set about organizing us into an efficient train of watts. It was steadily rolling downhill after the climb, so we were hauling ass. I noticed with much consternation that I was still holding around 185 bpm, even when I was out of the wind. And we still had 90 minutes to go. I hope we are going to slow down soon.
What eventually broke me was when I was 2nd in line, with expensive-bike-man pulling. The road tipped down, and we crossed 40mph. He stopped pedaling; I stopped pedaling. I was only about a foot behind him, and I never had to brake. Between my parachute wheels and light weight, I was working as hard sitting in the paceline on a downhill as he was on the front.
With this information in hand, my brain promptly wussed out and I got immediately popped.
Compounding the issue, I softpedaled for a minute or two before deciding that maybe a pee break would make my stomach feel better (I'm not used to hours of riding in the drops... ouch). I stopped to take a leak, and finished up just in time for an eight-man chase group to come by.
For some reason, probably ignorance, possibly malice, they were right on the shoulder so I couldn't remount until they were past. Crap. I tried feebly to bridge from a standing start, and I failed. My legs were shot, my brain was shot, and I was ready to quit. I had officially been shelled from what remains of the Cat 5 pelican. Jens Voight is not jealous.
From there it was a painful training ride back in. I linked up with two other guys for some more paceline practice back to the base of the final climb, which was fun but not especially relaxing. The finish seemed like nothing driving up -- a few 7% pitches over 4 miles, that's like nothing really -- and of course, now, it nearly killed me. I had felt the cramps coming for a while now and once they set in I immediately lost my traveling companions.
After the worst 4 miles I've ever had on a bike (had you watched, you'd have thought I was being a drama queen, but you try keeping quiet when your hamstrings and calves cramp on every stroke!), I finished, sunburned and wasted.
So, road racing. It was hard. Wicked hard. I might be getting burnt out, but it's hard to tell when you do something completely different. I don't plan on doing another one of those until next year, and I think I'll try to find one with only a finishing climb. Because apparently I'm pretty easy to shell on downhills.
I was feeling pretty down about things, until today, when I read Ryan Kelly's experience at Hilltowns, modestly titled "that sucked more than anything has ever sucked."
But then again, I bet Ryan could have won the Cat 5 race solo in a way that would make Jens Voight proud.
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