I had pegged this race to be the single most important race of the Verge series, way back in May. Why? Because a good result here would mean callup for Day 2, callups for Gloucester, a great result might event carry enough points through to get callups for the rest of the season -- never mind the fact that front-row starts from callups lead to more points which lead to more callups which lead to... well you get the drift.
Needless to say I had worked myself pretty well into a panicked frenzy by Friday night for this one, that's the problem with realizing how important points are at the first race of the season, when it actually gets to be within 24 hours of start time you might be soil-your-pants nervous. Yeehaw.
The turnout was surprisingly small given the enormous consequences, it was almost like most of the 2/3 "Amateur" men aren't hyper-serious raceaholics who would drive to Mars if they were giving Verge points. Losers. So, I was feeling good about my chances, small field + technical course (it's Vermont, it's gonna be technical, right?) should be an easy top 15.
Then I saw the course. It basically went like this --
1)1:30 power climb
2)Runup, a few corners
3)Another 1:30 power climb
5)Punchy BMX course climb
6)Descent, flat, chicane
7)Another freaking power climb/false flat
9)Well crap, that just took 9 minutes.
If you're new here, you might not know that I make a living complaining about this kind of course favoring "super roadie legs," and pretending that people who can hammer in a straight line faster than I are cheating. This course was NOT what I had in mind when I was mentally placing myself in the top 15. It didn't take long for several people to start cracking jokes about my reputation, "yeah I thought you would be one of the favorites until I saw the course, ha," except they weren't really joking and they were totally right.
So anyway, I was pretty thoroughly psyched out on the start line. Lots of the usual clowns were in attendance, Matt Simpson, Rosey, PvB, Cary, Jordan, Kenny, probably a bunch more dudes I'm forgetting. Point being, there's no one I'd rather thrown down against in the most important race of the season, and no one who was the subject of an ebay auction last year was present.
The gun goes off and I'm nicely sheltered in the middle of the second row, of course, "sheltered" and "boxed in" are basically the same thing. The pace at the front slackens quickly and a surge of riders start coming by, Kenny goes by, Matt goes by, PvB goes by. I start trying to estimate where I am and I think it's around 15th as the opening climb continues.
Like I said, it's a really long drag race at the start, so before we can actually reach a corner and stabilize positions people at the front start slowing to race pace while I'm still in holeshot-panic mode. Similar to last year at Caster's I suddenly shoot up near front. Heading into the first real turn, a right-hander, I am on the inside of a UVM kid who prompty rolls a tubular and lays it down in front of almost everyone. There's a chorus of brakes, shouting and grunting as neaderthals on bikes collide with each other, and a quick glance back shows that five of us have got a bit of a gap.
"We've got a gap!" I shout with glee. This news is so exciting to PvB that he starts putting out like 4000 watts, which unfortunately leads to pinch flatting on the big rock moments later. So now we're down to four. Over the first dismount and through some technical corners I'm up to second -- then I rail the outside line on the last one (thanks Matt for the protip on that line) and HOLY CRAP I'M LEADING A KILLA B RACE!
The second long climb is a long, hard, grind, especially without a wheel to follow. I didn't quite bury myself to drag everyone over the top but I did go hard enough to keep the four of us separated from the angry stream of chasers. At the top James Tosca comes around to lead into the descent because he's much smarter tactically than I.
The rest of the first lap is a blur, I go back and forth with Tosca again, retaking the lead (probably because he let me) on the barriers. Coming through after one lap I'm still freaking leading the race and there's a bunch of worthless wheelsucking mountain bikers on my ass who will *not* come around no matter how slowly I ride. God, I hate mountain bikers.
So I set the pace at 95% again, which is enough to let an old skiing nemesis Brian Lawney get across the gap to the lead group. As soon as I see he's caught us I yell that I need more watts up front, and being a sporting chap (not to mention a cat 2 on the road) he comes around obligingly. Showing remarkable improvement from his earlier 'crossing outings he manages to lead the downhill without mishap as well, and then at the end of the lap I come around again for unknown reasons and lead the main climb once more.
This time up I'm noticing it's getting to be quite painful so I refuse to be guilt-tripped into more pace-setting. After the runup I basically come to a stop on the outside of the corner, and Pat Goguen very reluctantly comes through to lead us up the second climb, then at the top Tosca attacks and all hell breaks loose.
Somewhere along the line Pat drops out of the strung-out lead group and some local guy named Sheldon, who bridged up with Brian takes his place. Tosca is smartly pushing the pace over the top of every climb and everyone is suffering a lot, most of all him. All this suffering leads to Brian making a hasty exit from the group by eating it on the barriers.
With two to go Tosca keeps drilling it up the climb (wow, I've always wanted to use the cliche "drilling it" but that doesn't really describe most racing I'm involved with) and as a result Sheldon and I both get gradually ridden off his wheel. I manage to hang on long than Sheldon to solidify second place, which is cool, but now I'm on my own in the wind, which is not.
All this "drilling it" has taken its toll on James as well, and no sooner had I written him off the front than I realize I'm catching up again. Coming back through the finish area with one and a third laps to go I find myself closing quite rapidly -- hmmm... What would Tim J do? what does the crowd want? Counterattack! Another thing I've always wanted to do that doesn't really happen mountain biking. Hopefully Richard Fries went nuts on the mic at this point, since earlier he had been hassling me about my website.
In any case the counter attack seemed like a good idea right up until I realized I had a lap to go and Tosca was still on my wheel. I "cleverly" let him come through to lead up the hill for the final time, and he "cleverly" proceeded to ride me straight off his wheel for the final time. This time he didn't go as far into the red, so there was no comeback happening. He hung on to a 10-second lead for a well deserved win and I rolled through for second and, most importantly, fourty Verge points!
Holy crap, front row at Gloucester, here I come!
Brian, Me, Pat Goguen, James Tosca on the BMX course climb. Photo credit: Mark Supes