The Tour of the Hilltowns was my first road race ever. I rode Cat 5. Figured that I would do well, since I was an expert mountain biker. I WAS WRONG.
I came back 2 years later, as a stronger rider, in Cat 4. I figured that I would do well. Was I wrong? Let's find out!
We talked a bit about this being a Back Bay team race, but eventually attendance whittled down to me and newly-upgraded-Cat-5 Harrison. We had some discussions about tactics, but mainly I used my "vast" experience to tell him that planning in advance was pointless, it all comes down to who isn't cramping on the hills at the end.
The field was full, 100 guys, and the first 20 miles of rolling downhill saw absolutely no action. This led to a lot of tight riding and no less than three Cat-4-tastic crashes, at least one of which resulted in a free ambulance ride. First we accordioned into an uphill so hard that some guy got taken down and half the field went through the grass to get around. Ok, whatever. Then, on the real 35+ mph downhill, some guy decided that a 6-foot lane change was the appropriate way to deal with a crack in the road, and that led to absolutely nothing funny at all. I was right next to him and I decided that I would never lap wheels with anyone on a downhill again, after seeing the result.
Finally, with a mile before the real racing starts (East Hawley Rd), a guy went off into the sandy shoulder, tried to ride back on, got his front wheel up, not his rear, and caused a crash that blocked off half the field. Harrison was caught behind this, which was a pretty bad deal for him with a monster climb just four minutes away.
I was surprised how easy it was to roll up to 2nd wheel right as the climb started. A UVM kid led it out and then exploded completely after a minute, and lo and behold I'm leading the field up the climb. I was about to break out the Chris Anker Sorensen pain face when guys started coming up next to me. Wait, 350w isn't good enough? Shit.
So I was 2nd wheel, then 3rd, then 5th, then 8th, and I started to have not much fun at all, riding 7mph in blazing sun with high humidity at threshold. My powertap started showing me numbers beginning with "2", and gaps started opening ahead of me. Danger, danger!
Out of nowhere, some guy rides up next to me, breathing really hard, and says "whew, this is tough!" It's f-ing Harrison, back from the dead! He had just climbed from off-the-back position at the start of the climb, through the entire field, up to me, in 10 minutes. And he wants to talk about it. Amazing.
We hit the next steep pitch, the one with the switchback, and he rode off ahead, because there were still ten people in the race he hadn't passed on the climb. Meanwhile, my face was on fire and I was praying for death.
So after 18 minutes at 300w, I got over the top, in what could either be considered "Chase 1" or "Chase 2." Harrison was in chase 1, which made contact with the three leaders so fast it could barely be considered a chase. My group, meanwhile, grew to five people, and I got some practice for cross season by dying a thousand deaths to stay on a wheel while we chased.
Suddenly I realized why I felt so terrible, now that my HR was down to a pedestrian 182 bpm -- holy crap did I have to pee. So I decided to execute the saddest sixty seconds of my bike racing career:
I took a pull and swung off. I stopped pedaling and peed my shorts. I couldn't pee fast enough, so I got gapped off the back. I started chasing, tipped my head down, and my sunglasses fell out of my helmet and onto the pavement. I did not stop for them.
So, in the name of bike racing I have just soiled myself and cost myself $100 in equipment. Beautiful.
Eventually our chase group caught the leaders and it was time to start trying to recover. I was AMAZED at how bad I felt anytime I wasn't coasting. Recovering from above-threshold efforts is not something I practice. This should probably change.
Soon after, Shane from Threshold pulled the Matt-Green-trademarked-demoralizing-midrace-conversation on me. I was trying to figure out how to ride 30 more miles with cramping legs, while hanging precariously onto the draft, and he wanted to have a pleasant conversation about cyclocross. I was not pleased to find out how chipper he was.
Luckily I was not going to be hanging around him, or anyone else in the lead group, much longer. We turned the corner into the feed zone, I shifted to my little ring, and the friggin chain jammed between the rings. Did you know it's possible to put your inner chainring on backwards? Yes? Well, I didn't. Until now.
I jumped off and ripped the chain out with the fury of a thousand Andy Schlecks. I leapt back on, ready to chase, and it went right back in. Or maybe it never came out? I have no idea, but this broke my spirit. I stopped, ghost-rode my bike into the ditch, and sat down to feel sorry for myself. Because bike racing is serious business.
Keep in mind this is all 50 yards before the feed zone, and Linnea (along with everyone else) is watching me. At least I didn't soil myself again.
After a few minutes of sadness the Cat 4 grupetto rolled by, and I jumped in with them to ride 20 miles back to the finish. Near the end it started pouring rain, and then I cramped up and got shelled by them on the last climb, just in case there was any doubt that Hilltowns totally owns me.
Harrison was 13th, and Bret Bedard dominated me in yet another sport by winning it, so good for them. I will be going back to the mountain bike scene with my tail between my legs, once again.
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