Now in its fourth year since its restart, The Killington Stage Race has proven itself as one of the toughest amateur stage races in the northeast. This year’s edition saw nearly 500 racers turn out to challenge themselves in the Green Mountains of Vermont—myself and fellow BOLD racers Brian Cristiano and Chris Young included. Having competed in the 2013 edition, I was looking for some redemption in this year’s race.
The 2013 KSR was my first stage race, so I was wrought with nerves, doubts, and pretty much every other psychological barrier an amateur cyclist could have—not to mention the atrocious weather that sometimes plagues mountainous regions. Despite being Memorial Day weekend, Mother Nature had decided to dump several inches of rain and snow on us for the duration of the weekend. Needless to say, I decided early on this season that in 2014, KSR would come correct.For this year’s race I was armed with goals.
– Win stage one
– Take home the green sprinter’s jersey
– Ride hard—ride really hard
The Killington Stage Race is broken down into three separate stages: a circuit race, a road race, and an individual time trial. On day one, we were presented with the circuit race: an 18-mile loop with a very gentle 5.7 mile uphill section leading to the KOM, followed by a lightning-fast back section dropping you into an almost downhill sprint finish. Although there are KOM points available, this was a day where the sprinters would shine.
Lookout & First Stop Bike Shop Circuit Race
Brimming with confidence from some decent results of late, coupled with the fact that it had rained the night before, Brian and I decided to line up at the front both for safety reasons and to dish out some early pain. Once out of neutral, we cranked it up several notches to set a serious tone. The plan was simple: Stay up front, guard against any attacks at the top of the hill, or if there is an attack, go with it. Once we got going upward, Brian and I hovered near the front, not bothering with the KOM but keeping close watch on any attacks—but they didn’t come. It seemed as though we were going to hash it out in the sprint, and the climbers were quite happy to let us do so. At 5K to go, the pace began to ratchet up and the jockeying for position was furious. Guys were dipping and diving for a wheel at 35 mph. Brian and I fought for and maintained good position at the front, and with 500 meters to go shots fired! I sat on the wheel of Nicholas Tam, a sprinter from MIT Cycling, and with 200 to go slid around, taking Brian with me, snagging 1st and 3rd in the sprint. Simple really—so we thought we’d have another go at the finish. Lap 2 unfolded in similar fashion, with Brian and I hovering just near the front. Unfortunately, with about 500 meters to go, Brian got boxed in and I got pushed to the side almost off the road. Brian decided not to contest and I managed to retain 6th despite not being able to really open up my sprint. With a finish too close to call on sight, the officials needed to turn to the camera to see that it was Ryan Fawley of Rosdale, NY, who edged the group by mere centimeters! As decent a result as that was, it still left me wanting more—especially knowing the torture that was to ensue in stage two.
Champion System Road Race
If stage one was a day for the sprinters, stage two would be a day where the climbers came to play. With two beastly climbs and 61 miles to think about them, it was going to be a hard day any way I looked at it. With neither Brian nor myself categorizing ourselves as climbers, and both of us missing out on the green jersey, our initial plan was to just sit in and save everything we had to try and get over the first climb with the lead group. The aim for this stage was survival.
It took me all of about eight miles to throw everything out the window. After an initial climb of just over one mile at 7% grade, we made a right turn onto VT 100 North and began a long, gradual descent with one or two light rollers lasting nearly 20 miles. Only a couple miles after the turn, I got it into my head that the only way I could get over the climb was via a breakaway and with a few minutes buffer on the peloton.
So I attacked…hard!
I went with the hope of sparking some life into the peloton, hoping that two or three riders would latch on and we could form a cohesive break. I put my head down and hammered, and hammered, and hammered, and when I looked back…nothing! No reaction from the field, not even in sight. I found myself in sort of a worst-case scenario, soloing off the front, with more than a minute advantage on the field and a mere 55 miles to the finish. I figured, “I’m out here anyway, I may as well just push on and see how far I get.”
It wasn’t for another 15 miles after I was through the sprint hot spot and onto the climb that I was caught and subsequently dropped. Unfortunately, being dropped doesn’t mean you can just soft-pedal to the finish line. I gave myself a mile or two after the first KOM to recover, and then it was time to go hard again. I rode quite hard for the next 20 miles or so, about one minute back of a chase group that was also trying to get back to the leaders, but with about 15K to the finish, I decided to sit up and save what little energy I had left to try and get over the wall that is East Mountain Road.
The crown jewel of the Killington Stage Race, East Mountain Road, is a long, hard slog up to the finish. They had the nerve to throw a KOM in there at three miles to go just to tease us, but the actual race finish is two miles (uphill still) past that at the base of the Killington Ski Resort. While I was grinding it out on the lower slopes trying not to let my Garmin auto-pause, the leaders were coasting with a seemingly effortless rhythm up the side of this beast, with Thomas Conti of CRCA/TBWA/LMT Cycling taking the win by just 17 seconds. Needless to say it was a hard day for us, but we both survived and now had the honor of riding the final stage, an 11-mile uphill time trial.
Long Trail Brewery Individual Time Trial
“The race of truth”: one of a multitude of nicknames given to a time trial is arguably the most difficult discipline in the sport of cycling, and it is one we would be forced to tackle on the back end of a hard weekend of racing. While typically held at the start of a stage race in order to determine the leader for the first day on the road, KSR is unique in that the TT is held on the last day, begging the question, “How much do you have left in the tank?” For me, there wasn’t much. I had been particularly hard done by my solo effort in stage two, so I was in no mood to look at, much less ride a bike. However, being a bike racer, it was against my nature to go out of anything with a whimper, so I summoned the strength for one last hard effort. Despite having tired legs, I bested my time from last year’s TT by more than three minutes. I wound up finishing 22nd out of the 52 remaining riders, with Kyle Rancourt of Rancourt and Co. / Rainbow Bike Cycling turning out a blistering time of 26:30 to overcome a 49-second deficit and take the GC win. Well done, mate.
Despite losing a massive amount of time after what must have seemed to the rest of the peloton as a suicidal move, and despite missing out on that elusive green jersey and stage win, I’d still have to classify this weekend as a great success. It was a great showing by BOLD riders Brian Cristiano and Chris Young, to compete on challenging new courses, and it felt great to demonstrate on a large scale that we as a team have the strength and talent to impact any race we participate in. As a team we are certainly looking forward to doing some damage in Vermont’s other stage race and perhaps the crown jewel of all bike racing in the northeast: The Green Mountain Stage Race, as well as a return to Killington in 2015!
Ken Vadnais – Cat 4 Road Racer