Day 1: Time Trial
The time trial was around noon on Friday, and we chose to drive up early from the city instead of staying over night. We arrived with enough time for a normal person to register and get ready, however, when it comes to getting ready, I am, let’s say, special. I wandered around registration for a while before getting my number, went to the bathroom, waltzed back to the car, put on some sunblock, rummaged for my shoe covers and energy gels, and lost my race numbers in my bag (yes, lost them, in my bag). After finally retrieving the stealthy numbers (thanks, Ken) and pinning them on my kit (thanks, Ali), I hopped on my road-converted TT bike and joked about getting lost before my start time. I rode down the hill, took a right, rode past my first left turn to the start of the TT and proceeded to ride a solid 10 minutes away from the start. By the time I realized I was 10 minutes away, I had about 10 minutes left before my start time. Lucky for me I was in full TT aero set up and mashed my pedals toward where I now understood the start to be. Along the way I frantically yelled at riders, casually warming up, for directions to the start. By the time I finally made it, I was about 40 seconds late, and they cued my dumb ass up behind the guy who should have been taking off 30 seconds after me.
When they sent me off, I was pretty wound up from my detour and proceeded to stamp out a wildly unsustainable pace over the first hill. Logic eventually settled in and I forced myself to calm down and steady my rhythm. I kept an eye on my power numbers out toward the halfway marker and had a hard time putting out the watts I had planned. I eased back on the pace hoping I would recover so I could bring the power back up where I wanted. The recovery never really came, and by the halfway turnaround, I was slower than I wanted. To make matters worse, the second half was mostly downhill and I couldn’t seem to generate power at the higher speeds. I was passed by one rider about 1km from the finish, and I forced myself to stay only a few bike lengths away until the finish. I have never been a very good time trialist, so I wasn’t too concerned about the whole fiasco, and kind of laughed to myself as I recovered from a pretty painful and stressful 24.5 minutes.
Day 2: Circuit Race
After a disappointing stage 1 TT, I was after some redemption on the stage 2 circuit race. My confidence was bolstered with a win on the similar Hunter-Greene course about a month prior. The plan was to ride as conservatively as possible and save what I could for the final 5km worth of jockeying for position and the final uphill sprint. That plan turned out to be a perfect choice given the way the race played out.
Very little action happened before 5km to go with only a couple breakaway attempts going off the front and getting reeled back in. Once the 5km to go marker finally came around, a breakaway of 2 or 3 riders went off the front. I had to restrain myself from either trying to bridge up to them or working to pull them back as I knew my best chance was to save everything for the sprint. As I let others work to keep the break in sight, I also worked to get into a better position. I wouldn’t say I was being aggressive, but I wasn’t letting anyone push me around either. At one point, I inadvertently put pressure on a W&D rider’s handlebars. I eased off and tried to make amends, but he was none too happy about me almost taking out his front wheel in the middle of the pack (sorry, Alyosha!).
At about 1km to go the breakaway was close but had a dangerous gap on us. I was also starting to get boxed out of where I wanted to be. I moved to the outside left to give myself a little room to move before a sweeping right turn onto the short finishing climb. I wanted to be in the top 5 going into the final stretch, so I put in a big effort to swing myself around the outside of the right-hand turn. When we merged back together I was second wheel behind the yellow jersey. At this point, I wanted nothing more than to get out of the saddle and open up, but I knew I was a little too far from the finish to sustain an all out effort, so I waited for another 100 meters or so. The yellow jersey left just a little too much inside room on the final section of the uphill s-turn, and I took advantage by diving into the turn. Once I straightened back out I got out of the saddle and went into full beast mode. There was still a breakaway rider in front of me, and I had about 200 meters to close the gap before the finish. Luckily he was blowing up, so I didn’t have too much difficulty getting around him. I briefly looked behind me to assess the damage, and despite the stated rules, I couldn’t help but sit up and put my arms out for a second as I crossed the finish line for the win.
Day 3: Road Race (Devil’s Kitchen)
The day 3 road race is arguably what everyone comes to the Tour of the Catskills for. It is the longest stage at just under 80 miles and includes quite possibly the hardest climb east of the Mississippi, affectionately named “Devil’s Kitchen.” With grades topping 20%, racers will buy bike parts that provide the lowest gearing possible, specifically, and oftentimes only, to deal with this monstrosity.
While Devil’s Kitchen was looming in the back of my mind, at the forefront was the new-for-2014 Sprint Competition. Before stage 3, I had given it just about zero consideration, however, winning stage 3 meant I now had 5 points, which put me in second behind the green jersey wearing sprint leader, who had 6. Thanks to some strategic planning with the team the night prior, I had a few contingency plans in place that would give me the best shot at winning the competition. The sprint competition was a mere 7 miles into the race, so I was on alert from the start whistle. The Bold plan was to have teammate Egor take a too-early flyer for the Sprint line and force the green jersey to counter. Ideally I would be on his wheel and use his draft to slingshot around him before the line. Teammate Corey was on sweeping duty, meaning he would be on my wheel to come in just behind me and sweep up any other Sprint points from the competition.
Unfortunately, our well-laid plan rode off the front with the third placed rider in the sprint competition, who took off as soon as the moto sped us out of neutral status. I hesitated for a few seconds before looking back at my teammates and taking off after my competition. I rode well above my threshold to catch up, but when I did, we worked together to build a bigger gap against our sprint competition. Eventually two other riders bridged up to us. The 4 of us were a pretty serious breakaway group riding at a much higher pace than the peloton, which still contained all of our teammates and the thus misfortunate green jersey.
As it turned out, only myself and the first breakaway rider were interested in the sprint points. As the final sprint got closer, I started to decrease the time and effort that I was spending at the front. When my final pull came around, I made sure to stay on the front at a relaxed pace until about 1k to go. This allowed me to slink to the back of the train and keep and eye on my competition. As the line got closer and closer, I decided to jump first. I caught the other rider by surprise and had a bike length or two on him. He had a strong sprint, but I saved a little for the final 50 meters to be sure I stayed in front across the line. With that, I had just won the ToC Sprint Competition.
After winning the sprint, my job was done for the day, so I planned on drifting back to the main group. However, my two non-sprint breakaway companions had no interest in giving up our time gap. As they came cruising by us, I put in a big effort to get back onto their wheels. My sprint competitor seemed pretty dejected and didn’t make much effort to get back on. He drifted back to the group and we continued on as 3 with about 70 miles to go.
Our first obstacle after the sprint was the KOM climb. None of us had any KOM points, so we had no interest in fighting each other for it. I told the other two that I was content with having just won the sprint, so they rode ahead of me and took 1st and 2nd. After the KOM, we had another 10 miles or so of “rollers,” which would have been more appropriately named “relentless road-walls.” Fortunately, our breakaway had a synergistic nature in that I was light enough to climb at a decent pace up the hills, and the other 2, especially JD from Brickwell, were big enough to hammer down the descents. We took turns climbing and descending until the “rollers” were finally over and then descended at speeds of nearly 60mph down to the flat, middle section of the course.
We kept the pace steady on the flat. I made sure to eat and drink to replenish the fluid and calories I had just expended in the breakaway, sprint and climbs. More importantly, I needed to stock up for the Devil. As we took turns pulling across the flats, our pace car gave us our time gap back to the field, which grew from 5 minutes to 7 minutes to “we’re out of radio range.” That gave me enough confidence to slow down a bit and ride and more of a recovery pace. My breakaway companions were still chomping at the bit, but I stressed that we would be throwing everything away if we cracked on Devil’s Kitchen.
As we finally rolled up to the start of the climb, it was just as terrifying as when I first dragged myself over it a year prior. I wished my fellow racers good luck and rode at an effort that felt right for my ability and gearing (my gearing was way too high: 34/26 for those in the know). I quickly rode away from the other two, and the realization sunk in that I was soloing up Devil’s Kitchen for the second stage win in 2 days. The pressure mounted, so I focused on breaking the climb up into sections: steep, steeper and how is this seriously a paved road? I used the steep sections to churn out an effort just a bit below my threshold (on a good day, not after 70 miles in a breakaway), and on the steepest sections I ratcheted up the watts to 130% of threshold or more just to keep from coming to a standstill and getting off my bike to walk. I eventually climbed to the first group of spectators and saw Bold Racing’s lead supporter, Ali, cheering for me. My mind was so happy to have a familiar face cheering me up the climb, but my body was saturated with pain, and I am positive that no sign of joy or appreciation made it past my death-march facial expression. The next group of spectators included my former teammate Nik Koblov, who was missing out on the racing due to a broken collarbone the week prior. I took in his positive vibes and pushed past the last couple sections, then finally over the infamous devil (note: if I had taken the first KOM earlier in the day, I would have won the climbers’ polka dot jersey as well. In fact, JD from Brickwell ended up winning it despite getting off his bike and walking up sections of Devil’s Kitchen, which should speak less to his inability as a climber and more to his massive power in the breakaway, which also earned him the overall win). I now had only 7 miles of relatively flat road standing between me and the win. The pace car gave me a time gap of only 2 minutes at this point, but told me it was plenty of time if I could just time trial to the finish. At this point, my legs were close to useless, but I put my head down and pushed out what power I had left in me. On even the slightest descents, I was getting off my saddle and lying on my top tube to stay aero and save energy. When I finally got to 5km to go, I assessed my current state and decided on an effort that I could sustain all the way to the finish. I finally made a turn onto Main Street and saw the finish banner and spectators. I put in one last effort to try to increase my overall standings and rolled across the line.
What a weekend. 2 stage wins and the sprinters’ green jersey. It’s still hard to believe. Definitely made possible by my Bold teammates Egor and Corey who where blocking in the race, but also all my teammates on training rides, cheering from the sidelines, or just nerding out about bike racing over some beers. There is still one more stage race left to go, but whatever the result, I will certainly be considering 2014 a successful season.