Bear Mountain is a race I had heard about—and one I assumed I would never race, since it was canceled in recent years. When I heard it was back on for 2014, I had to sign up, but mostly just to take part. I had relatively low expectations as I didn’t have great form. Most of the early season was spent appeasing patellar tendinitis, and a crash at the Philly Naval Yard Crit three weeks prior was still showing on a large portion of my right side. Fortunately, I got some welcome guidance a few days before the race from my boss and your favorite local race promoter, Charlie Issendorf, who won the race in 1987. Here’s a brief recap—feel free to save this to your calendar for next year:
- Line up at the front. The course starts on a long, fast downhill, which ends in a 180 degree U-turn that spits you out into the start of a 10-minute climb. The pack stretches out hard coming out of the turn, and early race nerves tend to cause crashes, so you don’t want to be stuck out back.
- Get in your small ring before the U-turn. It’s easy to forget when you’re flying downhill at 50 mph that you’re about to scrub about 35 mph and start climbing.
- Go with any attacks on the first climb. If anything gets away early, it has the potential to stay away for the rest of the race. If it doesn’t, at least you’re in front of the fireworks as riders try to bridge up to the break or pull it back.
- The climb isn’t over until the last steep pitch and you see Lake Tiorati. Tiorati Road is a stair-step climb. It levels off at least four or five times before you’re at the top.
- Chill out after the climb as you round the lake and be sure to refuel. Common sense, the first thing to go out the window during a bike race.
- Tuck away on the rolling straights through the windy backside of the course. It’s too windy for breakaways to get away easily, so it’s unlikely. It’s also too windy to be a hero and try to take any heroic pulls at the front.
- Stay to the front again when you hit the backside S-turn. Same logic at turn 1, but this time it’s less defensive and more offensive. The finish is only about 5k to go, so you want to be in the right position.
- Push over the harder, steeper climb, and you’re on the finishing straight. Don’t skimp on wattage here. The climb isn’t that long, and it’s steep enough to do some damage and get a gap on the field.
Keeping that advice in mind, I lined up toward the front early with fellow BOLD racers Egor Astakov and Corey Williams. Although it was a neutral roll out, we were told we could ride the descent at our own pace, which kept us off our brakes and kept us from burning through our rims. The first turn came into view with little time for a reaction, so we all put our brakes on pretty hard and you could smell the rubber burning. I couldn’t slow down fast enough before the turn and ended up going wide through the grass. Panicking, I put the power down to catch back up with the lead group, but despite my mentoring, I forgot to drop my chain to the small ring, and I ended up fiddling with my gears, heart rate racing, before putting in a huge effort to get back to the front. Luckily for me, there were no early attacks to respond to, so I was able to recover at a moderate pace.
The field continued conservatively up the rest of the climb. Riders were watching each other due to the KOM at the top of the climb, so no early breakaways formed, and I sat in near the front. Corey took off with a handful of riders about 300 meters from the KOM. There was no response from the rest of the riders in the peloton not contesting the KOM. I wasn’t able to see the finish, but when we caught back up I learned that our very own Corey Williams snagged first spot! I rearranged my race priorities and took on the role of domestique for our KOM race leader.
As we rounded Lake Tiorati, I remembered to eat a gel and chill out. I followed Charlie’s advice for the rest of the first lap and stayed out of the wind. No one wanted to attack, so we rolled through at a moderate pace to the backside short climb. There was some jockeying for position going on for the sprint, but I ruled out my chances due to the fact that it was downhill and too fast for my compact crankset.
The group rode the descent for a second time at a little more speed. I got to the front again and remembered to shift to my small ring before the turn. The smell of burning rubber filled the air again, and we screamed around the turn. Everyone was a little more eager to race now that we knew the course, and the speed was higher going up the climb. About halfway up, John Kniesly (K-Tel) of Chari and Co. took off on a solo break that no one responded to. He put in a huge effort and looked like he would blow up before the top. I stayed back with Corey and helped pace him up the climb. The pace didn’t let up, though, and Corey didn’t have the legs to contest another KOM. He told me to go for it, but I didn’t have any KOM points and decided to hold back and conserve. Again we rounded the lake, and I took a minute to take in the sights and have another semi-liquid snack. When we got onto a straight, we could see K-Tel off in the distance with almost a minute gap on the field. There were some half-hearted attempts by sprinters or their teammates to pull the field as they watched their sprint points ride off the front
When we came around the S-turn onto the backside climb, I liked my position and felt good, so I decided to dole out a bit of suffering. Instead of dragging the field behind me as expected, I gapped off the front, so I decided to play the hand dealt and took off up the climb in my big ring. By the top of the climb I had a decent gap on the field and was about halfway to K-Tel. I figured with a teammate in the field blocking and a strong rider up front, I could make it work. Unfortunately, the sprinters were not about to let two places worth of sprint points disappear into the ether and reeled me back in before the start/finish line. Corey took advantage of having a teammate out front and countered with about 200 meters to go for a second place finish in the second sprint. K-Tel stayed away and stacked 10 points toward the $200 sprint competition on top of his 10 points toward the $200 KOM.
With the exception of a few riders contesting the third KOM and sprint, the rest of the third lap was fairly unremarkable, as everyone seemed resigned to letting the race be decided on the final climb. One more descent came and we made one more burning rubber U-turn before we hit the final climb. The pace was fast, but not unmanageable. I concentrated on the wheel in front of me as my lungs and legs stated to burn and sweat started dripping on my top tube. I was definitely in the cave, but I was secretly hoping the riders at the front would turn the screws a little harder to drop any sprint-oriented riders from the group. When we got to the top I looked back at the field and realized that hardly anyone was left. There were about 25 of us in the group, and we slowed down considerably on the backside because no one wanted to pull. Ryan McGarrity from Team Sixcycle rode up next to me and explained that he had just soloed back to the group after being dropped on the climb. I was happy he was able to catch back on, but not so happy to have another strong rider to compete against in the final stretch.
Everything stayed together until the final climb and Drew Kogan of FGX Racing put in a huge solo attack. It looked like he wasn’t going to last 100 meters, but the gap kept growing. His teammates rode at the front, sabotaging any attempts at an organized chase. I put myself in fifth wheel and waited for the sprint to unfold. I felt pretty good, but when the shots started firing, the 50/11 high gear was my knife at a gun fight, and I more or less coasted across the line for 13th place out of roughly 80 starters. Drew managed to stay just ahead of the pack to take the win. (Congrats!) I didn’t think twice about my lackluster sprint finish and was happy to cut my RoadResults.com race prediction in half. It was a beautiful, exciting course, and I will definitely sign up next year if The CRCA take it upon themselves to throw another well-organized Bear Mountain Classic.
Chris Young – Cat 3 Road Racer