Yesterday I was one of the lucky 60+ participants in the p-1-2 field at the Hilltowns Road Race. Specs for the race were one smaller 40 mile loop for us lucky pros then the 57 mile loop that all the other categories were doing. The name of the race gave a hint to what the course was like - very hilly - with a claimed elevation gain of 8500+ ft. I love these kinds of races! It makes them far easier to win or place well.
Going in to this race, I was concerned about placing high with all the strong legs signed up. My arch-nemesis Roger Aspholm was signed up as well as a few regional level cat1/pros that have been very successful recently.
Weather was soup-like air - new england clam chowder style, cloudy with a slight chance of rain, and temps relatively comfortable in the low 70s. When the sun crept out behind a cloud it felt significantly warmer, but the clouds were in abundance guarding my fair skin.
At 10am, we were off, and for the first 40 mile loop it seemed we were on more of a "tour of hilltowns" rather than a race. The speed was fast but quite easy to maintain and there were hardly any attacks. A small break went off the front early on but no one seemed to care. I didn't. Everyone was waiting for the steep, long climb up Hawley Rd where every year the breaks happen and whoever gets to the top first is probably going to win even though it's still 25 or 30 miles to the finish.
When we got to the aforementioned climb I was a closer to the front, but not in the front, and rain drops were beginning to fall. A few guys I expected to go at the start went and I went around everyone and tagged along. There were five us - Peter Hurst and his teammate Jake Hollenbach, Roger Aspholm, Robbie King and one of his teammates who I don't know. We went up fast but comfortable. I'm finally learning to not burn all my candles. I went at a high but sustainable pace. A few months ago I would have accelerated even more and dropped them but wasted a ton of energy and eventually been caught and riding with them anyways! Near the top of the climb my rear wheel felt a little funny so I looked down and noticed it looked low. Damn! I kept on riding but it was quickly losing air and it was tough to stay on the wheels of the lead group I was in. I eventually fell off and was riding on a mostly flat tire for about a mile hoping the SRAM support vehicle, my savior with wheels, would show up. I lost 2 or 3 minutes waiting for the car. Eventually they showed along with a group of 9 or so guys. I got the wheel change fast and scrambled to catch up to the chase group. I caught them easily and realized they were going a bit slow, slower than I preferred anyways, so I went up front and went flying by them. That seemed to jump start the group and they decided to go my pace. We worked well together for quite some time, but I didn't think the pace would be gaining much time on the lead group I was in. Turns out I was wrong. With perhaps 10 miles to go I broke away from the group with one other guy and we drilled it. I'm not sure if he had a time gap, but the way he was riding it seemed like he was chasing something! We were going over 30mph most the time and it was a tough pace to sustain! My legs were beginning to complain and I told him so. He said something like we were almost finished, which we were, but we still had a big hill to climb! And then we saw the SRAM vehicle and the lead group! I couldn't believe it and thought it was maybe the pro women's field. They appeared to be going slow. In retrospect, they were going slow compared to our speed. We were going nearly 6mph faster than them most likely!
A few minutes after seeing the lead group my partner started dragging, to my surprise, and couldn't make the pass up front to take his turn pulling so I started doing all the work. Eventually he fell off my wheel and I was on my own. But before that the lead group had noticed us and picked up the pace. It was enough to pop Jake Hollenbach off the back. I quickly caught up to him and he jumped on my wheel. I dragged him all the way up the hill. At this point I had given up catching them as the remaining three had really picked up the pace and I was shelled from the effort spent to catch them. Mr Hollenbach decided to attack and I had nothing left so off he went. He got 4th and I finished a few seconds back in 5th place.
I was surprised to check my clock and see we did the 97 miles in 4 hours flat.
A tough race, overall not as painful as Pawling was two weeks ago, but it was way hotter there and I was in a break for nearly the entire race. I'm pleased with the result considering the flat tire and have the points now to move on to category one.