My first stage race with the big boys in the pro 1 2 field took place this past weekend. My wife and I headed to Hunter, NY Friday AM for the Tour of the Catskills. The Tour consisted of an individual time trial on Friday followed by two ~80 mile road races over the weekend. I was facing my biggest challenge yet with some stiff competition from various parts of the country along with some foreigners from Canada and Europe. Floyd Landis was also rumored to be attending, and attend he did. My biggest concern was the Canadian team Garneau. They’ve been cleaning up at most of the big events in the NE, and their leader is a former Tour de France racer.
I didn’t ride at all two days prior to the prologue time trial. I felt pretty good when warming up, and had an average watts goal to shoot for during the TT. The TT was short, only 2.3 miles, with a steep, short 10% grade at the beginning followed by a false flat uphill. It took me 7 minutes to complete. I did not hit my average watts and really felt spent, like my lungs were lacerated, after finishing. I didn’t really understand what was wrong, but since then I think I’ve figured it out with the help of my coach, and hopefully will not under perform again for such an important event. My time still landed me in 12th position of 102 riders going in to the first road race, and I was 26 seconds behind the leader Passeron from the Garneau team and aforementioned TdF rider. He cleaned up, beating the 2nd place rider by 16 seconds. I was pretty satisfied with the overall results, know I could’ve done better, but that’s how things go sometimes and since there was a wicked climb at the end of the last day I was confident I could make up some time.
Going in to day two’s road race I just wanted to finish with the lead group. I didn’t expect any breaks to stick, but knew the field would be whittled away with all the climbing so just focused on staying near the yellow jersey. The route Saturday went around the Windham, NY area and had a little less than 7,000ft of climbing over 82 miles. I found Saturday to be the hardest day. Lots of climbing, and with every climb came attacks from various teams and individuals. So, basically it went from difficult to very difficult over and over again for a little over three hours. The finish was especially fast with everyone battling it out hoping to squeeze a few seconds off their time deficit to the leader. No such luck. After the 2nd big climb of the day roughly 60 miles in to the race the lead group had been reduced to about 30 riders including me. All the heavy hitters were still present, and the overall leader had great support from his team. It looked like it would be a pack finish in downtown Windham and we didn’t disappoint. Our average speed was probably 30mph or greater for the last 10 miles over slightly rolling terrain. I felt strong throughout but was definitely approaching my limits for how long I could tolerate such a high speed coupled with even greater accelerations every minute by people trying to escape. So, we finished together after an intense battle and all went in to stage three with the same times. All the guys who were above me after the TT were in the group so I stayed in 12th position. Passeron won again so added a 10 second time bonus to us mere mortals.
Day Three. The feared climb 66 miles in to the race had everyone nervous and questioning their gear selection and/or sanity before the start of the stage. The climb has a name, Devil’s Kitchen - a three mile battle straight up the side of a mountain with 15-22% grades all the way up. The race leading up to the climb was relatively easy, a walk in the park some might say, and I found it to be the perfect 2.5 hour warmup for a really hard effort. Leading up to the climb, we were on a narrow country chip and sealed road with unfinished gritty edges. I was roughly mid-pack, perhaps a bit towards the front, and knew that was not the place to be at the start of the climb, but didn’t really see how I’d weasel my way up without a serious fight. Luckily I did not have to deal with the situation, and my teammate Tom Bencivengo took control, had me hop on his wheel, and did one hell of a job depositing me right at the front of the race just when the climb began. When the grade went to 15% Tom rolled off the front and said something like good luck or don’t fall off your bike, or something like that, and off I went. Peter Hurst from Axa set a stiff pace at the beginning, and I followed at his heels along with a few others. The field was shattered in a matter of seconds. Peter eventually petered out along with the yellow jersey, and fell off the front and was replaced by me. I was then passed by Cameron Cogburn who maintained a five or ten second gap over me for the remainder of the climb. So Mr Cogburn cleared the infamous climb first and turned it over to TT mode – something he’s extremely good at – and was probably pipe dreaming a solo win right about then. I gave chase riding at and slightly below my 1 hour threshold throwing an occasional glance over my shoulder to see who might be nipping at my wheel. Sure enough after a few minutes the yellow jersey train, about 5 guys in total, was slowing approaching and it looked inevitable I was going to be caught. I throttled down a bit and let them catch up quicker so I could take advantage of the drafting. After I was swallowed we set our sights on Cameron. We caught him just as easily as they caught me and we were a nice wholesome happy pack of 7 riders heading towards the finish. Pretty much all the guys I expected to be there were with one notable exception being Floyd Landis. The last 10 miles were a bit anti-climactic after such a tough climb – too bad it couldn’t have ended there – we’d have seen some gut-wrenching battles! Passeron won again. Surprise! I finished with the lead group and moved up to 6th position overall in the GC.
Overall, I’m very pleased with the results especially considering the competition, and can’t wait for the next big event in a month – the green mountain stage race in VT.
My coach, Chad Butts, took the time to create some cool info using my power data from the races. Check it out here.