Written by Michael Green Thursday, 20 September 2018 00:00
Every Labor Day weekend the city of Milford sponsors a weekend of racing, the first being a quick 50 minute gravel hammer fest - perfect for the coming ‘cross season and close enough to home that I can ride to and from the event. And that’s what I did, up early, a cup of black coffee, a Clif Bar, and a hour ride to the starting line.
A key component to the result on race day was that because of heavy local holiday weekend traffic, I’d taken the back gravel roads to packet pick-up the day prior which meant I drove the last five miles or so of the course. The next morning, I rode those same miles and verified that recent road commission work could have an impact on the race. I kept that information in my back pocket and got to the start just in time for a gel, a trip to the porta-potty, and third row in the corral.
At the gun I was not prepared for the immediate, mass hammer fest from the front row. Within seconds, five had created a gap off the front while I was still trying to maneuver the traffic. I got to the front of the second group and put in a big “hero pull” and burned several matches. I’ve done this race multiple times and it had never started so viciously, I’d been caught off guard with my late arrival. I asked for help at the front but the pace was not high enough to pull back the group so I tried again but put myself into a huge debt. On a positive note, my goal for the day was to do a lot of work, be an antagonist in the group, and gain race pace experience. The problem now was that as I drifted to the back of my group, which was now four, I left too big of a gap and was floating in “no mans land”.
I ride these roads often and know that there are three major hills on the route and all will make an impact on the outcome of the race. The first was coming up, a two stepped steep, paved berg and here I knew that if I recovered a little and put in an effort on the hill, I will make contact with the second group. Sure enough, by the top of the climb I was with the group and I’d studied the others to see who was hurting - one stuck out.
So there was four of us and the next climb up Mount Pettibone, another steep berg but this time on gravel, which in the past had caused separations; sure enough, on the climb we caught one of the group ahead whose elastic had snapped. Again, my observation of the others was that the same person took the hill at an easy pace, but caught the group easily as the road flattened out. Throughout the remaining miles he refused to take a pull, never looked uncomfortable, and clearly riding to his plan - but so was I.
I took long pulls, I kept the pace up and tried to slip the group with my knowledge of the roads. Eventually, one fell off the back and we were down to four: myself; the guy who wouldn’t pull; another who just destroyed one of my few Strava KOM’s; and another who I’d raced cyclocross against many times over the years and beaten me more than I had him (although over recent years that trend had reversed). As we approached the segment I’d driven and ridden, I slipped to the back of the group awaiting the last climb on Bruno Hill.
What I had noticed on the climb is that the road commission had re-graded the gravel such that at the turn onto the climb it was very loose, yet on the far left side of the road, it was still compact and hard enough to get out of the seat and hammer a higher gear. As we turned left onto Bruno Hill, I swept wide to the far left and hit it. A gap opened immediately: 10 yards, 20... at the top I kicked again, shifted to my heaviest gear and gave it my all down hill. By now I had over a hundred yards, my inner monkey was screaming “STOP”. The descent of Bruno Hill was about a mile with a sharp right turn at the bottom onto blacktop and another mile to the finish. I just gave it my all, dared not to look back and crossed with 14 seconds to spare. Phew. Now I have to ride home!?
Fourth on the day, a good ride, buried myself a couple of times, and a moral to all: always study the finish.
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