17th Annual Sterling Classic Road Race - May 7, 2011

The Sterling Classic has been hosted by my club, The Minuteman Road Club for 17 years and this year marked the second time I competed in the Cat 5 35+ field. Since Battenkill, I made a few trips out to the race course to remind my legs what they would be getting into going up the start/finish along Meeetinghouse Hill Road.

I also engaged in various religious, non-religious and black arts rituals in an effort to prevent a repeat of last year's horrendous weather. As in the case with Battenkill, the week leading up to Saturday had me so busy with work and personal commitments that my "taper" was dangerously close to a "full stop", training-wise. I found myself still packing up the car and cooler well past 11 pm Friday night.

Head hits pillow, eyes close, alarm goes off.  :: sigh ::

The forecast was looking very good with temps to be in the 50's and 60's with a fairly low chance of rain.

Coffee and oatmeal made and eaten, I headed out to Sterling. After a drive around the course, I head to the staging area at the school, check in with Ian R who gave the volunteers their last minute instructions. I'd be marshaling later after my race.

Pin on my number, set up the bike and start warming up along the roads near the school. Easy pedaling with a few jumps here and there to wake up the type II muscles... knowing that they would get a much more intense stirring when the race began.

Silly bike: even though I gave it a very complete tune up a few days earlier, my drive train was making an annoying clicking sound that I could not pin down. I decided that it would either be lost in the noise of the pack or could work to my advantage, letting others think I was more of a noob/fred/doofus than I really am.

Before I knew it, 8:35 rolled around and it was time for my field to assemble. Jorge H, our former club president call myself and fellow club members John R and Doran A to the front of the field and took our picture.

Yeah, we're all smiles NOW.
The pace car rolled and we started heading into town.

The driver of the pace car kept us honest by going less than 20 mph and I maintained my position at the front all the way in. My race-induced tunnel vision was fully engaged as I was completely unaware of anyone to either side of me. Looking down at my computer showed my HR already starting to climb, surely due to some anxiety about what was soon to happen.

My plan: stay with the main group and not do any ill-advised breaks for the lead like I did last year. If I found myself near the front at the end, unleash myself upon Meetinghouse Hill like no tomorrow and deal with the consequences later.

On the way up to the start, I made one more incantation to "race my race" and not freak out at the beginning if anyone took off on the hill. Up we went, the dozen or so people along the way cheered and I remained in front as the race began.

No wincing, cramping or heavy breathing. Yet.

I let a few people slip by me on MHH and as expected, regained position as we continued under the 190 overpass. Nothing much to report on lap one except that at one point on Route 12, an unattached rider got a few yards ahead of the rest of us and wove his bike back and forth across the road.

Taunting? Showing off? Just feeling good? Beats me. My thought was either he was a ringer or a douche, maybe both.

For the rest of the first lap, I was variously pulling or in the top 10 wheels. Coming back around to MHH, again I lost a few places on the way up but gained them back on the next climb and after. I felt calm and reasonably strong.

When we turned from Rowley to Heywood on lap 2, I did a little seated acceleration just to keep the others on their toes, the pace was THAT leisurely at that point. The course takes a little descent right after the turn so I didn't sacrifice any matches. I got pretty far ahead and somebody who caught my wheel asked if I was serious. I barely had time to shake my head "no" when the pack swallowed us back up on the next incline.

When we got onto the newly paved North Row Road, I was maybe 3 rows back when I heard the dreaded crunch and "UGH!" and "Watch out!" that's concurrent with somebody going down. Hyper alert for the possibility of the tangle being in my path, I saw John R going by to the left of the yellow line, on his ass with his bike laid out before him. And then I heard another crunch as somehow, somebody else was across the yellow line and hit his bike.

At that instant, said to myself, "Now, it's up to YOU!" and felt as if John crashing out of the race passed on some additional "mana" and responsibility to me. I became more resolute in concentrating on my game plan.

This time, along Rte. 12, a different unattached rider had the lead position with me as second wheel. After a minute pulling or so, he began drifting to one side then then other, looking for me (or someone else) to take over. I let him know the futility in this and advised him to instead, hold a straight line and just slow down until somebody got sick of going so slow.

That somebody was me.

But I didn't pick up the pace that much and as we passed Dunkin Donuts and began the gradual climb back into town, others grew impatient with MY pace and I let them by. Somewhere along this section, I realized that John R had miraculously rejoined the race. Woot!

Once again, I drifted back through the pack up MHH but this time,  just as I was regaining contact with the group as we turned onto Heywood, two guys were 30-40 yards up the road with no one seeming to care.

Following the example set by my Cat 4 team mates in races earlier this season, I saw a chance to help John. As I passed him, I said something like, "latch on" or "let's go get 'em" and I turned on the gas. Later, somebody else confessed that he grabbed my wheel before John did but I assumed John (and a bunch of others) followed suit. I hammered hard for a good long minute until we swallowed up the break.

Could they have sustained the break? A more prudent mind would likely have said "no" but as I found out watching the 4's later on, you ignore a break at your peril: a solo break early in their race maintained a 1 minute lead for many laps all the way to victory. And you never know if you got a ringer in your field when you are racing the 5's.

Soon after that, John had a near miss at a SECOND crash on North Row. Meanwhile, even though I fired off a bunch of bullets catching the break, the peloton graciously resumed it's pokey pace, allowing me to recover once again.

We hit Rte. 12 at a reasonably fast clip, me taking a fairly wide line just in case a squirrely noob-bot lost his nerve on the turn. The pace continued to slowly increase and when we got to the DD's this time, the race was finally ON. Of course, this was the moment my quads decided to hint that they'd had enough, but I was able to continue to feather on the power without upsetting them into total crampage.

Unfortunately, others in the field were feeling a bit better than I was and soon enough, dribs and drabs of them began passing me as we rounded the turn past the fire station at the bottom of MHH. I had to stop this erosion of my postion in the race, but I knew if I got out of the saddle on the hill, I'd be a knotted mess of cramped muscle on the ground.

Meanwhile, John was ahead, in a pitched battle up the hill to the finish and was beat there by Mr. Swervy Pants from early in the race, who later confessed that he was a former Cat 2 racer returning to the sport after many years. That's two 2nd place finishes for John in a row, the last one being at Blue Hills.

For my part, I progressively shifted to easier and easier gears while ramping up my cadence. This seemed to the way to go as I reeled in three of the guys that had just passed me and, breathing as hard as I ever have in my life, wheeled across in 16th.

It's a wonder I didn't grind my teeth down to little stumps.

Turns out, I matched the climb time I recorded on the way up the first time, when my legs were "fresh". Go figure.

Afterwards, I got some constructive criticism from John R regarding the amount of time I spent on the front. I don't know, I wasn't working that hard when I was up there and yes, even if I wasn't working very hard, everyone else behind me had it easier. Could less time up front have left me with more joules for the finish?

Interesting footnote - while rooting around on Colin Reuter's road-results.com, I stumbled upon this happenstance: I finished one place ahead of the SAME GUY I beat by one place in this race last year:

(click for easier viewing)

This year, the ride back to the staging area at the school was much more pleasurable and after a quick change and repacking my bike in the car, I was headed back up to Meetinghouse Hill Road. Of course I brought my camera along and got photos of the mens 4's before I went on duty as marshal above the start/finish and later, the mens 3's, and both the pro 1/2 men's and pro 1/2/3 women's races (many more photos here):

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