For some reason, I listened to my wife who thought leaving at 11 for a 1:45 race was crazy. I regretted waiting until nearly noon to leave when I found myself sitting at a dead stop in Rte 3 South traffic at 12:45 with 8 miles to go. Arrived at Norwell Town Hall at 1:00 got my numbers and geared up. Was on my bike at about 25 past and rode up and down Bowker Street a few times as it has a hill similar to the one the leads to the start/finish on the course.
Made my way back to Town Hall and found shelter from the 90º+ heat in the shade of a tree with some other Cat 5's waiting to race. I was looking around for the guys the road-results race predictor might be in the top 5 but didn't I.D. any of them. Soon enough we were staging up and rolling along behind the pace car.
As we poked along down Forest Street, I re-ran my game plan in my head. This plan mostly consisted of avoiding the mistakes I made last year: being on the front too much, being out in the wind too much, burning all my matches before the finish... And of course, there I was, out in front. Again.
|Ready to roll.|
8 TO GO: As soon as we made the first turn onto Circuit Street and headed up the hill, one guy immediately stomped on it and when the two of us got to the top, he asked, "Wanna go?"
"I got yer wheel," I replied, figuring if he was the real deal and too much for me, I could fade back easily enough an recover for the next 7 laps. But just as I was going for his wheel another guy got on it first so there were 3 of us on a break on the first lap. But it didn't last. Just as guy #1 called out to us to keep our pulls very short, the pack gathered us back up again. I'd say we were out there maybe 1/3 of a lap.
7 TO GO: My plan on the start/finish hill was to stay light in the pedals, keep my cadence on the high side as I climbed to the top to save energy for the end. Others who could at first seemed stronger passed me but I was passing them over the top as they were gassed and soft pedaling. I made my way towards the front again on the descending portions of the back "straight" on Circuit.
6 & 5 TO GO: only thing to report here is one guy who kept calling out, "Coming up the middle!" and "Hey, hold your line" all the while scaring the crap out of me because he wiggled around so much. It's one thing to have the occasional bump with another rider in the pack but this guy seemed to use the guys around him as a physical navigation aid. And why ALWAYS come up the middle?
Meanwhile, I was maintaining a position on the inside that seemed to work well compared to when I am on the outside: on the outside, it is so much easier to get squeezed further out and be in the wind and lose position. If this happens on the inside, you can grab a new wheel as everyone squeezes inside to carve the turn. Risky as you can get run right off the road, but it was working for me. Except for that telephone pole planted on the right edge of the pavement where the road narrows to one lane - there's a slight dogleg right there and every time I went by, I said a little prayer that nobody would bump me over into it.
The 5 TO GO lap was our fastest at over 24 mph, but it didn't seem so fast to me. I seem to remember the whole race was faster last year. There was another abortive break of 4 that petered out on the slight incline on Forest.
4 & 3 TO GO: At the top of the start/finish going into 4 TO GO, there was a good separation between the first 10 or so and the rest, I was at the back of that group and swung to the outside as this big dude came by. I need the rest I would find in his draft. He was a bit wobbly but good shelter for the next half a lap compared to the skinny guy I was just behind. I stayed in the top 10, looking for stable wheels to follow and stayed alert if they started to fade and new blood came to the front.
The two mini-packs melded back together soon after that.
2 TO GO: The start/finish climb was definitely harder this time but it seemed to be for everyone around me too, a lot of huffing and puffing. I was able to hold position at about 10th wheel. As we rounded onto Forest for this second-to-last time, the pace slowed WAY down, a harbinger of things to come... And we were beginning to lap some stragglers too.
BELL LAP: The pack EXPLODED up the start/finish hill this time, leaving me behind as I was climbing the same pace I had on the earlier laps. Over the top, the main field must have had 30-40 yards on me. CRAP! I hoped if I didn't panic, I could reel them back in on the backside of the course where it is mostly downhill.
Just when I needed him, the same big guy from mid-race comes around me and had enough energy in him to give me (with a the help of a few burnt matches) a decent slingshot. Soon I was on the back of the pack and weaving my way to the front again.
This last time down Forest is where I squandered a number of places: I was probably about 15-17th wheel and still picking my way through a bunch of guys who had hit their limit. I should have been on the outside (no yellow line rule on this part of the course) and really drilling it. Once I could see the turn to the start/finish up ahead, people were already on it and going up. Damn.
I made the turn in the drops, got out of the saddle and gave it everything I had as I went up just right of the middle of the road. I could see the leaders up ahead and felt like I could at least reel in a few of those trailing behind. I passed three who were fading fast then noticed somebody all the way on the left who was powered up and just ahead of me. This was my little "race within the race", right there in the last 30 yards.
We both hit the line, throwing our bikes forward - he might have nipped me but I definitely let out the better "Howard Dean scream" as we crossed.
I finished in