19th Annual Sterling Classic Cat 5 Men 35+ - May 11, 2013

What can I say? It was a dreamlike and amazing day for me on Sunday. Especially when compared to last week's disappointing performance at the Blue Hills Classic (finished 19th of 43, off the back of the 18 man finishing break on the final climb).

Too pooped to pop at Blue Hills.

Got a really good night's rest Friday (unlike last week's sleepover party debacle). Arrive on site and after checking in did 10 min spin on the trainer before lining up.

Line up: With Jeremy's words "stay off the front" echoing in my mind (and knowing he would have his eye on me from the lead car), I looked down at my computer and saw my HR was below 100 BPM. Astounding: usually it goes WAY above that in the moments before a race.

Leadout to course: This part is a good add-on to the warm up and helps dispel lingering pre-race jitters. I think I reminded Marc C that we didn't HAVE to ride as fast as the lead car (Jeremy driving, lead foot  ;) )

Lap 1: That first time up Meetinghouse and beyond always jolts one fully awake even if you take it nice and slow. That home team placement at the front makes it imperative to do SOMETHING to get someone else doing the work ASAP. So, I punched it on the first descent down Heywood then eased up on the incline - this worked perfectly as the anxious field partially swarmed around me and I found a wheel to follow for a while.
First time up Meetinghouse - Pete Banach photo (more of his photos here)

Now I had a chance to look for the guys the race predictor said should be the ones to beat. One guy in a Peak kit seemed to stand out as strong and stable (I actually though he was the one the RP said should win, but wrongly ID'd him) - I kept my eye on him and pointed him out to teammate Eric Friberg as we rode along side-by-side for a moment. There were also guys from NEBC, NHCC and Bike Barn Racing that bore paying attention to.

At some point (on North Row?) the Peak guy (Stefano Zimei) made a little "test" break that made everybody pay attention to and drill it for a little while. Marc Cedrone made his own little move somewhere along there as well.

Then once we got onto Rte. 12 and passed over that first hump, it seemed like Eric, Stefano, myself and a coupla other guys had begun to fall into a rotating paceline, though we weren't really doing any damage on the guys behind us. My hope was that we'd start to pick up the pace once our little group seemed comfortable with the idea.

This looked promising for about two rotations and then, when the other two guys took their last pull, I noticed, all at once, that a) they weren't going to really work this into a break b) one of them had his number on upside down (not a good sign). I let Stefano know this was going nowhere as he came off the front and he agreed, I thought he and I had made a connection that lead to working together later for the benefit of both of us. Turns out, we each pretty much raced our own race from that point forward.

The rest of the first lap was uneventful.

Lap 2: 2nd time up the hill, I felt fully powered up and while winded as we went under 190, I wasn't tapped out. Good. I think it was here that I poured it on a little bit a hundred yards or so from the top using a technique my brother-in-law (a coach) clued me into: already spinning a bit, I spun it up even more for the push - I could hear those people who were mashing up to this point frantically finding a new gear to use to finish the climb. Someone behind me said something like, "Good, we've strung them out a bit."

Over the rollers leading to Heywood and though I drifted back to 15th wheel or so, I was comfortable where I was. I snuck a look behind me and saw that I was part of a group of about 20 that had separated from the rest who must have faltered as we passed under 190. Could not see anyone behind us.

I sat tight in the back 1/3 of the group and at one point had to play a little roller derby with somebody who surged forward and thought he could drift left onto the wheel I was following. I didn't budge, which surprised him, but luckily did not unnerve him as he only wobbled slightly and drifted back again. Never heard a complaint.

Once again up that last ramp on 12 then turn onto Meetinghouse with vague thoughts that this could be where I crack but again, I felt ok and was able to maintain position with the group.

Lap 3: Up and up we went, then under 190 for the last time, my legs feeling the burn and my lungs a little hot too as we crested. Kept my legs moving over the top but was behind two other guys with a 3-4 bike gap in front of them. I urged them to close it but it took no time to see they would/could not. So I rested for just a few seconds more then made my way around them and reattached to the group on the first roller after the 190 underpass climb. One solid match burned there.

The rest of the final lap had me knowing that I had to be REALLY conservative with my power output if I had any hopes of, if anything, beating the Race Predictor, which had me slotted 23rd after my dismal Blue Hills performance. Welp, I thought, if I stay with this group, I'll achieve that goal.

I also had in mind giving Eric a lead out somewhere on the way to, or up, Meetinghouse as he appeared to be riding very strong.

All the way from the 1st hump on 12 to the 12/62 intersection, the group dynamics consisted of repeated surges then BRAKING (or so it seemed from the back). I got a nice pull toward the front from Christian (BikeBarn) on the outside but then we got swallowed up by another surge from the outside. Then, for the first time all day, I went INSIDE and started moving forward. By the time we were at the final ramp up on 12, I was mid pack both front-to-back and left-to-right. Pretty sure Eric was just ahead of me and to the right.

Stefano (Peak) was well placed at 2nd wheel in front of our group as we approached the 2nd to last turn towards the finish. I made the decision to go small ring there rather than have to deal with that shift under the load of the final climb. I also got down into my drops at this point.

From there to the finish is a truly a blur, but I do remember getting to the left (outside) and starting to move forward, hoping that Eric would see me and follow. I realized I had to go farther than the guys on the inside but I also had the advantage of making that turn a wider, faster one than to have to take a sharp right onto the steeper grade of Meetinghouse.

I got onto MH and just started pedaling like a madman. Amazingly, I was passing people all the way up - I wanted to look down and make sure I really had my own legs, I could not believe I was getting them to do this!

I labored on up until about 15-20 feet from the finish and that last bit suddenly seemed like a MILE. I could hear people yelling, I was gasping deeper than I ever have before, I could SEE the finish line and two guys ahead of me.

I began to feel my legs start to turn to mulch, so I shifted and suddenly noticed one guy on either side of me coming on fast. CRAP! My gasping turned into some kind of yelling/yowling/gasping combination as I cranked those last feet. As I started to throw my bike forward across the line, it felt like I was pushing my CAR up that hill.

The next instant was total exhaustion and disbelief, did I REALLY come in THIRD? Surely, I didn't just pass 10-12 people on that hill, but apparently I did.

Left: It's official!    Right: collecting my winnings.

Credit where it's due:

•Chris Pare took the time to help me work out a training plan way back in February and kept one eye on what I was doing via Strava, so grateful for that help, Chris!

•Jeremy Cratty's repeated admonishments to stay off the front along with Bruce Thompson's encouragement to be more comfortable in the middle of the pack surely made an impact on my ability to keep a 1/4 tank of gas in reserve for the final effort. I used that ALL up on the finishing climb!

•My final hard effort workout, this past Wednesday was kind of a shot in the dark. I was really worried that my "taper" had turned into a "full stop" with several missed workouts due to work and family stuff. I also had Blue Hills on my mind all week as well. I realized that one workout would not make a dent on my overall fitness but I did know I could use it to really gauge how much pain I could take. So, I planned to make it REALLY REALLY hurt: a trio of FREAK OUT hill repeats plus that Taylor Road Return Trip segment were what I needed to approach that limit.

It was great to introduce myself to Stefano (who came in 1st) and Christian (2nd), pretty sure it was first podiums for the two of them as well. Bummed that I can't do Sunapee so I'm setting my sights on Purgatory next.


After I collected my winnings and changed out of my kit, I spent the rest of the day marshaling my traditional spot just above the start finish line.

Evidently whoever I had stopped to allow the race to pass by was not having a shitfit. This time. (Banach photo)

I look forward to fulfilling the requirement from our club to volunteer in some capacity for four hours a year by marshaling this location with both eager anticipation and dread in nearly equal proportions.

I love having an terrific view of a crucial spot on the racecourse, Meetinghouse Hill Road is very often the selection point for the Sterling Classic. I get set up with my folding chair, cooler, duffel of clothing and camera gear then photograph the 2nd half of the late-morning fields and marshal/photograph the afternoon fields.

"Marshaling" in this case involves stopping the traffic heading into Sterling along Meetinghouse when the peloton (or any sizeable breakaway) is coming up the hill. I get a heads up via radio that the race is on it's way, move a saw horse out onto the lane and wave the traffic to stop. The wait is typically 1-2 minutes.

Sadly, although the majority of Sterling seems to either ignore our race or outwardly support it (citizens volunteer to marshal and we had a contingent of Boy Scouts helping this year) there are some who bristle at the inconvenience of re-routed traffic and delays. And yes, there are reports every year of some idiot racer who seems to think he's in the TDF and takes a "nature break" when there are plenty of indoor and outdoor facilities available.

Still, our overall impact on the town is super positive and our 19 years of holding the race there is a great track record.

While there are (at least) two police officers directing traffic at the bottom of Meetinghouse, it is left to club members to handle the top (I have been lobbying for over a year to get a cop posted up there). And every year, there are a few drivers that a) know the bike race is happening and b) drive down Meetinghouse ANYWAYS, ostensibly so that they can have a confrontation with whoever is there.

This year, the notable crankypants drivers were an older gentleman who, as soon as he stopped, had his window down and was firing off f'bombs at me faster than you could shoot rounds from a MAC-10 ("I'm sick of your f-bomb bike race every f-bomb year...")  I asked him to be more patient and soon enough he was on his way.

The next trouble maker was a 20-something driver of a big black pickup truck with his buddy. Once I got them stopped, I spun around to take a couple photos of the racers coming up the other way when all of a sudden, he started to drive into the opposing lane of traffic to go around me and the saw horse. I jumped in front of him and got him move out of the way just as the peloton came by.

He shouted something at me so I snapped a few frames of his license plate and yelled that I now had his number. I thought this would do the trick to keep him in line but as soon as the large part of the group went by, he floored it and, tires roaring, he sped around me and down the hill - even as the race was still coming up in the other direction.

:: sigh ::

Those few encounters can put a good size dent in a "podium high". Luckily, there was no more trouble and I managed to get some excellent shots, which I am still editing. But here's a teaser of Luciano Pavan winning the Men's Pro 1/2 race:

L to R: Anthony Clark (Jam Fund - 3rd), Luciano Pavan (MetLife - 1st), Sean McCarthy (Champion Systems - 2nd)

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