Sunday, July 26, 2009

Race Report: Tour of the Hilltowns 2009

If you know me, you know that this is not my kind of race. I can attack rollers and 3 minute climbs all day, but put a real climb in front of me and I wither. Despite the course's not suiting my skillset, I have raced Hilltowns 3 years in a row. It is one of the few selective, single loop hilly races in New England. If the word wasn't so overused, I may even call it epic.

The course is fairly simple, though quite a ball kicking 55 miles. Starts with a 20 mile descent/flat, turns onto East Hawley Rd (which is usually refered to as "The Infamous East Hawley Road Climb" when mentioned in print or IEHRC). After the IEHRC there is a decent, then some rollers and finally a grinding 10+ mile false flat broken up by short upkicks leading to a 1km finishing climb that feeds to a corner and then 200 meter to the finish.

The Race (before I got dropped)

Matt Spaits had aspirations of doing well in this race. Our team really couldn't figure out a way to help him other then keep the race together before the climb and then, if one of us was in his group, keep him sheltered and fresh for the finishing climb.

The start of the race was tame, smooth roads, fast descent. As usual, Leo Desforges was trying to start a break and various players covered, so he got nowhere.

About 12 miles in, the road surfaces deteriorated considerably. Chip seal, long longitudinal cracks and deep pot holes dominated this fast section. It was much worse than anything that Battenkill throws at you. Bicycle parts were breaking left and right. I saw a rear wheel explode, spokes hitting the frame, so far out of true that the wheel locked up; water bottles everywhere; riders swerving all over the road to avoid obstacles at 35-40mph. The wheel car ended up many minutes behind the peloton sorting out the carnage.

Both Threshold riders and about 5 others opened a gap on the first sketchy section. Immediately, I saw the danger. I commented to Jordan that we needed to get a man up. I knew that the road was bad enough that the main group was at a disadvantage to an organized break. Even if the break lacked organization, I knew that Leo would just pull them all away from us.

I slowly advanced to the front of the pack with the intent of bridging. I didn't plan on working in the break, merely sitting on the back in order to either cause them to stop working and bring them back or so that I got a free ride to the base of the climb ahead of the peloton. At this point, the break was clearly visible and within my ablities to bridge to.

There was a textbook sweeping left hand turn (no brakes needed) and some idiot in front of me basically locked his brakes up. I went from 3rd wheel to the back of the pack in less than a second. To top it off the road got even worse and much faster. This descent was bad enough that any prudent rider would avoid it even when alone. In a scared pack it was terrifying.

I am a mortal and a pussy. I don't take huge risks when road conditions are this bad. I remained with the pack, but every time that I dove into a gap to advance, I hit a jarring pothole or found my carbon tubular buried in a deep longitudinal crack. Eventually, realizing that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to win, I backed off and rode conservatively.

At this point the break wasn't visible. My teammates, in the confusion of shattering bikes, flats, lost water bottles and teeth rattling chip and seal, thought that I had bridged to the break. They wouldn't have blocked for me either way, knowing that I would get shelled on the climb, but they also didn't chase even though they had firepower massed near the front. By the time they realized that I was relaxing in back, it was too late to organize an effective chase. No other teams took any initiative either, despite CB's considerable cajoling.

On the first roller I allowed my momentum to carry me through the slower riders and was able to arrive at the IEHRC in the front 4/5 of the pack.

The Goddamned Climb

My plan was to stomp the pedals until I literally blew up. Normally on a selective climb, I back off before implosion so that I have gas in the tank to catch the front group on the descent. Normally, this strategy works out fine, as there are always a few determined sprinters to work with. This never works at Hilltowns. The descent is not steep enough and the roads are fairly straight and smooth, so the advantage is with a big group instead of a smaller one.

Basically, I was blocked or stuffed. I had no punch in my legs. I was dropped early, earlier than normal even. I wasn't even able to push hard enough on the pedals to bring myself to cardio vascular exhaustion and nausea. I am pretty sure that I was the last non mechanically delayed rider over the climb. I didn't have to swerve all over the road or anything, but I was slow.

My excuse is that I did some hill work on Tuesday, but more importantly, I went on a very hard (at least for me with my lack of handling skills) mtb ride with Colin R and Cary on Wednesday. In fact the ride was hard enough that I was limping all day Thursday and I still have pronounced bruises on my quads from going over the handlebars (normally, I don't bruise).

The Rest of the Race

I descended as fast as I could, but I never saw the peloton again.

I overtook a few riders. I worked with people briefly, but seemed to gap all of them on rollers and rode away from them. I wasn't trying to drop them, they just must have dumped it out on the climb.

The final false flat section was miserable. It climbs slowly into a moderate to severe headwind. I was overtaken by the master's front group and a couple of chases. I was struggling to keep a respectable pace seriously wondering why I enter races like this when I know that I am going to finish alone and 5-15 minutes off the leaders. There is nothing more frustrating than riding 12 mph in your drops in the little ring. 10 miles of this made me hate riding bicycles, not to mention racing them.

At the base of the climb, I saw D'Alessio of Threshold ahead. I didn't dig deep, but I rode faster than I would have if no one from my field had been up the road.

I caught him near the top, sat on his wheel and attacked him in the final corner. It was too far. It was the longest 200m I have ridden in awhile. D'Alessio came around me with 25 m to go. Colin Murphy claims that I was sprinting with my hands in the hoods, which may explain my crappy sprinting performance (though I doubt it).


Spaits and Ryan were within throwing distance at the top of the climb, but weren't able to make contact. The break stuck and as far as we all know, Leo Desforges was the first Massachusetts rider over the finish line, which makes him the category 3 Massachusetts State Road Champion. Congratulations Leo and to Threshold, well played, seriously well played.


mattd said...

I can relate to your last 15mi experience. I too was solo at this point (having been dropped on Hawley despite the head start, then dropped by my chase group (with Winkler running the show) on another hill before rt 9). the wind was brutal and I was yelling at myself out loud to htfu in various ways. Nice effort catching me and putting in those digs. it's never too late for us non-climbers to stretch the legs, thanks for waking me up with a strong finish. See you out on summit ave and thanks for tagging our team's website.

CoryJ said...

RMM-glad to see that I am not the only pu$$y out there: the 1st 20 miles had me scared poopless. It also put my wheel in the truing stand this afternoon...glad we all made it through there safely. Jesse had a strong finish with me in the 4s, Matthew hung tight on the climb with one other from CB...kudos to all.

Colin R said...

You would've had basically the same experience at mount snow.

RMM said...


Maybe not. Until I upgrade next week, I am one of the faster climbers in cat 2 mountain biking.
The pain would have been the same or even worse, but my position in relation to my competitors would have been different.

Cary said...

We missed you at Mt Snow. You have to come get broken by the course at some point. I flatted twice. Good fun.

Jordan said...

@mattd - sorry about that. My legs were filled with hate from the lack of chasing in the field.

I realized today i totally wrecked my headset during the race.

leo said...

Thanks for the props RMM... humbled...

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