Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Green mt. stage race, cat 3

So after the whole summer of racing, with some real good and not so good results, missing the big one (Fitchburg) for work, yes work, Tyler Durdan would not be happy, it was all coming down to this, the Green Mt, Stage Race. With one very loyal but under powered teammate, I would use all my training and tricks to go for the elusive win and get those last few points I needed to upgrade to cat 2 and race with the big boys. And so as I tried to figure out how many points I needed with the chasing pack so close I could hear them gasping for air, the roar of the finish line announcer bellowing my name and enough lactic acid running through my veins to kill a small dog my mind went blank. Would this all be for not? Would I not make it to the big time or be lost in anonymity?
I had just come off a double race weekend, where I road the best I had all yr. I felt great! Like lance must feel while he waits and times his attack to best coincide with the camera. Some rest and the perfect amount of intervals were making me feel like ripping the heart out of anyone I saw on a bike. Driving to work one morning I gunned it as I saw the walk signal light up. Lucky no cars were coming. I had fire running I my veins, and just enough ignorance to really go for it with no fear, like a child skiing, they know no fear, none.
So after all the build up one would think I would have been pretty unhappy with 12th in the prologue. But, I was not. I felt good. Maybe not great but as good as one can while getting dropped with 800m to go to the finish.
I decided that it was still anyone’s race and the next day I felt pretty fresh. I would play things conservative and try for some KOM points. The hills hurt any way right, so why not. I scored a few points getting into the top 3 on all 3 times up the never ending stair steeped , 3 mile climb. The last one I really had to dig deep but I thought 2nd was worth it. In the last 11 miles to the finish I was feeling the affects of my big ring, hill sprints and the 24 mph avg. Trying to work my way up the inside of the pack I was very focused. 8 miles to go water bottles are empty, breath deep, almost there. I would try and get up there in the finish despite the 53-11 Cipo type sprint not suiting me. Never the less I must try. I was praying Matt (my teammate) would come flying by and drag my fatigued body up to the front so I could attempt to be a sprinter for 30 seconds or so. He never did, dropped on the final climb after covering early attacks by some dangerous riders. He succeeded in helping keep the race together and I finished somewhere in the 40’s with the pack. After a warm kiss from Lindsay and cold recovery drink I was feeling… alright considering the course, our speed and my Richard Viranqu hill sprinting efforts.
Now things start to get desperate. Back to the room. 4:30 already. I’m totally cracked. And our race goes off at 8:50am. Time for some more food. Not too much though, Lots of water and a shower.
Ok feeling a bit better. Nice massage from Lindsay, some vitamins, and another bottle of Emergence-C, my life blood. “Ok dinner time Matt” he’s passed out on the floor, feet up while the top 100 hottest rock stars ticks down on VH1. Rice, lots of rice, chicken and some veggies in a nice stir fry. By the time were done with dinner its after 7:30. gotta change the gearing on my trusty stead and make sure my ultra light racing tires can handle the 30 MPH dirt road we would barrel down in 14 hr. from now. 45 minutes after dinner I’m starving. Eggs, some toast and more rice. A big glass of red wine and changing my cassette was never so complicated.
9:30 I’m comatosed. Thinking of what the mayhem they call the road race would bring my way tomorrow. I moved from 12th the 10 on GC and was second in the KOM competition. Had to move up tomorrow. Top 5 was not out of reach. I had to perform at my best and have some good luck.
The alarm at 5:50 was not a welcome sound. I reached up hit power on the coffee maker and tried to get a few more minutes of being horizontal. Only 2 days of racing and already I felt like the smallest details would make a difference. Some leftover pasta was heated up, coffee was poured. We started to come around. A warm shower, big bowl of cereal, more coffee. All right! I may go so far as to say I’m feelin… good now. A bottle of drink, from shakle of course, and a secret protein concoction I learned from Heavy-T and we where in the car on our way to the start. Cold, it bit me as I walked to the car. Not winter cold but cold that made my nose tingle, my bare feet crunched the dirt slash gravel parking lot as I walked to the car to pack my bike. Ok legs are… we’ll they come around, I have 90 minutes till race time. My second trip to the bath room gave me confidence that today would be good, my legs would be anyway. “do you have everything”, Lindsay said. She was more nervous than I was. “yah I think.” “you might want this”, she says, holding up my water bottles for the day and my helmut, “ahh, those are for pussy’s!” I say.
Ok so minor catastafy avoided. I’m treated to being called to the front of the group as I am now in the top 10 over all. The start of the RR is always cold, it not even 9am and were all riding the breaks for the first few miles as we glide neutrally down from mad river glen ski area to the rt. 100 were things will surly heat up. The first few miles were relaxed and it seemed that the riders were recognizing my as if I was in the top 3? Wired I thought. But , that’s what makes this race so great, I always feel like a pro here. I was riding well and in contention for the KOM jersey. More importantly to me was the over all and a good result today and it seemed like everyone in the pack knew it. As my moves were marked, I was let through anywhere I needed when the tempo was slow and I was even given a push when nature called at 25 mph, thanks who ever that was.
After 5 miles the attacks started and did not stop. A break slipped off the front containing some very strong people, climbers and sprinters alike it was impressive to see them dangle off the front for 10 minutes while the pack was simply hammering. Slowly they drifted away, and tension grew. My main competitors were still with me but 1 or 2 top ten guys were away. we hit the first climb I ditched some clothes, grabbed a bottle of cytomax and fired down my second gu. I moved up to second wheel and watch a display of power and determination I have never seen, as Joe moody dragged the entire pack up the climb caught the break and then sprinted by them for 2nd place on summit of Middlebury gap and take the KOM jersey. This effort not only put him in the jersey but joined him up with a teammate. Not realizing this I kept it under the hood on in the last 500 meters of the climb and found my self chasing the lead group.
Logan Hodgason of brc was laying it down for his team mate and kept the select group away for some time. I eventually joined with 3 other riders. The pace was smooth and steady and a larger group caught us at the start of the sharp hill as we began the dirt road section.
As always, I felt great on the short climb after a rest and moved to the front, good thing because logan was at it again laying down 30 mph tempo for his teammate Joe with myself in 3rd wheel. The pack was shredded to pieces again. 10 riders in the front group, Joe flats and I see my chances of coming in top 3 or even wining the stage becoming better and better! Ok where’s matt I need him…now! Little did I know how much I would need my “team” just as I saw the pavement start again, I flatted. “FUCK!” Skidding to a halt I screamed for Lindsay. She was waiting at the end of the road with my pit wheels, she sprinted down the road dropping the unneeded wheel, dodging cyclist as she crossed the road. I switched the wheel without to much panic and was off.
I didn’t even look her in the eye. My focus was so intense, the focus you read about or see in gymnastics at the Olympics. It was not until later that day I realized that the efforts of my teammates and teammates themselves came in all forms. Not only in the big lead out to the finish line, remembering your helmet, or even sprint across the road while almost getting hit by crazed cyclist. Its every day, telling you can when you start to think you can’t. it’s the training partner that says no Eric, we’re still going the long way home, while yelling over the roar of the poring rain. Its not complaining when you were supposed to go to linins and things but your asleep on the couch after the 5 hr. sat ride. Its hanging out in Fitchburg, ma while you ride around in a circle for hours and hours and saying “yah I had fun!” yah right “fun”. Its all of those things that constantly patch the ever shredding will to keep going. The will that we as athletes push to the brink every day, day after day, week after week, training cycle after cycle.
However despite all of this I was now off the back trying to decide which small group of riders would be the one to bring me back up to the front of the race. These decisions are much harder when your hart rate is 196 and your in full panic, chase mode. All my training was going to be for not I thought. After a minute or so of that I thought “this is it eric time to step up”, I went into full rage. Smart rage, but still a rage. Going past small groups they grabbed my wheel but after hoping they would pull through with an even faster tempo they fell of my wheel? I was flying. Dropping people on the flats! “Wow!” I thought. As the front group was in sight I slowed a bit and worked carefully with one other rider to close the last bit. A few minutes of relative rest in the pack and the right hand turn that started the final selection was upon us. The climb to Appellation Gap.
Lindsay and I drove this climb on the first day before the TT . The first 5 or so miles to “baby gap” were not to steep a few sections of 8% but some very long sections of 4 and 5 as well. The pace fell into a rhythm quickly. I moved to the front, breathing deep and concentrating on my pedal stroke. Joe was back in the group as well. I was on the inside of the road second wheel of a bunched 3 or 4 wide pack. The pace was slow, this worried me because someone would surely attack, matt was gone, I learned later the dirt road had clamed his wheel as well. Minute after minute slipped by, no attack and the pace seemed to be almost…easy. The first 2+ hr’s of racing was so intense. The breakaway put serious pressure on the field. attack after attack, the domestiques trying to keep it together and keep the tempo high as well had hurt every one and left a small group early on the final climb with no help from any teammates. I started to argue with myself, “attack now!” I thought, “no no I have to be patient” man were going slow, if we go this slow until the last 2k I’ll get dropped bad” this was true I looked around and the riders still here were the ones that beat be in the TT. Which is all about max power out put, hence what it would come down to if we waited until the last 10 minutes or so. Yes yes longer race and that plays into it but… My legs had had enough of my brain and they were off. Not a hard attack just an acceleration. Smooth. No one even flinched, I put more into it. Still nothing. A few minutes later I had the motor bike up with me and I was at 110%. This is it I thought no turning back now. No sitting in if I get caught to rest. I knew that I could go up the “not so steeps” better than most. 4% I through it into the big rig as the wind died and was really flying now. I felt so strong. I need a big gap if I was going to make it up the last 5k they started steep after a short down hill and did nothing but get steeper and steeper. The last kilometer was 17-20%. That’s so steep driving your car up it is scary. “1 minute” said the race marshal. Breath I said to my self, concentrate, and push. I had to open up the gap but if I pushed to hard I would blow in the finally moments of the race and come to a dead stop. 1:30 she said, sweet that’s going the right way I drank the last its of my cytomax on the short decent and tock some deep breaths, 2 minutes she yelled as I tried to carry my momentum up the first steep section of the final 5k to the finish.
I had been riding for almost 3 hr’s now. This the hardest, most eventful and insane race I had ever been in. win or lose I thought I’m giving it everything no matter what its all-out to the finish. The climb bit, my speed slowed and the legs began to burn. A different burn than the wells ave burn, not the hill interval burn, it’s the over 3 hr burn. The one that you can feel in your bones, it creeps up into your gluts, and then your lower back, I could feel my abs begging to try and help the effort, it so immense, my body so fatigued it was calling on every ounce of energy it had. I focused. If my mind faded the slightest I would crack instantly. The crowd started to get bigger as I road the cheers louder “1:30” my gap was coming down but I was still going good. I was out of the saddle with the smallest felling that the legs were slowing down. I tock a peek behind, nothing. Louder cheers from the side of the road. I felt like I was in the Tour. I started to think I could win. “45sec.” she said. I thought maybe not as kilo 3 to 2 to go seemed to take for ever. Gota push, gota go, I thought. I wish I had a picture of myself in the last 2 k because I bet if you looked close enough it wasn’t me riding that bike, something else tock over. One rider past me from our lead pack, right by, but then seemed to hover 100m or so in front of me. The wind started to blow as I climbed in altitude, the last K. Out of the saddle all the time now trying to stay in the 24 and not go to the 27. 500 to go the pack was right behind me now. I through both water bottles away, despite the fact they weighed nothing empty. I went into full sprint mode, caching the rider that passed me earlier, the pack came by one by one. “hold on ek hold… my vision blurred, I was some where I had never been. Trying to count the riders in front of me the road faded and twisted away. someone grabbed me as I crossed the line an marshaled me of to the side. Not bad I started to think as I laid on the ground at the summit as things came back into perspective I broke into tears, I had never pushed my self like that before. Never. Lindsay came up to me with some drink and a what happened look, she was behind the main pack. I couldn’t explain. Come to find I was 6th a good result yes, I was happy more so with my efforts and my attack. And most of all was the way I felt after 5 or more of my peers came up to me after the race awestruck at my move. They just couldn’t believe it. That was the most respected I had ever felt as a bike racer. It was the best moment of the event for me.
That highly respected effort put me into 7th over all left me totally gassed. I was tapped 100%. I still wanted to try and win a race and the crit although not a strength of mine, on a course like the one in down town Burlington some wind and on the 4th day of racing, it could be my strength. I decided that a late break would be the move and I had to not get caught out in the first laps as I normally did. My start was good and the pace, yet again, did not seem to be that of the start of a crit; blood coming out of my ears, Jan Ulrich pace. Never the less I held my position and after the first sprint the pace slowed and I moved to the front and then drifted off the front. Huh? 90% 90 % 90%, a lap off the front and I had a gap. 100% 100% 100% 100%!! I was gone. Early? Yes, too early probably but races aren’t on a script. Someone would join me? Either way if this was going to work I needed to put out the effort of my life. A concentrated on my turns. Pedaling through all of them with the exception of the crazy down hill 90 degree turn. I found my rhythm pushing hard after the hill and into the head wind on the back side, easing a bit on the down hill and building again up the hill and so on. My gap was large and I thought this would be the best win ever. I felt like I was out front forever I tried not to look at the lap cards in fear I would break mentally. The halfway prim came, 5 more GC points for me and 50$ “cool! gas money to get home”. Pounding away, I road every lap like it was my last. It was in a way. I would up grade to a cat 2 shortly after this race was over. Not long after the half way money line for me I was joined by the 8th place GC rider. A tall guy, strong, we quickly tried to get the rhythm going, taking long smooth turns at the front then slipping to the back for a rest. When there are only 2 or even 4 riders in a break-a-way situation it doesn’t feel like its easier in the back, if anything the mental control you feel on the front lifts you up a bit. So there’s no real “rest”. But as long as the transitions are smooth and there is no “lull” in the pace making the speed will be higher. This was good. I wasn’t sure that would be able to take on and beat this rival at the finish but it was to early to think of that.
We had cease fire and become friends. Well let’s not get ahead of our selves, lets say, new teammates. We traded leads and our gap was holding. We had to work together to the very end if we were to stay away. knowing all along that at some moment we would betray each other in the worst way. Yet we still had to commit to each other, depend on each other because the only way that either one of us would have the chance to win was to be “new teammates”. Only to stab the other in the back in order to claim victory for ourselves. So brutal this sport, so savage. Any other sport second place would be great. ohh eric that’s so great you “won second” they would all say. Won second?! What the hell is that??
We went round and round that dam circle. at times I felt like he was going to slow and I thought whether I should attack him now or encourage him to push harder. The next moment I was begging him to slow down as I slipped from his wheel. People cheered, they played my favorite song from incubus over the loud speakers, Lindsay and Martha (Matts wife) screamed encouragement and our time gaps. I heard nothing. Nothing but the draining of blood from my head to my legs, and that techno song. I don’t know the name of it but goes forever and just builds and builds. It just keeps going and going just like I had to. We must be getting close I thought. I dare not look, “10 laps to go!” the words from the announcer were like a tree crashing into my house of pain and concentration. I tried to stay focused. Just then we were joined by 4 riders. The race leader, Joe in the KOM jersey, the man who came in second on day two, and one other who was in the top 5. One thing entered my mind HANG ON FOR DEAR LIFE , this was some horse power! If I could hang on to the finish, maybe come around one guy at the line I would move up again over all for sure. Ok, so not the big show I was hoping to put on but it was a long shot anyway. After a few fast laps we slowed, they were all watching each other rather than going for it. And I can’t really blame them. If the race leader wanted to hold his lead he had to be up there in the finish. So if he put it all on the line and we got caught he would be in trouble. On the other hand all we had to do was not stop pedaling and we would have made it. Our break was arguably the 6 or so strongest men in the cat 3 Pellaton of that whole yr. I attacked, in vain I had no acceleration left I was desperate to stay away now. Our gap came down. We slowed again and I attacked again. As I rounded a corner on the back stretch I did so with the whole of the cat 3 pellaton of the 2004 green mt stage race. My bid for glory, my show of power and my goal of getting that one win of the yr. was gone. Not only that but the speed was such that I was slipping to the back fast. I tried to breath and relax. No good. If I came off the back now I would loss my place in the over all and the points I needed to up grade to cat 2. Every thing I had fought for was slipping away. Just then a hand was placed on my lower back and in a small, firm, quick, and controlling push I was guided through a turn and brought up to the speed of the pack. It was Matt. Just when I had thought all was lost Matt pulled in front of me and closed the always opening gaps, smoothly and with confidence. I was glued to his wheel. He road with such ease and power it was amazing. Turning around to make sure I was there every so… way to often it seamed for the 5 turn, 2 hill, 1 K loop. Matt fell back with me then pulled me back up, yelling encouragement the whole time. He got me back up to the front half with 3 or so to go and another attack had me fighting again. But not alone. Matt was still there riding like I have never seen him. He looked so effortless. I began to feel bad, looking after me, he could have come in top 5 or 3 today I thought. What was that I said about this being a selfish sport, savage sport? May not? If it was not for my established teammate, Matt Wilson, I would have not held onto my 7th place over all. Not only that but I may have not gotten there to begin with. Martha and daisy (there big, black lab) lifted our sprits every moment of the long 4 day weekend. Teammates; all of them. With there presents I would have not recovered as well, been as happy and care free, or remembered my helmet. It’s the whole process, the whole trip, the whole event. Green mountains, yeah, there green alright like you can’t imagine. It was as I sprinted for the line, again losing ground, I realized not only my efforts but my teammates. Every moment of every day they were there for me. “Eric, do you need water, eric do you want food, Ek do you wana move up now, no I’ll go to the car and get that.” Teammates, totally unselfish and there, every steep of the way.
There is a story about God and footsteps in the sand. Gods prints in the sand were in front when he lead the way, beside when he walked with and behind when he let us lead. Then the question is asked, “why god during the worst, hardest times of my life, when I needed you the most your foot steeps were not there”, god replied, “those are not your footsteps, they are mine, I was carrying you”. Well Matt’s foot steeps are all over the Green Mountains. On my escapade up to app gap, in my last desperate bid for glory in downtown Burlington, VT and from the car to hotel. All the footsteps, all the tire marks, Matt carrying me, my team carried me, our team carried each other I guess.
Four, well 5 including daisy, went to the mountains of VT but we only left one set of foot prints.
Our teams prints.

Entered by: Eric Kenney