The Tour Of CT:
With the Mild disaster of missing my TT start the past weekend I was really looking to prove my self. The only problem with that is “proving” ones self against the likes of mark McCormick, the Navigators team fresh from Europe, Olympic gold medalist Marty Nordstrom amongst many other hammer time pro cyclists, I wasn’t sure what, if anything I would be proving.
My week leading up to the race was full of very short rides, with just enough sprints and short threshold efforts to keep the legs going good. The last stage race was not as hard for me as I had expected due to my lack of time telling skills and dyslexia. Because of this I was feeling over rested and found myself running up stairs at work more often than not. A long warm up was needed before the first stage. A 800 meter crit around the green in New Haven, CT we had 4 lanes so plenty of room not that we needed it, 140 pro cyclist single file at 30 MPH only have about 1 option through a turn.
Our new kits arrived at my house in Newton an hour before Lindsay and I were to leave. A few last minute items were packed and the next thing I knew I was getting dressed next to the likes of Olympic gold medalist, national champions and 100 other piston legged monsters. I threw down a cliff bar during my rushed warm up on my trainer and didn’t even realize the small crowd that had gathered around to watch, ask us questions and get “up close” to the action. This was no “Postal bus” crowd but still this was the real deal. I felt like one of “them” the big dogs, the ones you talk about on the way to the race or while watching OLN. Well let’s not get ahead of my self, got to get through today first. Getting dropped and pulled before half way and it was all over. Done. Thanks for comin to play, have a nice drive home with your regrets.
The crit was lightning fast. Not that I have never gone that fast before even been on the front but this speed never let up. Not once. I came around a few guys to move up on one of the longer straight-a-ways and soon found myself maxed out trying to push my biggest gear, I fought my way back into the pack to get a draft. Only to find that the pro’s don’t move over as easily as the 3’s do. In fact I soon fell back further in the pack than I was in the first place! I surfed the back third for the remainder of the race feeling very good, easily spinning and never really feeling maxed out. The race blazed on and I concentrated more, trying to move up on the corners and only get out of the saddle when I absolutely had to. 10 laps to go. The paced steeped up and became more relentless. 5 to go totally strung out now. At three to go my legs started to feel the effort and as I looked up ahead the field was shattered, “what?!, some one was going faster?!” I couldn’t believe it. I sprinted around riders going backwards, closing gaps in the best TT fashion I could 45 seconds later it was all over. Crowds cheering, bells ringing and my adrenal glands still trying to keep up with the leaders. A little cool down, recovery drink and in the car to the Kenney home. It was 8:30pm “wholly crap Lindsay, was that as fun to watch as it was to ride? Yah, actually it was!?”
Day 2 saw us in Waterbury center for the “climbers cup” a touchier test of climbing, anaerobic endurance, descending skills, and total disregard for ones general well being. A 4 mile circuit that saw us climbing straight up, turning around, flying back down, around the center of town green so every one could see us and back up. I had that nervous, uncontrollable energy as I rode up front on the first lap. I had to calm down. The crowds were incredible, cheering yelling my number. Right there, so close. I lost most of my ground on the first decent, the legs still felt alright on the 3 lap, still 13 to go, however. As we came down the top of the decent disaster struck and that sound ripped through my very sole. That sound that would send any cyclist to there knees praying for their mother or god or both. That shattering carbon fiber sound. That sound of aluminum bending and dragging across pavement. If you have never heard it before, you should not long to. It is horrible, it has pain and suffering encrypted into it and every cyclist has the code. I looked up to see bikes flying across the road in front of me. I swerved and hit the brakes. A rider to my right swerved into me as we attempted to avoid the crash. My back wheel locked up and I tried to bring silver (my bikes name) back as the turn approached. It was over before you have time to think, before you have time to even process it. I bet if you had a video of my face it doesn’t even flinch. Later we were to learn it was Eric Pearson our teammate. He was taken to the hospital but in the end alright. Some broken bones and a bruised lung and some road rash on the ego but all will heal.
As lap 4 started I found my self at the back trying to close gaps on the climb. This is normally not a big deal at least in the past it hasn’t been for me. But when the best climbers in the country are at the front chasing a stage win in one the biggest domestic race this side of the Mississippi it’s a problem, a big one. My legs worn out of their nervous energy and cracked. I felt horrible. The worst I had in months, like some one dragged me out of bed at 3 am, threw me on the bike and made me do hill intervals. Dread came over me, is this it? A rider came up to me I gave him a panicked look “ come on! They’ll slow down” I yelled. yah right... had I not learned from yesterday? We worked together and came up on a larger group. The hill got harder and harder each minute. I soon found my 23-tooth cog to hard to turn over. 45 more miles to go (out of the 60). I wasn’t going to make it. I thought of trying to get a wheel from mavic with a 25 on it. We came through the start finish line “last lap guys” the marshal shouted. What! Adam Myerson quickly explained to us that we were all set. we had made it through 20% of the race and were safe to start the next day. The road race. We would be given some kind of prorated time. I was disappointed in myself for getting dropped so quickly but, at the same time incredibly relieved my pain was over, for today. I don’t think I could have made it through 45 more miles of that purgatory. After we crossed the finish for our last time I saw the throngs of riders that were already pulled. I wasn’t alone. I stayed focused and pulled out my trainer for a cool down trying to rid my legs of that horrible non-warmed up feeling. I ate and was feeling better a few battle stories from a couple fellow 2 wheelers and the ego was repaired. No time for feeling sorry for my self the next day was approaching and fast.
Sat night was a nervous one. After seeing Eric in the hospital, my lack of skill and power in the race that day and the prep that still needed to be done for the grand puuba stage that would start in 18 hours had me on edge. Matt was staying at my house this night. We set about the normal stage race evening routines, massage, eat, hydrate, stretch, shower, prepare musett bags, go over course, eat, drink, recheck musett bags, eat, you get the idea. I felt good but then again I felt good before the race that day as well. Later we drove down to a friend’s house in the host town of the Road Race, Torrington, CT. We drove the circuit that would see the end of the race, and made a visit to the hot tub. Ahhh... so nice. A slight cramp in my upper right hamstring was nagging but I tried to think about it too much.
I couldn’t sleep my results in the races leading up to this were good, just, not as good as I wanted. I needed to do something big something above myself, for myself, to prove to myself that all the 5 hr’ rides, alone in February really worked, that I really had what it tock.. Rain. The first 2 days had been beautiful. 60’s sunny, pristine cycling weather. Today was 50 and raining. It would make this day even harder. Normally I would cherish this added challenge as it usually made the finish of a hard RR play into my favor even more but at this level I was finding that my usual “weapons” for road racing were no longer. Not only were they not weapons they were weaknesses in some cases, and my weaknesses were... well guess. They were my undoing in stage 2. would they be again today?
I relaxed at the start making some last minute adjustments to my rain jacket. My parents had come to see the start. They along with my pro feed zone girlfriend and the team mascot (my dog) would be at both feed zones (mile 42 and 101). This would be essential and I could see how nervous Lindsay was about it. I had carefully planed out my energy and supplement intake. A Gel here cliff bar there, cytomax starts here energy drink from Gensen here and there. I had I wired. An extra GU with double caffeine just in case. If I did come unraveled today it would be no ones or anything’s fault but my own. It was all on me. And, I like it that way, I’m a leader, a decision maker, cool over fire and relaxed under presser. Every RR race I see on bike reg has EK of the middle of the name, to me atleast. that’s just the way I think.
The first 5 minutes of the race I knew right then and there, good legs. I knew it. About 10 minutes after that we began to descend a bit, the rain picked up and I went straight to the back. I tried but I just can’t keep up in the wet going down hill. I couldn’t hold my position yesterday in ideal conditions never mind in the poring rain. The next hill out of Winsted I moved to the front again. “Ok Eric”, I said to my self, “you have got to keep it together, no matter what!” down through Norfolk on familiar roads then over to Salisbury on not so familiar roads. I found that on the roads I know I was able to stay at the front. Good news because I knew the last 60 miles like crab fisherman knows where his pots are. I was eating well and the first feed came. Perfect hand off, chase back on and my first mistake was made. I wouldn’t know it for a while but nonetheless it was done. I had taken my rain jacket off and when I started to feel the cold again the terrain was such I couldn’t put it back on. I stared into the feedbag with almost a blank mind. What was I supposed to do? Reading this the answer is easy. through it all in your pockets replace BOTH water bottles, put my rain jacket on and eat! How ever it didn’t seem so easy just then. I grabbed the key drink, my cytomax and energy drink pouch. And through the rest away. I had 1 full bottle still from the start, I had not been drinking enough I thought, an easy thing to do when your cold. I got the rain jacket on but it was to late. Even the first climb didn’t warm me up and suddenly 2 bottles turned into 1. no sweet I can handle this. 60 miles came and I could not feel my hands, shifting was difficult, and the first KOM was upon us. 15 minutes of stair stepped 20%. I had ridden the climb before and figured I could make it over the climb in the front without a problem. I made it, without a “problem” per say but it hurt, allot, allot more that I had planed. I started on the cytomax drink and the magic energy drink from Gensen. I warmed up. The rain seemed to ease back and the next KOM started to approach. Matt and I were riding close by. “Matt, a few more miles”, he nodded. A sharp left hand turn and I was in my 39/27 fast. Out of the saddle and I would not feel it again for what seemed like a long time. As the sustained section of 20% eased back to the rolling false flats began I was popped. The shattered group pulled away. I fought hard to stay in touch. The cars came by me and I latched up with another rider. 10 minutes of full flight, no holds barred, this is all or nothing chasing and we were tacked back on. Not a minute later Matt came whizzing by me and when straight to the front. He had come off as well but was back in the fray. Good I thought. The decent had passed and I was holding a good position now. the pack had been reduced by half it seemed. The pace eased and I was out of fluid. Matt gave me some of his and I tock my emergency GU. The next steep climb (kom 3 wasn’t marked as one in the race bible but I think I saw a sign) was coming and I knew it was hard. not only that but as soon as the fast decent ended we hit another gradual climb on the main road. This was no place to falter physically or mentally. The climb hit my legs like lead being injected straight into them. We were at mile 93 or so and if the cold hadn’t taken something from my legs the pace and terrain certainly did. Again as the climb toped out with its never ending rolling false flats I was off the back again. Matt came around me, it was just him and me. Some of the cars had come around us and we were fighting together for everything we had, The decent came and so did Matt’s descending skills. He flew around the turns and cars, sometimes at once, with such speed and precision he dropped me. knowing the last few turns would prove vital for me as I let my bike run full speed through them, up to Matt’s wheel, through a navigators/ mavic car traffic jam, onto the main rode and right onto the back on the pack as the next incline hit. We made it! I almost yelled. I know it would be a tough ride to the finish and I was still out of water but I knew I could make it, well I hoped I could. All the long rides, all the muscle tension intervals all the rides up mt. wacusett, they would get me through. The navigators went to the front and the pace never let up. I had another gel and held on. Every little hill, every bump made my legs creek. The greatest amount of concentration was required. I tried to stay at the front but fatigue came over me in thick waves. My arms were so tired I almost lost control once from hitting a small pothole. I prayed for the feed zone to come and finally it did, I chased back on to the group and tried to make up for my mistake some 3 hr’s ago. 2 water bottles of cytomax, and everything went into the pockets. I downed an energy drink from Gensen, a carbo gel, half a cliff bar and a full bottle in about 5 minutes? That ought to do it I thought? And sure enough after 5 more minutes I could feel the sugar, taurine, and complex carbs go to work. I was still tried my legs still creaked with every bump, but I was there and feeling more and more confident. We passed the spot that my father had picked up at 1 month ago training on the course. It made me think how much of an effort this was for everyone involved not only me. He drove for 5 hr’s that day. Leading me through the course, all the back roads, all the town centers. Well now its time for me to come up with my end. We came closer and closer to the long steep hill that would carry us down into Torrington where we had started 5 hr earlier I turned to see the pack size smaller again. 50, maybe a few more? As we passed my mothers friends with the hot tub they yelled for me and I waived to there young son who had a BMX race that day, we passed the house my mother grew up in and just as fast as I was pulled into these thoughts I was ripped back to the task at hand. We screamed onto the circuits, through the finish line with the roar of the crowd filling my sole. I could hear my dad through it all. They were at the first turn after the finish. A 90degree but wide right had turn that kicked up. Not steep but enough to get out of the saddle. The roads were dry and I felt great. Burnt yes but I was there. I through my rain jacket on the steps of a house I knew so I could get it later. Heh, I’m thinking pretty clearly for having 120 miles in my legs, I thought! Just then a slap on my back. I turned to see matt. He had this grin on his face. We had made it, we had done more that any one else, including my self at a few moments, thought we could do. I smiled, well I tried. The efforts of the day were written on everyone s face. The pack seemed to get smaller and smaller every lap and I focused harder and harder. My parent’s voices became louder and louder every time around and as the lap card numbers got smaller and smaller I felt more and more like a pro. With 5 or so laps to go I looked up to see a gap open in front of me. I watched. I was hoping for something to happen. Anything besides me having to close that gap. There were 10 or more people behind me. some one must have the legs? Just then that inner instinct screamed at me, ERIC, GET UP AND CLOSE THAT GAP!! I rose from the saddle, sifted and powdered away. About half way across something happen inside my body that I really haven’t ever felt before and I have put myself through a lot. It felt like someone pulled the plug on my bathtub of energy. Some coaches explain that in a race one only has so many “matches to burn” I think I used my last one on the third KOM. I had pulled myself out of mental disarray, a shivering cold, a bit of a bonk and powered over some of the toughest climbs in one of the toughest road races with the best cyclist in the country, and no matter how bad I wanted it there was nothing more to give. Nothing more to draw from, no deeper could I dig. I looked back to see the10 riders behind me disappear. One rider did come up and we started to work. He looked at me, right into my eyes, “to the finish” he said in a broken English. I nodded. We traded pulls and caught another detached group just ahead only to drop most of them 1 mile later. I still had some juice I could go the distance. The front group was pulling away but we were still moving. Another rider in the group yelled encouragement. “come on guys nice and smooth, were gona make it!” we had 2 laps to go I pulled through again. We were off the back yes, we were losing time for sure but were going to make it. The crowed seemed to yell louder and with more encouragement now that we were dropped. Crazy. Just crazy we pressed on. My father’s hollering piercing my ears, “come on Eric!” to me it said “that drive was worth it, nice goin kid. We came through for the last time and the crowd was ecstatic! Mark McCormick had won not only the stage but tock back enough time to over take the overall leader by 15 seconds! Amazing. I rolled over to my parents and collapsed into my fathers’ arms. He hugged me. “Incredible kid, that just was incredible” Todd C was there with some other teammates, cheering up on as well. Matt rolled over dropped on the circuits just before I was. We felt... better than ever. It felt that we had really accomplished something. 39th was my placing on the day. A huge thanks goes out to everyone that made the day possible. Lindsay, for the dead on feeding, my parents for there support and seamstress skills in making our musett bags the night before. Every teammate and training partner that has ever pushed me to be better.