Cyclonauts Road Race, Monson, MA, 6/18/2005

Amateur road races, at least here in New England, are relatively rare compared to their criterium or circuit race counterparts. While there are no hard and fast rules, criteriums usually cover many loops of a short course, 1.5 miles or shorter. Circuit races have a longer loop, say up to 10 miles or so, and the number of laps drops appropriately. Road races involve either One Big Loop or perhaps a large loop followed by a finising loop.
Given my current (low) level of training and commitment to racing, I like road races quite a bit more than crits or circuit races. Road races place much less emphasis on cornering skill, generally have a much steadier pace, and offer a much lower chance of getting lapped and pulled. For these reasons I looked forward to the Cyclonauts race, hoping to redeem myself a little bit after my last outing.

Because the race was remote and on a large loop, I had no chance to recon the course in person. I made up for this by downloading the Keyhole trial version. Massachusetts has complete one-meter coverage so I was able to fly over what I thought would be the critical section of the course: Wales road. After covering a flat-to-rolling 30-mile outer loop, the course turned onto Wales road, which offered nearly 600 feet of net elevation gain in the first 5 miles (according to Keyhole’s topo data). The first two miles were the steepest, and the finish line came about 1.5 miles after the turn. We’d pass the finish line once, go back on the outer loop to cover another 20 miles or so, then back onto Wales Road for the finish. I figured if the race was going to come apart, it would happen the first time through the finish line.
Early Saturday morning I made the two-hour drive to Monson, a small town in south-central Massachusetts, almost to Springfield and near the Connecticut border. Iron gray overcast and spotty rain gave way to broken cumulus as I drove west, raising my hopes for a dry race. When I arrived I found that the local high school served as race headquarters, so for once I got to suit up in a locker room instead of in the car or behind the portajohns. We had been warned not to warm up on the local roads, so I broke out the trainer and did a quick spinup before my race group was called to the line.
We rolled off on time, with motorcycle escorts front and rear in addition to the official car and now-familiar Campagnolo service wagon. After a few turns on town streets, we hit the open lanes of Route 20 and the pace picked up. Route 20 rolled a bit but the group stayed together as we passed through Brimfield and headed south for a brief foray into Connecticut. I was consistently near or on the back of the group, having slid there during the start. The back is not ever the best position, but I wasn’t too concerned about moving up while we were on rolling terrain. Once we hit the hills, I figured I would move up. Meanwhile I enjoyed the view of the peloton spread before me.
We wound our way around to Wales Road, about 30 miles into the race, and the road tilted skyward right after the corner. Chains jumped and clattered as we all hit our shifters to find lower gears. The bunch started coming apart and I moved past a few riders, trying to hang on to the lead group. I maintained contact as we passed the finish line, and the road leveled out a bit. When the next hill came, I soon found I was overdrawn at the oxygen bank. The group slipped away as I redlined, and I soon found myself riding alone. Unable to accelerate to catch back on, I sat up for a short while.
While I recovered another rider pulled out of the bunch, having dropped his chain. I passed him as he fixed his bike on the shoulder and he soon came roaring back, but I was unable to catch his wheel as he came by. He rejoined the group as the follow cars came around me. Just as I caught up to a couple of other dropped riders, a larger chase group blew by us. This time I was able to catch a wheel and picked up the pace, but by then the tail end of the bunch was out of sight. We were dropped.
This group contained about ten riders and I recognized quite a few jerseys and numbers from earlier in the race. We formed a paceline and started rotating, keeping the pace high and taking very short pulls. As I pulled through the first time, I realized that I was starting to tire out. My quads tweaked with the first hints of cramps. I downed another packet of gel and the rest of my first water bottle in an effort to forestall the inevitable. Fortunately, the next ten miles or didn’t contain much challenging terrain, so I was able to recover a little bit.
We tore past the Staffordsville Resevoir in Connecticut, through the town of Orcutt and turned back north onto Route 32 for the run back to Monson. A couple of miles before the finshing turn, we were caught by a two-rider breakaway from what must have been the 50+ group that started 5 minutes after we did. A little embarassing, perhaps, but it did give me a little hope that I can keep improving as I age. They stayed just ahead of us as we turned onto Wales Road for the final uphill haul. I didn’t have much left when I hit the hill, as I found when I tried to stand up, so I found a lower gear, sat down, and ground away. I maintained my position to finish 3rd in the chase group and 46th of 68 overall, 41 seconds down on the main group. Call it suck level 5.
On the ride back to the high school, my legs finally gave out. I made it about halfway up the big hill before I had to stop and let the cramps pass. I unclipped and sat gingerly on the top tube of my bike for a couple of minutes, watching my thighs ripple involuntarily. Cramps are strange that way; for a short time my muscles were beyond my control, but after that I was able to complete the ride back to the car without incident.
What went well: Logistically, I was much better prepared than I was for Wachusett. I ate a full breakfast, had a little coffee about an hour before the race, and warmed up adequately. I brought enough water with me to stay hydrated before the race and tank up again afterward. No major equipment mishaps (I had a little shifter trouble but nothing that cost me) and no crashes. Once I got in the chase group I worked well, taking turns but not dying out in the wind. I was surprised that we only lost 41 seconds to the main group; I wish we could have caught them but I don’t think I could’ve worked much harder than I did.
For next time: Still gotta work on maintaining position during the start. I think if I had been farther up in the pack I probably wouldn’t have been dropped on the climb. Doing one of the midweek training races would probably help develop those skills.

2 thoughts on “Cyclonauts Road Race, Monson, MA, 6/18/2005

  1. James, I’m learning so much about cycling from reading your entries, which are eloquently dense with terms about which I know nothing. I’m picking up some from context clues, but can you tell me what “catching a wheel” means? And what does it mean to be “pulled”? Is it related to “taking a short pull”?

  2. Oh Erin, you flatterer!
    Most bicycle racing tactics revolve around conserving energy relative to one’s opponents. When a rider “drafts” another rider by riding close behind him, the drafting rider requires up to 20% less power to ride at the same pace as the lead rider. A bunch of riders in single file is known as a paceline. The front rider “pulls” the other riders for a brief period, then moves to the side, reduces pace slightly and drops back, rejoining the line as the last rider. The idea is that the group can maintain a higher pace than a solo rider by having a series of riders give short, intense efforts at the front, then go to the end of the line, get back in the draft, and recover from the effort.
    Drafting is also known as wheelsucking, especially if you’re annoyed with the drafting rider. Races often end in cat-and-mouse games when a single rider breaks away from the group, and the other riders look at each other for a moment, waiting for somebody else to start the chase and expend energy. Likewise, if a team has a rider in a breakaway, the team members back in the main group will usually not work (pull) to catch the breakaway. They’ll sit in the draft, conserve energy and let another team tire themselves out.
    When I wrote about “catching a wheel,” I meant I tried to match the passing rider’s pace and get in his draft as he went by, hoping for a tow back up to the main group. However, I was too pooped.
    Getting pulled from a race is not the same as taking a pull in the paceline. In criterums and circuit races, the course is often so short that some riders will be lapped. The race official has the right to order lapped riders (or riders in imminent danger of being lapped) off the course, or “pull” them, for saftey reasons and to keep the lapped riders from contesting a sprint finish at the end of the race. While I understand the need to do this, it’s a bit disappointing to drive 2 hours to race 1 hour and not get mentioned in the results (pulled riders are generally not given a placing). In a race with a 30-mile loop, I’d deserve to get sent home early if I got lapped!

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