May 2005 was one of the rainiest Mays on record in Boston. We had a grand total of six sunny days, and we got rain on a few of those. Most of the weekends were gray, rainy and cold – fine for March, but really disappointing for May. So, when the forecast promised a sunny morning for the Wachusett Circuit Race in Gardner last weekend, I knew the field would be ready to rock. I signed up with two clubmates for the combined Cat 4/5 field, scheduled for 10 laps of the 3.4-mile circuit. Because the fields were combined I knew I’d probably be in over my head, but I have few illusions about my ability to win. After everything I’ve put my body through in the last decade or so, the miracle is not that I race well, it’s that I can roll to the start at all.
As promised, Saturday the 28th dawned clear and the temperature started climbing as soon as the sun cleared the horizon. Maggie had a relatively decent night, but that didn’t prevent me from oversleeping a bit. I had done most of my prep the night before, but I still ended up shortchanging breakfast (I ate, but not as much as I wanted) and I left my coffee at home. I made the 90-minute drive to the race thinking that I’d stop somewhere along the way, but once I got to the parking lot I decided to watch the women race instead. After the fems finished I found my teammates and we did a gentle warmup around one of the parking lots near the racecourse. I probably could have (and should have) ridden the course before our group started at 11, but did not.
A few minutes before start time we lined up behind the 3/4 group and listened to the race brief. The pavement was so bad that the race director said they would use the marshal’s car, leading the group, to signal where the best line was. “If you see the car move left, try to stay in the middle of the road.” That’s assuming we could even see the car. Our group was at its max size, 125 riders, and I didn’t figure it would be a single group for long. We rolled out a couple of minutes behind the previous group, soft-pedaled a short neutral stretch before the first turn, and then went into race mode.
The first lap was not what experience led me to expect. I thought we’d go flat-out, but the large group combined with the fact that most of us had not reconned the course held the pace down and induced quite a bit of slinky effect. The pavement was beyond bad, with some big craters on the straights and lots of litle divots in the corners. I was near the back of the main group, dodging dropped water bottles and riders with one or two flat tires, for the first lap. The second lap, we settled in a bit and the pace picked up quite a bit. I was redlining trying to keep up. The third lap, on the only big climb of the race, the group splintered and I found myself riding alone for a bit. I caught up with my clubmate Ari, also sliding off the back, and shouted “Dude, we’re getting shelled!”
We weren’t the only ones. More than half of the racers had fallen off the bunch and were strung out over the course. On lap 4 I fell in with a couple of NEBC riders and one from Boston Scientific, after the NEBC coach drove past us and yelled at us to get organized. I was going hard enough that his voice sounded distant and I had a hard time understanding what he meant. At first, I thought he was a passing driver giving us a hard time for using the road. We formed a paceline and managed to pick things up a bit, as we passed the finish line.
Just beyond the line, a rider wearing a number from our race group came out of the (off-course) parking lot and right into our line, moving much slower than we were. We veered out of his way and shouted a couple of Rosie Ruiz comments as we went past. We never did figure out what he was up to; maybe he ducked in to fix a flat or fill a bottle? I had bottles on the mind at that point. I had started the race with just one, and as the temperature climbed toward 80 and my heart rate hovered around my lactate threshold, I regretted not filling the other.
Lap 5 clicked off just a bit slower than lap 4, but with no pavement incidents or mysterious riders joining the group. As we came around to finish lap 6, I was wondering if I would make it to the end without cramping. As things turned out, I did, but only because my end came a bit sooner than expected. The race director whistled us out as we came across the finish line. The 3/4 group was about to overtake us, we had no hope of catching the 4/5 group, so we were pulled. I sat up, pulled over and watched the race from the first corner after the finish line. I saw one rider in the middle of a group blow his front tire at the apex of that corner, but by some combination of luck and good bike handling he kept it upright long enough to exit the turn, detach from the group and coast to the shoulder for a wheel change from the service wagon.
The race ended in a bunch sprint, won by a Harvard U rider. The results show only 39 finishers of the 125 that started, which is a pretty high attrition rate. I’m glad I went, but I sure would have liked to get a result out of the trip!
What went well: I’m climbing pretty well. I felt better on the big hill than the other riders around me and was able to close gaps when needed. Cornering is coming along, but I still need to carry more speed. That will come with more experience.
Areas for improvement: Riding the course blind puts me at a serious disadvantage. It’s difficult to get on-course when I’m not in the first group of the day, but there’s probably an opportunity between the end of the previous race and my start. I should be there to take it. Start went a little better but I need to look farther up the road and keep up with those guys, not the guys right in front of me.
My next race will probably be a true road race on 18 June – no laps, just one big loop. That will put more emphasis on endurance and less on the technical skills, so I expect to do better.