So today was the Nutmeg Classic, (sort of) part of the Nutmeg State Games. The Games technically start later but this race is sort of a peninsula event for the State Games - it's like having the Summer Olympics start in Beijing start on August 8th but they do the 50 meter sprint in June.
Although the race itself is an annual goal of mine, we had a second reason to go - the "engagement" shoot for our wedding. We decided with our photographer Matthew that it would be an interesting venue for an informal shoot. We initially met him at his home/office a while back and took an immediate liking to him. His photography impressed us, his questions made us think about what we wanted, and, after a 30 second "You like him?" "Yeah, you?" "Yeah" discussion we wrote him a check.
We met up with him and he laid out a plan of action. There'd be the "sappy" stuff (holding hands, sitting somewhere together, kissing, all the stuff that make 3rd grade boys go "Ewwww"). There'd be the race shots. And, secretly, I hoped that perhaps there'd be a podium shot or something like that. That was a pipe dream but hey, if you don't dream...
We set out to do the sappy shots but were held up as all sorts of guys were saying hi to me (and my fiancee). One guy who bought a Davidson bike from me 15 years ago said hi, mentioned the bike, and mentioned wanting to restore it. Scary thing is that I instantly remembered the bike (a frost blue two tone job) and him (he looks sort of like John Howard).
After a few more hellos and how's-it-goings, Matthew commented on how tight knit the cycling seemed. I hadn't thought of it that way but his words put clarity to what I always knew. The racing world is very small, very intimate. And by definition, it's important to respect the others. If you burn bridges in a tight community, well, you end up not in that community.
Anyway, we finally broke free of all our social obligations and got down to some photography stuff. We walked hand in hand, we sat on a wall together, and for the finale, we have some cool shots of us making out as the M30 field raced behind us.
That was the first mission.
The second was the race. I had two tasks in the race - try and get to the left so Matthew could take a shot and try, try and finish the race up front with good video and power data, and finally, as extra credit, to try and cross the line as a top 3 Connecticut racer.
I was a bit rushed in my warm-up (what else is new) and did an easy three laps of the traditional warm-up loop at New Britain. One lap I held an open Coke can in my hand so it was really easy - and that was the last of my warm-up laps. I headed to the grassy start/finish area to meet up with my fiancee, Matthew, and get the helmet cam gear I'd dropped off.
I rigged the system with a borrowed helmet (thanks to Kyle, the TargeTraining U25 manager) as the 3's lined up and rode to a basically filled start line. I was about to snake my way to the back when the promoter asked the 2006 Category 3 Connecticut Criterium Champion to come to the front.
That would be me :)
Just to make things clear, the promoter announced my name too. So I turned my bike around and planted myself in front of the rest of the racers. Actually I inadvertently planted myself in front of one of the favorites of the race. He joking told me that I better get going fast else he'd run me over.
I usually start from behind the field - this way I can relax and not worry about lining up 20 minutes before the race (because, 20 minutes before the race, I'm usually rushing to the car to change).
The other thing it lets me do is start with no pressure of getting into the pedals. When I was a Junior (we're going back to about the time bicycles were invented - at least the current iteration of them) my young mentor Ken told me I should practice getting into the pedals. He told me races could be lost if you don't get into the pedals fast enough.
Yeah, whatever. I was 14 and knew everything.
Then we went to the 1983 National Criterium Championships. And at the Intermediate start (12-14 year olds) one unfortunate racer fell over at the start. About 30 of the 60 racers fell over with him. And the other 30 took off.
I started religiously practicing clipping in (toe clips and straps at that time). It got to the point where I could have one foot on the ground then virtually sprint away from the line - it would take me maybe 30 degrees of pedal stroke before I was in the pedals.
That practice translated to clipless pedals. But this was the first time in a long time that I was starting in front of everyone else. I was a bit leery. The officials got out of the way and told us to go. And I did. And thankfully I got into my pedals right away.
The second part of the photography plan was to try and get a shot with me in the race and my fiancee cheering me on. He had a remote flash and was doing some fancy technical things - trying to flash fill both of us at one time. I told him it's 30 laps so he has 30 tries. But after worming over to the left side for the first 6 or 7 laps (I even asked a guy to let me go left and he was nice enough to let me ease through), I realized I was using some precious go-juice that would leave me a bit short at the end. So I drifted into the middle of the field and hoped Matthew could make something of it.
I checked my heart rate only twice during the race - once near the start it read 173 and I didn't want to know any more than that. The other time, at the top of the hill half way through the race, it read 157.
I was fine.
Problem was my muscles felt a bit crampy. I could feel the warning twinges rippling through my calves and quads. So I let myself drift all the way to the back of the field and tried to stretch things out. I did a few tricks I use to try and combat potential cramps. I put it in a big gear and pedaled a bit slower. I stretched out. I coasted as much as I could. I drank some water.
Eventually though the race got into the single digit laps. And eventually I'd have to move up. I have to check the tape but I remember one guy looking at me, a guy I race with frequently, one who says hi and all that, and he looked to his side at me and then in front at the gaps there.
And moved over.
I flew into the gap, flew between other racers, and suddenly I'd moved up about 30 or 40 racers.
I was back in the hunt.
At about three to go, I saw the aforementioned favorite rally his team to the front. A guy behind me told someone else "There goes Mr. Cipollini and his lead out train". Perhaps a bit sarcastic but the fact remained that his team had seven guys at the front of this race. No one else did. Impressive.
They were off to the right. To their left and behind them, things were chaotic. I don't remember such a squirrelly race there in a long time. Guys were cutting corners with riders to their inside. One guy switched two lanes over without a glance - and almost took down the field behind him. And it was tight. I was in contact with one guy, I had to brake hard a couple times, and all in all it was a dicey final three laps.
With two to go I knew I had to be in position on the next lap. The twinges faded into the background. The adrenaline was going. And I felt like I could give it a good go. At one to go I managed to make some moves so that I ended up perhaps 15 riders back streaming through the last turn.
I followed wheels a bit and, like last year, moved left. Usually if the right is jammed up, I can fly by everyone on the left. And so it was. I saw nothing but clear road, my momentum carrying me past the riders who were inexplicably easing a hair. And I hadn't even jumped. My legs felt like they could spin huge gears. And I thought, heck, this might be it. I mentally prepared to jump - I usually shift up a gear as I stomp the pedal. My thumb went to the Ergo lever.
Then the rider two in front of me started slewing sideways. He beat me last year (he actually won), he's a multi-time National Cross Champ (the "main" one, not the Masters, although he's won those too), and he's a maestro at bike handling.
If he is going sideways some bad things were going down next to him.
He slammed onto the ground, his sort-of-disk wheel making a horrible sound as it slid along at 35 mph or so. Guys to his right were doing their best to take out garbage cans, sign posts, trees, curbs, and other racers.
Not where I want to be.
I went left, barely missed a 55 gallon drum (garbage can), and coasted onto the very soft and squirrelly feeling sand next to the road. I saw I could get back on the road after a few seconds, did so, and went a pedal stroke or two. For some reason I sat up - perhaps in shock, I don't know - but for whatever reason, I coasted. And a few guys went by me. Thinking about it now, if I'd been in the motivational groove from a year or two back, I'd have sprinted on the sand and back onto the road. But that wasn't the case.
End result - 11th in the race. What hurt was that after the race I looked ahead and could see only NY and Massachusetts racers. I started hoping that I might have lucked out into a Connecticut podium position. Having hopes dashed is worse than not having that hope in the first place. And that's what happened.
I was the fourth Connecticut racer across the line.
But I finally finished near the front of a race this year. And felt like I could slice and dice with the best of them.
After the race Matthew followed us around like one of those paparazzi photogs. It was pretty cool actually, as it was just for a few hours that we had this shadow. Everyone was talking about the race (that pre-race favorite was disqualified for causing the stack-up in the sprint). And Matthew caught that spontaneous excitement in imagery.
Anyway, Matthew also rides a bit and he also blogs. So that makes him pretty cool in our eyes. We also had a lot of fun working with him. We managed to introduce him to Matt, our DJ (who also designed the kit and races Cat 2). So it was like a pre-wedding meet of Matts.
One he'd left, we searched out some of the teams that hadn't received their trophies from the Bethel Spring Series. We gave one team TargeTraining so many trophies they had to put their wheels on the roof of their car. Another, Connecticut Coast Cycling, also got a bunch. And we gave the third woman overall her hard earned trophy (well, we gave it to her husband - she was racing at that moment).
Later on I said to my fiancee that perhaps I should have sprinted after I got back on the pavement. She looked at me with one of those looks.
Alright, I'll admit it. 11th is not bad. When I started racing I simply wanted to finish a race. And I didn't place in a "real" race in forever.
Now an 11th is "Maybe I should have gone a bit harder."
All in all a good day. I was upright at the finish, I got some nice tape, and the future missus and I had a really good day together.