So today is the day before the Nutmeg Classic. Those of you who know me know that this has always been a good race for me. Last year was a special one for me as I got what amounted to my second Cat 3 State Championship gold.
And it was pretty much the end of a period of high motivation lasting from December 2003 till that June 2006 - the time I worked on fulfilling two promises I made my mom, the first being Bethel. and the second being the Crit Championships.
So now with things other than racing occupying my mind, with work constantly interrupting planned rides or even planned weeks of riding, I approach tomorrow's race with low racing expectations.
That's not to say it's a bad thing. It's just that I haven't been training much, the training I do is mainly racing (and therefore not really conducive towards, say, increasing my fitness level). A definite plus side about the upcoming race is the course favors tacticians.
That would be a rider like me.
When I got my first CT gold medal in 2002, I placed second to a rider from Massachusetts. Prior to the race I hadn't ridden in 9 days. I remember this because I told the two teammates in the race that I'd race for them. Both are solid riders, very strong, and well capable of winning virtually any race they entered. One is that rider in the first picture I posted, Morgan (in the white/green). And the other, Steve, is just behind us in that picture but not in it.
I told them that I'd ride for them. And being relatively unselfish, both said that it wasn't necessary. (I think the unsaid part was "Well, how do you expect to help if you haven't been riding?"). Steve told me to sit in for 20 laps and race for 10 (or something like that). I was thinking I'd be lucky to make it that far.
Nonetheless I started the race mentally racing for those two. And when a break went up the road and both Steve and Morgan ended up working hard to try and bring the field up to them, I decided that this would be my moment for contribution. I'd bridge to the break and become an anchor, demoralizing them, not pulling, and make them come back to the field.
I didn't think I could do it alone though.
So I told a friendly rival John F (who races for a different team but who has actually led me out at races) that I was going to try and bridge. He moved up with me - but due to the cracking pace and the impatient riders jamming the course, it took me three laps to move up into the top 15 or so - a place where I could launch an attack.
By then the break was established, a couple others had bridged, the field was getting collectively tired, and it was looking really dangerous. The break dangled about 200-250 meters in front of the field - the breaking point of the elastic holding them and the field together.
It was time to go.
I launched moderately hard, figuring John would follow me. I didn't want to kill him as I was relying on him to do a lot of the bridge work. But I had to go hard - otherwise I'd just tow people up to the break.
After my jump, when I looked down to check my six, my heart sank. No one there. I looked back and John was just off the front, easing back into the field. He couldn't get my wheel for whatever reason and, in order to protect my bridge attempt, drifted back into the field.
I accepted the situation and put my head down.
I had attacked on the back stretch at the top of the short hill. I flew into the last turn, got going, and pushed myself into a state of speed and pain. When I glanced at the speedometer as I approached the start/finish, I was holding 38 mph. And the break was still about 100 meters away.
One break member saw me coming and put in a half hearted attack, trying to get me to blow up before I got there. But I clawed my way onto the break, reaching them as we started up the backstretch "hill" (it's a small one).
And for the next eight laps, I flat out refused to pull.
I'd like to say it was a tactical thing, how I had two really strong riders in the field, that I was working for them, yada yada yada. And, yeah, those reasons applied.
But there was another reason, a physiological thing. I simply could not pull. The break riders were hammering, killing themselves to stay away, and it was all I could do to sit on. Several times dangerous gaps opened up but something - a bend, a rise, a sudden drop in wind - something always helped me get back on.
And so I struggled on.
The break riders saw my difficulty and stopped trying (i.e. "yelling") to get me to pull. I finally did pull about eight laps later when my legs suddenly started lost their numb feeling. I suddenly felt better because the pace got turned down a bunch of klicks. Apparently the others in the break collectively blew up. My 23 mph pulls didn't do much to prolong the break and we got caught a lap or so after.
Now completely fried, I had nothing to give. And for the next 10 laps I watched Steve and Morgan launch attack after attack. The field didn't want to repeat its ferocious effort to catch the first break and that meant no one let another one to go.
And so it came down to the sprint.
And in case you forgot who's writing these things, who here likes sprints?
That's right, me!
I thought of trying to get up there to lead out my teammates. I couldn't move up without wiping out my reserves - as it was I could barely hang onto a decent field position. And as we know from the '07 Hartford Crit, I can do that, well, pretty much regardless of my fitness. As we dropped into the last turn, I was perhaps 10 or 15 back, close enough to do some damage, too far to help anyone out.
A few riders, leading out the sprint, blew and pulled off. I was still pedaling. And suddenly I was maybe seventh.
My legs cried out to give them a shot.
The racers, including Steve and Morgan, fanned out to the left as the course veered slightly right, trying to get around the racer leading the whole thing out. He'd led out the last race I'd done here from half a lap out and no one could get around him. Today he looked a little more vulnerable - he seemed to be crawling - but no one was moving up to him. He was sticking to the right curb, the shortest line, but the course straightened out just before the line.
I knew that when it straightened out he'd drift left - after all, that's where all the guys were trying to pass him. This meant he'd leave the right side open just a touch.
And that was going to be my hole.
I launched hard to the inside, rocketed up the right side, the lead rider moved a hair to the left, and I desperately threw my bike under his upraised arms at the line. I was hoping for a miraculous bike throw but it wasn't the case. I didn't beat him.
But when I looked around, I realized that there were no Connecticut riders in front of me, just the lead out guy.
It took me a lap for it to sink in but finally I realized it. As the first Connecticut racer across the line, I'd won the Connecticut Cat 3 Criterium Championships.
I felt like I was on a different world. I had one of those s-eating grins on my face. I got a medal and was "interviewed" on the announcer's platform. I tried to thank my sponsors and stuff but I don't have a clue what I said.
Afterwards, still hyper, I rode around the "warm up" loop, not knowing what to do with my extra energy.
I called my mom to let her know her son was the Connecticut Cat 3 Crit Champion. She's always been supportive of my cycling and she let me boast to her like a son ought to be able to boast to his mom.
I thought about who else to call. I desperately wanted to share this moment with someone else but I wasn't sure who to call. I mean, I think it'd be kind of obnoxious if someone called me out of the blue and said "Hey, I just won the CT Crit Championships!". Cool perhaps but a bit obnoxious.
And I didn't want to walk around with the medal hanging around my neck. It's really cute when kids do that. When grown adults do it, well, I won't go there but I just didn't want to do it.
I realized there was someone who I wanted to call. So I called this young woman I'd been seeing. She and I weren't really a thing, not officially. We hadn't shared the fact that we were seeing each other - too many mutual friends. If things blew up, we didn't want to force them to choose sides.
Anyway, I called her. And boasted like a little kid. I don't remember all her reactions but suffice it to say that she was happy for me. Perhaps a bit bewildered. But happy for me.
You can guess who that was - we're getting married in October.
She was with me last year when I reclaimed the title, supporting me in my quest to fulfill my second promise to my mom. Tomorrow she'll be with me at the race and cheer for me to defend it. Like I said before, I have no expectations of accomplishing that, and neither does my fiancee. She knows what I've been going through with training (or lack thereof - she's the one pushing me to get a ride in), with work, and around the house. I have my secret mission to accomplish (has to do with racing and the helmet cam). And it involves finishing the race and hopefully at the front.
We'll see though.
We have a second mission at Walnut Hill Park that will serve to distract us from any racing shortfalls. We'll be doing a small photo shoot - an "engagement" shoot - with our wedding photographer. So if you see us doing some sappy romantic stuff like strolling hand in hand and there's a photographer hovering in the background, wave or something.
You might make it into our engagement book.