Saturday was the Nutmeg State Games. Historically it's held by the Nutmeg State Games folks, who are sort of an independent, Connecticut-based sports competition. It's like the Olympics just for Connecticut. There's everything from ball sports to shooting to martial arts to, well, cycling.
For whatever reason the Nutmeg State Games for cycling usually (always?) happens at Walnut Hill Park in New Britain, CT. It's a great little park with a 0.9 mile loop. It was designed by the same folks that designed Central Park, although it's unclear if it's the same person or just his firm that did the design.
At any rate I have some fond memories of the place although I've never won a summer race there. I've gotten as close as possible - 2nd place - but that's it for me.
With the White Plains Crit the following day, and a massive commitment in terms of working the race, I spent much of the morning finishing packing the trailer and then driving it down to New Britain. I'd head directly to White Plains after the race to make a 5 pm dinner meeting.
I considered skipping the Nutmeg race altogether, considering my poor training for the last few weeks. I've basically done the Tuesday Night races and not much else. My schedule has been about two hours a week since mid-March, and for the last few weeks I've done just two training rides and three B races. Strava tells me I've averaged 1 hour, 20 minutes a week for the last four weeks.
Ultimately I decided that I'd race because the course was close to the highway and I had to drive past that exact exit to get to White Plains. An hour (or less) of relaxation on the bike would be nice, before a long Sunday.
Committed to the race, the Missus and Junior left early while I finished up with the trailer. They'd have to drive back separately anyway (they weren't coming to White Plains) so they had to take a different car.
The initial plan had been for me to leave at about 10 AM, giving me over an hour at the venue before the race. Of course the trailer stuff took longer than expected so I got to the venue about 15 minutes before the race. Fortunately I found a long parking spot (45-50 feet of curb, with no one behind it), which happened to be directly behind the Missus's car. I got kitted up and headed over to registration. After dropping stuff off with the Missus I registered (8 minutes to the start), pinned up, and basically rolled to the line for the 11:50 AM start. I downed a gel as I hadn't eaten since 7 or so, and I hoped my water would last (I forgot the cooler on the kitchen table so the water in my bottle was whatever was left from Tuesday's race).
I lined up for the M45+ race, with its earlier start time. I wanted to race the Cat 3s with my teammates but with a 3PM start time I wouldn't make it to White Plains until it was way too late.
I did do one thing differently before the race. I consciously and intentionally fitted the Stinger 7/9 wheel set on the bike, not the Stinger 6s I've been racing most of the season. I decided that, if I made it to the sprint, I'd do a longer sprint, one that favors the taller and more aero 7/9 wheels, and not wait really late to do a jump, one that the lighter 6s would do better.
I also figured that the 7/9 set up would give me a bit more headroom when I was struggling at the back. Even if I lost just a few feet less it might keep me in the field instead of sawing me off the back.
Start line, just as the gun went off.
I hadn't ridden around the course but a long time friend John S was there, and he said the wind really socked you on the hill. Sure enough the wind hit me on the hill (I went to the right).
Based on that I figured the wind was streaming down into the park from the Hospital, which meant being to the right on the main straight.
I duly moved to the right on the first lap.
Wrong side of the group, wind from the right.
It was a mistake. Although I have no idea how the wind was blowing around it was definitely hitting from the right on the main straight. I ate a lot of wind that first lap and told myself that I couldn't make that mistake too many times.
I also noted that I'd want to jump to the left if I made it to the finish.
Frank McCormack, to the very right, about to ride away from everyone.
We had one local star in the race, ex-pro Frank McCormack. I've raced with him as a Junior, and once even influenced his race. He was sitting around as a break of four went off the front, including my teammate Todd. I was so late to the line I didn't even know he was in the race, to be honest, until I saw him attack.
Frank casually rolled away, splintering the field behind him. A friendly rival, John M, said he was on Frank's wheel for a bit. Frank was going so fast that John was totally redlined just sitting on the wheel and ultimately John had to sit up.
Watching Frank ride away.
I was under no delusions about being able to follow, but I didn't want to miss any counter moves. Those may not have caught Frank but I had a feeling the field would splinter and those at the back would get shelled.
I didn't want to get shelled.
Trying to close gaps.
I had one crisis point where one larger group of maybe 10-12 riders had followed Frank, another 5 or 6 had gone after that larger group, and the 15 or so riders left were not looking very motivated. I immediately went about closing th e gap.
At this point closing the gap was my whole race. Either I'd close it and be back in the race or I'd be off the back and I'd have to pack it in. All too often I'd "save it" for later, only to not have a later. Today I was determined to do what I could until my legs fell away.
I made it back, which was good, but I was suffering pretty badly. And when I rotated toward the front I couldn't come through.
Can't come through.
In fact I can't even stay on a wheel.
Ian, another friendly rival, waved me through but I was redlined and couldn't move. I let a couple gaps go, a couple guys yelled at me, and I eased and tried to recover at the back.
Hanging on for dear life.
Not sure if the Stinger 7/9s helped but they didn't hurt.
I almost came off.
The lack of riding really showed in my legs. I got that crampy feeling like I needed to warm up a bit, legs stiff, calves and hamstrings twinging. I wished I'd ridden yesterday a bit, or even done a warm up lap, but I had no choice, I had to keep going. I tried to spin more, that didn't work, I pushed more, that didn't work either, my legs were just bad.
On the bright side the race would be 45 minutes or so, and my customary "45 minute cramp after not riding for a while" shouldn't make an appearance.
For a number of laps I suffered in the heat, hoping that Frank would demoralize everyone and then we'd all sit up and the pace would ease.
And that's exactly what happened.
With four in the break, two chasing, we were racing for 7th. For Connecticut I didn't know what we were chasing, I knew that Frank was either Rhode Island or Massachusetts (I think the latter), but I figured that there were a few Connecticut riders up the road.
Then John S, the friend on the sidelines, yelled something like, "Bronze is in the field!"
That sort of changed things.
With the slower pace we'd probably see a field sprint. I thought about my wheel choice, the long sprint, not the short one. I had to be in good position going into the last turn, maybe top 6, top 10, and I had to get a good jump on the left (sheltered) side. I tried to drink some water, warm, not icy like I like it.
Jim M, another racer from back in the day, rolled up to me. He races for a different team but they're friendly rivals, even racing for a CT medal.
"Want me to bring you to the front?"
It was 5 laps to go. I looked at him.
"What? No, it's too early."
Jim grinned and rode on.
Note the rider in grey with red (Danbury Audi kit) to my 1 o'clock.
At the bell the race situation had stayed the same. Four in the break, two chasers, and those of us in the field racing for the bronze medal. The announcer was nice enough to let us know, confirming what John had yelled earlier. I knew Ian had been on form so I considered him a threat, although I didn't know if he lived in NY or CT (ends up he's a CT racer). I really didn't know how the others would sprint, but I wasn't cramping, I wasn't redlined, and I figured I'd see how things worked out.
Through the trees no real movement (moved up one spot).
Rider in gray with red in front of me.
Historically I move up late in races, many times too late. I sometimes race too conservatively, worried about using up my legs, and arrive at the line with reserves still available. Today, with a relatively conservative field, no pushing or shoving, all competent bike handlers, I told myself I would move up when I could, not wait until the last bit.
Starting to move a bit, but still in basically the same position.
Rider in gray red now to my 2 o'clock.
As we hit the backstretch I could see the moves up the left side. I've said it before, I'll say it again, if I made a move like that it'd zap my legs. I watched them go and hoped they couldn't rip apart the field.
The wind on the hill really slowed down the moves and I didn't want to zap my legs. I followed, hoping that things would stay together.
Over the top guy made a move up the right, another rider followed, and I followed him.
Guy in white/blue making a move on the right, guy in blue follows.
The white/blue guy tucked into the field long before the last turn. I was to the outside, the rider in blue to my left, and I decided that I should move up instead of sitting back. I had some reserves and I didn't want to start my sprint further back than necessary.
Now to the right as white/blue tucks back in, guy in blue is still on the edge.
After a moment hesitation I kept moving forward.
I actually went around a small clump of riders, maybe 4 or 5, tucking to the left of one rider, then the right of another. It was enough to put me close to the front as we rounded the last turn.
Going into the last turn.
Rider on the yellow line is pulling off and moving right.
I'd go through the corner to his left.
In the last turn I had to maintain some position as I semi-battled with a rider to my right (we weren't battling as he had just pulled off, but he needed to make the corner also) while a rider to my left kept me from moving left.
As we exited the turn the wind hit me hard from the right. The rider that moved up the left had kept me from moving right, and he left a small gap exiting the turn.
Wrong side going into the sprint.
I knew I had to get to the sheltered side for the sprint so I shifted over cautiously, slowly, and in a few seconds I sat on the sheltered side of the rider in front of me. Getting shelter was more important, at least from what I could see, than closing the small gap, so I chose to get shelter instead of going around him on the wind side. This saved me probably a good 5 seconds of my sprint.
I could see Ian was sitting in a perfect spot to launch - he's the rider at the other end of the gap sitting third wheel. I didn't want Ian to get the jump on me because I wasn't confident about my top speed. I knew I could jump and my wheels would help me maintain some kind of speed.
Correct side after a bit of adjustment.
This also gave me my "passing lane" to the left.
After a bit of hesitation and a quick look back I decided that I needed to go.
Ian's glove is to my right.
I jumped hard, the first pedal stroke muted a bit by the slightly heavier wheel weight of the Stinger 7/9s. As usual I shifted on the downstroke, dropping the chain onto the 12T cog as I pushed the pedal down. Once I started accelerating the wheels kept going and going and going.
After the initial bit that took me past the front three riders I looked briefly to make sure I was clear and then, knowing I was clear, I moved to the curb. As I started running out of downstrokes (aka I was blowing up) I shifted into the 11T. I hit and maintained about 37 mph, so not great, but given the wind, not bad either.
John S cheering me on, his wife in the shade to the right.
The Missus and Junior are near the curb, I think she's picking him up.
I was already in the 11T by the time I rolled by the Missus, starting to wonder if I went a bit early. Unlike some of my sprints I didn't hold back this time, it was 100% commitment from the jump. Therefore I didn't want to look back because I had nothing more to give if someone was coming up on me. I did glance down to see if anyone was coming around me, but I couldn't see any wheels or anything.
At the line.
My heart rate peaked at 179 after the sprint.
I did a minor bike throw at the line, more of a "sit down with my arms forward" than a bike throw. I knew no one pipped me and, assuming John was right, I just added a bronze Nutmeg State Games medal to my collection.
Look back after the sprint.
I looked back after the line and realized that, yes, I'd jumped early. It seemed that no one went with me so I'd gotten a little gap and managed to hold it to the line.
I didn't know it at the time but after checking the data it seems that we weren't going too fast, about 28-30 mph, when I jumped, and my heart rate was a surprisingly high 172 bpm or so. Normally I can't sprint if I'm over 168-169 bpm, but I think my heart rate has been higher than normal due to my lack of training.
Ends up my sprint was 14 seconds, 900 watts, 1200 watt jump. It wasn't a long sprint after all - my best sprints recorded on the SRM are usually 1200-1300w jump over a 19 second sprint at 1000-1100w - it's just that at New Britain usually someone can get around whoever leads out. In my case no one went with me so I was lucky.
The bike, as I raced it.
Trailer right, Expedition left.
I waited for the podium thing as I wanted to hold Junior up there. When Patrick, the organizer of the Nutmeg Games, gave me the medal, he gave me two - the Nutmeg as well as the USAC medal. I didn't realize it but this year Nutmeg has been recognized as the USAC Crit Championships as well, at least for 45+, so I got my first ever USAC medal.
Nutmeg left, USAC right.
They join the other Nutmegs I've somehow managed to accumulate over the years.
My stress relieving ride had gone pretty well. I had to get going, though, so I headed back to the trailer. I packed up, staging things in the Expedition for my walk to the hotel at the other end of the drive.
With that I headed out to White Plains for probably the busiest day of the year for me, busier even than any Bethel.