I've only been racing three years, and for the last two I've enjoyed racing the Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic. However this year Pat Torpey had the alluring idea of driving up to Massachusetts to race a New England crit and camp the evening before.
The crit was the B2C2 run Greenfield Criterium in Greenfield, Mass., a small city close to the Vermont border, nestled in beautiful, forested, Western Mass. countryside (I say this without bias). Presented with this option over Harlem, I welcomed the escape from the city, and the chance to race another New England crit against some 'cross hitters who sparingly race road in the 3s, 4s, and 5s. Plans were hatched, and we decided to head up Saturday morning after the L&C race in Prospect Park.
Let it be known: I am not good at park races for many reasons I won't go into here. I treated L&C as openers for Greenfield, and if I got a result it would be an added bonus. There was no result, and after a quick post-race team coffee the real race was on to finish packing my camping gear, and hammer to Pat's in order to make the designated 9am departure. After playing a game of Tetris to get all of the gear, bikes, and people in the car, and waiting for Bryan Banducci, we were off.
The drive up was quick and we made our first stop in Amherst, Mass., an area where I spent my formative college years. After giving Pat and Bryan a quick tour of the UMass campus, I convinced the group to head into downtown Amherst for some solid pizza and coffee at two of my old haunts. Aside from the hilly route we rode to get there, there was little disappointment with lunch.
From Amherst we made the short drive up to the Barton Cove campsite, a secluded forest nestled up against the Connecticut River in Gill, a small village about 5 miles from race start line in Greenfield. We pitched our tents, checked our phones, and then departed to Tim Willis and Natalie Tapias's house in Easthampton for a pre-race dinner.
It's always great to reconnect with old friends after they've made the all-too-often migration from Brooklyn to greener pastures. With our bellies full of beer, rose, vegetables, and our minds and hearts full of good conversation, we headed back to the campsite to build a fire and drink whisky because that's what you do when you're from Brooklyn and go camping.
Bryan and I (mostly Bryan) got a fire going, and the two of us proceeded to drink WAY too much whiskey while drinking NO water until well after midnight. The rise with the sun greeted us both with upset stomachs, dehydration, and a general sense of regret.
The GREENFIELD CRITERIUM
After packing up, rushing Bryan to his race, kitting up, pinning, making a massive effort to rehydrate, warming up, and greeting my father and brother who came in to watch, I was sitting on the start line. I lined up dead last because that's what I was trying to avoid doing so naturally it happened.
I felt pretty good aside from the slight hangover and budding realization that a peanut butter and chocolate Lara Bar washed down with green Gatorade was probably the worst thing to consume right before a race.
The whistle went and I spent the next five laps moving up. The course was like White Plains light: a basic four corner crit with tight turns, a false flat, and minor downhill. Positioning was key given the tight turns and limited area to move up so I had to put in a few good efforts to get to the front, and when I say front I mean the literal point of the race.
I spent the next 30 or so laps trying to animate the group as much as possible. I'd attack, try to get a break going, go with moves, and bring back lone riders going off the front who I recognized as threats. Despite all of this work I felt pretty good, and was safe from a few crashes that happened in the first and second corners about mid-pack.
It was hot and humid and the sun decided to come out during the second half. I drank a bottle and doused myself with the the little water that was left, but it wasn't enough to stop the familiar feeling of calf cramping from setting in. With around five to go I felt a few twinges in both calves when putting in effort on the false flat. I knew I had to ignore them and hang on.
Coming into the bell lap I hit the front and hit it hard. I put my head down and buried myself, trying to get away solo. I knew if I took the corners fast and at the limit of my tires I would be in good position to take the win or at the least podium. This plan almost worked as I glanced pack and what was left of the pack (we lapped a large number) was strung out every which way.
I couldn't have come around the last corner any faster and kept it upright. I immediately started my non-existent sprint, and was about 25 yards from the finish when I saw a few guys come around me. I crossed the line fifth, and a dude named Morgan Rockett took the win. I can't deny that a guy named Morgan Rockett winning a bike race almost made it worth it.
Despite not getting on the podium, the race was a blast. It was well organized and in a great venue with a good bunch of pros and amateurs. The cherry on top was having my father and brother out cheering me on every lap as I doggedly tried to get away.
After re-hydrating for what seemed like the thousandth time that day, and crushing an iced coffee, I prepared to watch Pat race with the big boys. The field had lots of crushers from Green Line Velo, CCB Velotooler, Rally Racing, among others. As expected, it was aggressive off the start. Breaks formed, were absorbed after a few laps, and new ones quickly formed.
Early on a five person break went off the front, and shortly after that a small chase group formed with our very own Pat being an integral part of forming and working it. The break eventually lapped the field and Pat got spat out of the chase group with relatively few laps to go (it's important to note that Curtis White was at one point in the chase until he wasn't).
A chaotic finish saw the break, mixed in with the peloton, cross the line first with a GLV rider posting up mid-pack. The chase group with the pack nipping at its heals rolled in shortly after with no attempt at a sprint finish. The group then rolled in again without any excitement.
Our bodies drained of water and covered in mosquito bites, we repacked the car, and headed back to our concrete jungle, heads full of good memories.
Photo Credit: Darcey Moore
Chris Burati is a sometimes reluctant calendar model and New York City corporate drone who has an intense love/hate relationship with cyclocross