Bear Mountain Classic 2018 Race Report
For New York City cyclists planning their season, there is a race that happens in mid-May which offers both respite and torture. With the long mileage, 10 minute climbs, rollers that require some bike handling skill, and fast descents, this course offers a vastly different race to the typical park experience. Because of the course and its position in the season, many NYC racers set it as one of their targets for the year. This leads to a field of "on form" racers who all want to win on a tough course -- and somehow its always raining.
Hello, I am here to talk about everyone's favorite A race to DNF at: The Bear Mountain Classic.
I've been looking forward to the race since January when I worked with my coach to plan my season. I thought, "If I'm still a cat 4 by Bear Mountain, I'd like to win it." A couple things here, I still need tons of points and everyone else wants to win Bear Mountain.
The Bear Mountain channel in the team slack has been active for months. Filled with conversations about the planning (thanks Ted!), the team strategy for the cat 3 race, and the crew giving their favorite solo #slowboi tips on how to do well in the race. Tips like "cross the line first" and "don't cross the line last." Obviously there was genuine strategy thrown in, but the general theme was "Cullen you have been training, you are strong, you can do this." The week leading up to the race, I really started to believe that I could win the dang thing.
I slept for 8 hours and woke up to my prepared breakfast -- some eggs, overnight oats, and coffee (to get some other mandatory pre-race rituals going). We arrived at the venue with plenty of time to reg, pin, warm up, eat some more, and then roll up to the line. As someone who loves racing in the rain, everything was coming up Milhouse.
As we started the neutral descent, it was clear that some folks were antsy to get the race started. Some Good Guys, a Kissena racer, and myelf all stayed at or near the front and made sure to call out anyone we saw trying to start the race a little early. The officials didn't let us actually go until about a quarter of the way up the first climb and we settled into a quick but very manageable pace.
There were a few guys I had marked as the probable winners, and I had full intention of being in whatever break contained the right set of them. My strategy here was to sit on or near the front until that break happened. Perhaps you already know where this is going. Whenever there was an acceleration, all the guys near the front (myself included) took part in gluing the field back to that rider who went away. Because the effort increase was so small during these accelerations, I didn't notice how taxed my body was getting. I was secretly burning off the matches I'd need for the last lap.
On the third lap, a small move at the beginning of the climb looked like it had the "right guys" in it so I accelerated up to them. When we were finally caught -- about halfway up Tiorati -- the bunch accelerated again. We were close enough to the top that I started to let myself slip back. I couldn't hold this pace. I thought "maybe I can work my way back up to the front on the rollers if i just take a little rest at the...oh. Oh no."
I think I said that one out loud.
I stood up to try and grab back on the last wheel of the bunch, but it was no use. The dozens of tiny accelerations and bursts I spent in the first two laps had taken their toll. My race was over.
Theres a weird feeling when you decide to give up in a race. The lap back to the parking lap was peppered with other guys with better attitude than me who were still trying in between blocks of time alone with my sad thoughts. Luckily, there were a few other slow riding racers who had worked hard for their teammate and were now ded-like-me. Talking how my feels with some of these other guys led to chatting about the race; which led to making jokes about the race. By the time I was back in the lot, I was no longer considering quitting bikes completely; but, was sure I'd be taking some major time away from racing. Luckier still, I had to sit in the car on the drive home with two friends who didn't have the race of their fantasy either. Talking about how the race went, where you messed up, what could have been different, all of this is why having friends and teammates is so important.
After reviewing my data with a calmer mind, I realized I'm not weak or slow or wasting my time training: I'm just bad at bike racing. "Why did I do that acceleration and attack and dangle off the front on the lap two climb?" "Why did I sit third wheel there??" I'm still learning. You won't win every race you think you're going to win. Shit - you might not even finish every race you think you're going to win.
I'm now multiple days past that sad last lap where I was considering quitting bikes, and thanks to the friends and teammates I have, the same number of days away from my next race -- a typical park experience with friends and zero expectations. Another chance to learn how to be a bike racer.