Killington: A Lesson In Stage Racing
The Killington Stage Race is one of the few remaining calendar classics. While its date may have shifted from Labor Day weekend to Memorial Day weekend, the collective New England peloton has a deep-rooted relationship with this race. The nearly unchanged course has humbled many riders and unveiled top talents in the dawn of their racing careers.
Stage One - Circuit Race from the bars of Colin Keaveney
With an 11:30am start time, the morning was spent questioning kit choices and fiddling with bikes, anything to occupy our nervous energy. For racers used to the whistle blowing at dawn, a late-morning start gave us entirely too much time to fidget. The mood was one of excitement, our little three-man squad had real ambitions at this race. First up, a 74-mile circuit race comprised of four laps over moderately lumpy terrain.
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The forecasted rain did not materialize, and with a long decent in 'neutral', the race was on. Halfway through though, I had the overwhelming sense of dread wash over me as I felt my bike begin to fail. The seatpost bolt had begun to rattle loose at a rate which would see the saddle flying off the rails in just a few miles. I alerted Erwin to my mechanical issue and began to ask the peloton for a multi-tool - unfortunately my request was only met with sneers and laughs. Dropping back to the official's car, I implored the commissaire to call the neutral support car back from the breakaway which was merely a minute up the road. The officials refused and effectively sealed my fate, not just on the day, but in the entire race. My Killington Stage Race ambitions were over just 30 miles into the 150-mile race.
As the peloton rode away, I wondered what might have been. I had yet to feel taxed during the race and was riding easily in the bunch - Ted and Erwin were also riding well near the front of the race. And then I heard the metallic ricochet of a bolt falling from my bike. I stopped to recoup the pieces of my seat clamp and remounted my bike. How far would I be able to ride out of the saddle? I guess I was about to find out.
Remarkably, our soigneurs of the day - Lucia, who had raced earlier, and Steph, Erwin's girlfriend - were heading out to the feedzone and offered me a multi-tool. I had a saddle again, but the damage was done, the mechanical had taken me 10 minutes off the back. Of course my racer brain refused to accept this and I hopped back on my bike, wildly believing that somehow I might just catch back on in the 40 miles left to race.
The ensuing solo slog was a mental test beyond what most reasonable people would put themselves through. Desperately alone, I was forced to come to terms with my status on the road. But that's bike racing, you can prepare your body, your mind and your bike all you want - but ultimately us racers rely a lot on luck. Even the smallest bit of bad luck can see a race go up the road from you. Be it a crash, a flat, or even a seatpost bolt.
As I rode into the finish area, the event staff were busy packing up the barriers and most of the competitors had left the staging area. It summarized my day perfectly - bike racing owes you nothing, no matter how much you give it.
My teammates hesitantly rejoined me, unsure how I'd react to the day's events. Luckily for them, 40 miles had been enough to reconcile my situation. I wanted to finish with everything I could give, I wanted to be there, to race. Tomorrow would be another day.
Stage Two - Road Race from the bars of Ted Teyber
The Circuit Race on day 1 was the longest stage of the race. And while our plan was to observe more than take control or animate the race, Erwin and myself ended up doing a fair amount of work bringing back a series of breaks that resulted from a lackluster pace and extremely conservative Cat 3 field. We had driven the infamous final climb several times the day before, returning from the race and an excellent dinner in Woodstock VT thereafter; we were aware of the daunting finishing climb. To start, the climb out of town was also a decent grade, and definitely made one question their legs after the Circuit Race. But with an almost 65 mile race, there was plenty of time to ride into some form. But before the 1st of 2 KOMs, a powerful break assimilated up the road and despite trying to get a man in it, we were too late and had missed the winning break. The rest of the day was rather uneventful.
For me, who fancies climbing as a cycling strength, I looked forward to the final climb. Whether from lack of extended climbing preparation since being in So-Cal over Christmas, lack of mental preparation, or over-exerting myself the day before, it turned out to be a total disaster. I hit the beginning of the climb at the front of the main group, and consciously decided to fade back thinking the pace was a little quick. But I just kept going backwards, and after 2km was out of gears and pedaling squares. I hadn't been that cracked since, well, I guess now that I think about it doing the 13-mile Glendora Mountain Road --> Baldy loop over Christmas. It was torture to ride past the condo on the way to the finish line into a head-wind as practically crawled towards the finish.
From expectations to result, I was extremely disappointed. I let myself have 2 hours to wallow in my disappointment, but inspired by Colin Keaveney's great attitude the day before managed to put it behind me and stoke myself up for the TT with something to prove.
Stage Three - Time Trial - from the bars of Erwin Kersten
When one of your teammates (thanks Clay!) reaches out proactively to offer his TT bike, you know you've got the best team. And what a TT bike it is: Clay's Garneau Gennix TR1, including custom paint from their Dream Factory is not just extremely fast, but also a beauty.
Given it was my first TT ever, and with only a few practice runs in Prospect Park under my belt, expectations were low. The 11 mile course was (relatively) flat and fast. After missing out on the winning break on Saturday and Sunday, I was holding 15th place in GC, so my ambitions had shifted: a top 10 finish now seemed the best possible outcome.
3, 2, 1, and off you go. Someone counting down the clock, before you go pretty much full power by yourself is such a different start to our usual races, but I think I settled in quite well after the first minute or two. Overtaking 3 guys (riders were sent off 30 seconds apart, in reverse GC order) made me realize I was doing ok, which was confirmed by Colin & Ted at the finish line, telling me I finished the TT in 8th place. Ted got 13th and Colin 15th, so all-in-all a decent team results on this final day 3.
"It's not about the bike", someone once said. In this case for me, it definitely was.
The Weekend that Was
Erwin got 10th in GC. Otherwise a weekend racing bikes in the Green Mountains of Vermont was without notable results. But it was a rather incredible bonding experience for the squad: falling into the same rhythm of racing, eating, sleeping, recovering, lots of discussion about what Garneau kit and SiS nutrition to use. We learned a lot about racing with our teammates, stage race strategy, and how to adapt to changing race dynamics.