The morning started early for me – I was up at 2:30 AM. My plan was to ride to the race in Central Park from Darien, CT (about 40 miles), then treat the race like a hard training ride. I wanted to work for our sprinter, Greg, as much I as could because he’s been hot lately. My teammates, Justin and Chris, were also going to be racing, and they each have the ability, fitness, and talent to get on the podium at Central Park. I just wanted to get some tough miles in and support my team. I had no intention of trying to win, it just turned out that way.
I arrived in the Park around 5 AM. The trek from Darien went much faster than I expected, since there were no cars on the streets and I was able to blow through every traffic light. I rolled over to Cat’s Paw, picked up my number, and quickly got back on my bike to find my truck on 74th street on the West Side (I left it there the day before). I pinned my number on a fresh kit, changed my bibs, clipped in my Garmin, filled my bottles, and I headed back over to Cat’s Paw for the start. I gotta tell ya, with 40 miles in my legs, I felt great!
Once I got to the start line, I realized that my rear tire was very low. It needed air. Nothing like some pre-race stress to get the heart pumping! After searching for a pump, and finding one, thanks to Matt from Sixcycles, I realized the valve extender had come loose and fallen off. I had no way to fill the tire unless I went back to my car, where I had a pump and an extra extender Fortunately, Greg was there and was willing to sprint across the park with me so I could fill the tire and then we sprinted back to make the start.
The race started out like every other race I’ve done in Central Park. A few larger teams went to the front and set the pace, which felt moderate, and not hard by any means. Chris and I went to the front too, and did a little work to test our legs. For the most, we just rode tempo.
With about 4 laps to go, the packed slowed down quite a bit and Justin went off the front to try and capitalize on the field’s lackadaisical attitude. A few riders followed and they formed a small break. Chris, Greg and I watched a few more guys bridge up and confirmed we all knew that Justin was in it. The three of us then sat in an became pack fodder. We wanted to see how things were going to shake-out. No need to chase our own teammate down or try to slow the field down, we just sat in the pack, ate, drank and chatted.
With a little over 2 laps to go, the break up the road that Justin was in got pulled back. I learned later that the group just didn’t have the right mix of riders. The guys weren’t the strongest, nor were they committed, with one guy pleading to take it easy on Harlem Hill. I’ve been in my share of breaks, and if guys aren’t willing to turn themselves inside out, the break is doomed. Sorry, Justin.
Soon after the break came back, the inevitable happened. A small group of pretty strong riders moved to the front. There was no single big attack, but Chris Shaw from FGX and one of his teammates just sort of rolled off the front. They were joined by a very strong rider from Comedy Central and Richard Scudney from Asphalt Green. I thought, if a break is going to work, it’s going to be with these guys, so I bridged up. I just about blew up when I grabbed the last wheel in the line. The guy from Comedy Central was drilling it on the front, and I had not yet recovered from the bridge effort.
Once I recovered, I knew we had a real shot. In total, we had 10 motivated riders that all seemed committed to making this work. There was no f’ing around, and everyone did work on the front, pulled through, moved out of the way after each pull, and let the next guy do the work. I realized quickly this was rare for a CAT 3 field and it gave me even more confidence that this might work.
As we approached Harlem Hill on the final lap, I began to feel some tension from the group. Chris Shaw from FGX moved to the front on the far left of the hill. I thought, this guy is about to go. He’s going to try to roll the group off his wheel. Chris has done this a few times this season in other races, and I knew what was going to happen. So I moved to the front to watch for moves. Sure enough, there he went…
Had Chris looked back, he would have noticed that I was right behind him, just letting him dangle a few feet off the front of the group. As we crested the Hill and moved into the Three Sisters, I knew I had one shot. I’m no sprinter, so my only chance was to turn the screws right then, at the crest of the hill. I went by Chris and never looked back. I knew the group was right on me, but I envisioned myself with about 20 feet on them, and that it would be hard for them to close the gap.
I pushed hard towards the finish line. With tunnel vision and blinders on, I heard nothing and saw no one. It was just me and the bike. When I crossed the line, I let out an uncontrollable scream that was part joy and part sheer pain. My legs were shaking, and my body was cramping…just the way it should be, just the way Ilike it.