Well, it's a week since stage one of the the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, known mostly as the Fitchburg Stage Race or, as an approximation of a slightly bigger race in Pennsylvania, simply, "Fitchburg." It was my first time tossing myself into stage racing, and coming out on the other side I have even deeper respect for the guys who'll race 20 out of the next 22 days (and even more contempt for the ones who are getting through it with help). Stage racing is hard. Only one or two days into it, you start feeling vaguely sick. Efforts that would normally not set you back too deeply require the gut-check of the truly hard. Here's how it all went down.
Day One, The Time Trial.
Normally, I'd say this would be my chance to lash back at all the effete roadies who think triathletes are soft. However, when the stage looks like this:
I start to re-think my chances. O.K., so things didn't actually go that badly, but I didn't exactly deliver the redemptive, knockout blow I'd hoped to. I came across the line 38th out of 111, posting my best finish of the weekend, but in some solid company (Ryan Kelly, Peter Bradshaw, Morgan McCleod), riders I respect a lot. It was hard. Captain Dondo once said to me: "Time trialling is a lot like trying to make yourself vomit, and then keeping the bile down when it starts to rise." That's mostly what it felt like. 18:10 of it.
Day Two, The Wachusett Road Race.
This one didn't strike me as too bad to begin, but I got lost on the way to the start, and was a bit scattered rolling to staging. I forgot to change the cassette on my wheel, and discovered, when I stood to climb, that the chain skipped like Julie Andrews.
O.K., well, I could deal with this. It just meant being at the front whenever we started to climb. This worked for the first five laps (the race was 8 laps of 11.4 miles, with a final 2K climb to the summit of Mount Wachusett), but then things started happening to my legs. Somehow, I caught back on each time, although twice I had to chase hard to get back to the peloton. I'm happy to report I made it the 8 laps with the group, and then waved goodbye as they went up to the summit. My 81 Kg body doesn't go up hills so good, so I just tried to keep it together and crossed the line about 4 minutes behind the leaders. Still, I was going to be racing the next day, and I still hadn't given up grievous amounts of time. And really, how hard could a circuit race be?
Day Three, The Circuit Race (i.e. the kiss of doom)
O.K., circuit races can be pretty bad, especially if there's 100 feet of climbing in the 200M right before the Start/Finish, and everybody in the race knows that that's the place to split things up. I'd changed my cassette, so at least I had all my gears, but once again it was a case of get to the front on the backstretch so I could hit the hill in the first 15 riders. If I did this I would find myself safely in the back third of the pack at the top of the hill. If I didn't, I would face a grueling battle to hang on until the descent on the backside of the course (I can always catch up on descents; it's the one place where being a fat cyclist helps). I made it for 14 out of the 16 laps, got caught in the middle of the pack on the back, and waved goodbye once we got to the top of the hill. Still, I once again only gave up a few minutes: there were plenty of riders who got shelled off the back of the pack completely; I was only 9 minutes down. This was the most challenging day for me. You know those little stickers USCF sends out, with the guy on the bike with the caption "Suffer?" Yup, that was me, doing my best Jerry West impersonation of a white silhouette.
Day Four, The Downtown Crit.
Ah, a criterium! Flat, fast, hard, my favorite things (hmm, another Sound of Music reference; something must be up). A relatively short crit of 28 miles, or 25 quick laps. This never got going really fast, not up to the fiery level of Exeter last year, or even the Salem Witches' Cup (31 and 28 MPH, respectively). 2s don't have that extra little bit of unbelievable speed that the Pro/1 guys have. I moved up, steadily, and was in striking distance of the front on the last lap when, cliche of cliches, there was a huge crash right in front of me in turn 3 of the final lap. We all got the same time, but I really think I was going to be in a better spot than the 66th place in which I finished.
So I finished of 66th of 99 finishers (with 115 or so starters). Not bad, really, for my first race as a two. I never truly got dropped and got to race every day. I would have liked to finish the circuit race with the pack, but I did learn, over four days, what it's like to be truly uncomfortable and go out and suffer anyway. You also learn that everyone else is hurting too, and if you can be a bit more uncomfortable than them, good things will happen.
Right now I'm in Minneapolis, getting ready for the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon. Hard to believe, but I just had a casual, fun dinner with Greg Bennet and two members of the Canadian Olympic team. What am I doing here? Updates on Saturday. Be well.
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