There’s that moment in the race when you know the elastic is going to snap. You can feel it coming. Maybe you have one match left. Maybe the book is empty. Then that’s it. The pack are up the road, and you are on your own in that solitary world of pain, grinding to the finish.
I hate that feeling.
With the Tour of the Battenkill dropping its USA Cycling sanctioned status and moving to late May, I was in the market for an early season race as a focus for my winter training. Enter the newly USAC sanctioned Quabbin Reservoir Road Race in central MA; a sixty five mile course with five thousand feet of climbing encircling the the largest reservoir in the state. Game on.
Winter in the east was relatively mild this year. My training consisted of the Chris Carmichael ‘Experienced Competitor’ plan (mostly intervals) and a smattering of long, hilly, group rides.
By the end of March I had more than 1000 miles (road and rollers) under my belt and I felt reasonably strong.
Looking at previous years’ results I set my self a target finish time of 3 hours 30 minutes.
The weather on race day was hard to read. The roads were damp and a chilly wind blew, but when pressed for a forecast the local ladies at registration predicted that the sun would be out around midday. It seemed unlikely. I donned ¾ knickers, arm warmers, and a shell gilet. At staging the sun did make an appearance and the temperature rose instantly so I dashed back to the car and ditched the gilet. A good move, the locals were right. It did warm up.
The first half of the race saw the pack climb a series of steadily ascending rollers. Although the rise in elevation was significant there were no really steep pitches. As we headed north the main challenges were a cross wind from the west and the accordion effect in the middle of the pack but at the time neither felt like insurmountable problems. In retrospect I could have and should managed the situation a little better.
I usually prefer to ride on the outside in a big bunch so as to give myself room to react if a gap opens up. In this case it left me exposed to the cross winds and without realizing it I had burned too much energy holding on to a poor position in the peloton.
At about mile thirty five came the first portent of disaster. I felt the twinges of cramp.
I knew what was coming but was determined to hold out for as long as possible. I wolfed two energy gels and chugged as much electrolyte as I could. While I had neglected to read the conditions earlier, now I vowed to use every ounce of race craft to keep me in the hunt for a good finish.
As the route turned back to the south my favored position on the outside left me better protected from the wind. A strong descender, I tried to gain a few places on the down hills and then drop back on the climbs.
For a while it worked, but by mile 45 I was only hanging on by a thread.
The elastic became more and more stretched. Twice it snapped altogether and twice I was able, with the help of another rider who was struggling, to dig deep and work my way back to the bunch.
Eventually the inevitable became a reality. At the foot of the penultimate climb, about nine miles from the finish, the lights went out – but not completely. As I watched the pack ride away I settled into a steady tempo, eeking out what I had left to get me over the line. It was a grueling end to the race but I’d held on just long enough.
In the end my final time was much better than I could have hoped for going in – a very creditable 3 hours and 7 minutes and I placed 38/63 finishers. More than anything though, I had suffered for it.
I have a feeling I’ll be back for more.