The unofficial opening of the bike racing season in New York was cold. My weather app insisted it was 20 degrees but with a brisk wind blowing off the Hudson it felt colder than that.
At registration a debate raged as to whether this was the coldest iteration of the race in memory. Opinions seemed to weigh that it was until the matter was settled by an old timer who recalled the mercury showing 18 degrees some years back.
I watched my fellow countryman Andy take 8th in the Cat 5 race. He hung around after the finish to take a few pictures of the 4/5 field.
At the line the starter let us keep our jackets on until the very last moment. At the appointed hour we disrobed and then we were off.
Grants Tomb is a challenging and somewhat unconventional course.
It goes sweeping left, hard left, hard left, short steep hill, hard right, down to a fast sweeping 180 degree turn followed by a long drag up to the finish line. Being NYC there are also lots of hole covers, assorted plates and pot holes. It’s technical.
Being the first race of the season my primary objective was to finish safely.
My strategy in Crit racing is to try to keep to the outside and out of the wind. I’ll close a gap if I have to but other than that I want to stay out of trouble, make up places where I can and then try to get a good position going into the last three laps or so. Apart from a couple of moments when I got caught on the inside of a corner and had to face the tricky dilemma of either braking hard or running wide on the exit, I navigated the course pretty well.
The problem was really the cold.
With 13 laps still left to race I could no longer feel my fingers, this despite the three layers of gloves that I was wearing.
They literally felt like blocks of wood. Operating the brakes levers and the shifters became extremely challenging. No amount of hand wiggling or finger waggling would bring life into my frozen digits. At this point I seriously thought about quitting the race.
But just a s that thought started to crystaize I looked up and saw 8 laps to go. I could do that. Then as the pace picked increase and my heart rate went up so a little more blood started to flow into my hands.
Three laps to go and I was in decent position to move up. I waited for the lull, that moment when the bunch pauses for breath before the final onslaught. It came late, on the downhill section on the final lap.
Moving up on the outside I took a good position for the turn and the final sprint.
As we entered final straight for a brief moment I entertained the thought of challenging for a place and moved off the wheel in front and into the wind.
It was indeed a brief moment. My legs sputtered and died. I dropped back onto the wheel in front T and took my rightful place in the middle of the main pack in the bunch finish.
17th and still upright. A win of sorts.
Video Credit: Nate Baltikas
Additional Photos: Andrew Williams
Special Thanks to Wouter and Celine at Bicycle Racing Pictures