Dean’s Green Mountain Stage Race Report – Cat 2 Field – 91 riders.
I kept them all on one long report so you only need to click on one link!
Stage 1 – Time Trial – 5.6 miles
I came to this race specifically to hammer this stage; confident I could get into the yellow jersey, and then have some fun defending it for the rest of the weekend. The course was uphill the first half, then flat/downhill to the finish. Road bikes only, but you could use aero wheels, aero helmet, and skinsuit. I’d modeled the course profile (yes, I’m that guy) on the computer earlier this summer and had a lot of fun playing around with different power pacing strategies and also the impact of different positions on the bike. In the end my strategy generally matched what everybody said “Go as hard as you can until the top of the hill, and then hang on until the finish”. There was favorable tailwind most of the day, but when I went off in the Cat 2 field at 1:14pm it seemed to have shifted to more of a crosswind the whole downhill section. It was certainly at my back the whole hill climb though.
I started out using my 5-minute max power as a ceiling, and quickly found myself exceeding it and needing to back off. I came to the short downhill section about 5 minutes in and tucked and spun easy attempting to clear my legs for the rest of the climb which was planned to be back at my 5-minute max power. The final rise lasted just over a minute, and then I fought off my screaming legs to get some momentum going on the false flat section before the downhill. I never seemed to hit the power I was hoping too on the downhill since my legs were cooked. I hit my max HR at the top of the climb, and in hindsight should have backed off a little on the climb. I was still making great time, as my clock was just passing 13 minutes as I went into the “dip” before the final uphill to the finish. I’d passed my 30, 60, and 90-second guys, and was closing in on the 4th. There’s a steep wall on the other side of the dip, and then it levels off to a gradual uphill for the last 500 meters to the finish line. I wanted to keep all the momentum I could coming out of the dip at 46mph. I hit the wall and stomped as hard as I could out of the saddle to keep momentum. My speed dropped quickly, and when I shifted up a couple cogs on my cassette…disaster struck. My chain somehow skipped on the cassette, got loose, and popped off the chainring, dropping and jamming underneath my chain catcher. When I realized I couldn’t pull it back up, I frantically hopped off and fought with it. I just couldn’t unwrap it from underneath the chain guide/catcher, and when seconds turned to minutes not only was my stage over but my General Classification overall hopes as well. I finally did get it back on the chainring, and limped across the finish, still in a state of shock, with a time 2:22 behind the race leader.
I was ready to go home. I couldn’t put in words how down, shocked, and disappointed I was after that. I was in a trance just staring at my blackened hands on my hoods for the ride back to the start. I think I told everybody I ran into on the way down that I was going home, but maturity fortunately won over in the end and I stayed. That night at Ian’s house, a few too many beers made me feel better and by the end of the night I was fired up to attempt a big move on stage 2.
Stage 2 – Circuit Race – 72 miles
“Greatness is not in never falling, but in rising after the fall” Rich Angelo
I texted Marty this quote last night, as it was a quote we heard several times during the services of our good friend Rich Angelo after his tragic death at the USAT nationals 2 weeks ago. I even got return texts back from Rich’s wife and daughters that they were thinking of me and Rich would be proud. I had the number “11” sticker on my handlebars, which was Rich’s lucky number. I wanted to win yesterdays stage so I could dedicate it to him. While that wasn’t meant to be, I kept reminding myself of this quote. It was going to be an emotional day.
The 20-mile circuit consisted of a 700-foot rolling climb, followed by a fast descent then the rest was rolling flat roads. I concocted my angry “Shock and Awe” plan over beers with Ian last night. I would attack as I could over the top of the climb, and put everything I had into a breakaway attempt to the finish. I didn’t care if it was me alone or if a dozen guys went with me. I just wanted to make a big impact on the race and take out my frustrations from yesterday.
Before the start I was approached by some “friends” that were planning to attack on the 2nd to last climb, and asked me to join. This certainly sounded a lot more promising than my “Shock and Awe” plan, although not very different, but I was in!
The pace was aggressive at some points the first lap as guys went for KOM and Sprint points at the different parts of the race. I ended up riding near the front from a safety standpoint, and bridged up to some early breakaway attempts to keep my options open. The 2nd lap was much tamer as guys seemed to be tired. Things were positioned perfectly for the upcoming attack.
The attack: When we started up the 2nd to last climb with 35 miles remaining, some guys had already gone up the road. I could see Graham Garber with them, but I wanted to wait before bridging. I was in successful breakaway with Graham at Purgatory earlier this season (he outsprinted me for the win), so I knew he’d commit to riding hard. Graham also knew how down I was after my mishap yesterday cost me the stage win too. He knew how much I wanted and needed this break to stick, and it would launch him into the yellow leader jersey if we stayed away. A couple guys went by me in the middle of the climb, so I grabbed a wheel and bridged up. This way it looked like I was covering and not attacking. I ended up going over the top with perhaps 6 guys, and then Graham and I started taking turns hammering over the top and the descent. I looked back and it was only the 2 of us, with a small group of 3-4 guys chasing a few seconds back. I wasn’t about to wait, and Graham kept on the gas, so the 2 of us opened the lead more and more down the descent. We turned at the bottom onto route 2, and could still see the 3 guys behind us, but the main field was not in site. I felt great on route 2, trading huge pulls with Graham and by the time we turned onto route 100 we were out of site. The motorcycle finally pulled up and said we had 1 minute gap on the small group of 3 behind us. Later we heard the break was caught and we had 1:40 on the field, then 2 minutes, 2:05 to start the final climb with 15 miles to go.
I started cramping out of nowhere on the climb, and they got bad quickly. “I’m cramping, I have to back off” I said when I was pulling through. Graham said something along taking it down a notch and let me stay on his wheel the rest of the climb. Things were getting worse for me near the top of the climb and I couldn’t pull through at all. “The GC and the stage are yours, just don’t drop me!” I said. Graham responded, “No, you’re winning this stage”. Emotions started to kick in right there. Graham knew how upset I was after my mishap in the time trial, and he was also going to be well into the yellow jersey after this stage. While there are times when the yellow jersey wearer will trade the stage win for maximum help on time from the other rider, we never had this discussion. I was really moved by the gesture, and all I had to do was keep fighting the cramps and make it to the finish.
Graham pulled the vast majority the rest of the way. I took a few short pulls (if you could call them pulls) on downhills to give him a break, but that was all I could do. Our gap was down to 1:50 with 3 miles to go as the field was chasing hard and frankly we only had the effort of one rider at this point. Graham gestured for me to pull through with 500 meters to go and my emotions kicked in before we even crossed the finish line. In tears I thanked him and explained after the finish about the loss of my friend Rich Angelo 2 weeks ago, why I had his luck number “11” taped on my handlebar, and how I wanted to win yesterday’s time trial to dedicate to Rich and his family. I could now dedicate this Circuit Race stage win to Rich’s beautiful wife and daughters: Cheryl, Lindsay, and Michaela. I had texted them before the race, and in hearing the news that I won texted back “Congratulations, Rich was with you!”
I could now relax and enjoy tomorrow’s road race since I had no expectations for the App Gap finishing climb – especially since I could barely walk at this point and the road race started in 12 hours! Graham stood alone with a 58 second lead in the yellow jersey, so there would be a lot of pressure from the other teams.
Stage 3 – Road Race w/ App Gap Finish – 70 miles
I had a laugh last night when I left the podium ceremony with both the stage win and also the Green Jersey for the Sprint Points leader. Today I’d race in the Green jersey, and the sprint points at mile 31 gave me something to focus on. There was a neutral downhill start and then it was flat all day until we got to the finishing climbs. I wanted to get in an early breakaway to get the sprint points, but every time I’d bridge up to a small break the main group would chase and come with me. I finally let the breaks go, but kept a tempo pace toward the front of the group to keep the breaks in site until the “Hot Spot Sprint” at mile 31. I felt this would keep the opportunity open to bridge up, or hope the breaks would give up and come back. The break was still a minute up the road with a few miles to go, so I sat up and went to the back of the group. At this point another group of riders went off the front to try to bridge up. For the next 15 miles I took it easy in the back chatting it up with other guys, and getting some congrats on yesterdays win.
Around mile 50 we heard a time split to the breakaway of 4:40! I immediately saw the pace pick up as GC leaders sent teammates to the front to pull. I went to the front as well to put everything I had left into helping close the gap – I wanted to pay back Graham and his teammates for yesterday. I also felt by chasing I was somehow sticking it to the guys that wouldn’t let me in a break – but I admit that doesn’t really make sense…
I knew my legs were running on fumes, but I only needed to help the next 10 miles. I hammered as hard as I could on the front for extended sections – particularly the downhills. At mile 55 we caught the 2nd breakaway group – that never actually caught the first group, but the first group of riders was still reportedly 4 minutes up the road. I kept pushing as hard as I could at the front, taking short breaks as other team leaders pulled through, and finally pulled off when we turned onto the “Baby Gap” climb at mile 60. I got a number of thanks and pats on the back as guys went by me, and before I knew it was crawling up Baby Gap with about 10 other broken riders in a Grupetto. This last group is referred to as the laughing group, but I agree with commentator Paul Sherwin there was nothing funny about it. I lost the group and was all alone cresting Baby Gap, but caught the small group on the descent before App Gap. I immediately was off the back going up App Gap, and was truly concerned my legs would cramp so badly I wouldn’t make it to the top. I left it in my 39×28 gear the whole time, and must have zig-zagged 100 times “Paper Boy” style up the climb. 23 minutes of painful introspection later, I crawled across the finish line. The finish line commentator gave me a nice welcome “Here comes Dean Phillips, he was in a breakaway all day yesterday and clearly he’s paying for it today”. He also commented on my Green Jersey and how sprinters aren’t always the best climbers. I finished with a smile and enjoyed chatting it up and checking out the views before descending down. Unfortunately the GC standings were flipped upside down for the 2nd day in a row, and Graham, despite a great climb up the App Gap, was in 3rd place now 38 seconds back. I’m bummed that we didn’t start chasing earlier to keep him in yellow, but kudos to the breakaway for such a brave early move and staying away to the finish.
I had only planned to race the first 3 stages and head home Sunday afternoon, but would have stayed through Monday afternoon’s Criterium in Burlington if I was in the overall GC running. While that clearly wasn’t the case, I did have the Green Sprint Point Jersey lead so considered staying to defend it. In the end, family and home commitments won over and I headed home Sunday afternoon. I was truly happy with how things turned out on an emotional roller coaster of a weekend. Mike Burris, who leads our Burris – Fit Werx 40+ team, referred to my stage 1 mishap in saying “Bike racing can have the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows”. He is so right, and I truly experienced both ends of this statement in the last few days.
I’m looking forward to some down time, and will likely wrap the road racing season up in the Masters 35+ field at the Jamestown Classic in early October. It will be the anniversary of my first bike race where I won the cat 5 field last year (I tried to upgrade to Cat 4 after lapping the field in the Wells ave C race a month before, but was denied), and what an enjoyable year it’s been.
All 3 stages are on strava on the following links in order:
Thanks for reading!