2013 Green Mountain Stage Race – Cat 2 Field – 80 Riders
Stage 1 – Time Trial – 5.7 miles
The time trial course starts with a 500-ft vertical gradual climb, then a fast flat/descending section, and finally finishing with a short uphill section. The finish line is 350-ft higher elevation than the start, so the climbers are favored but there’s enough flat and downhill in the 2nd half to give the bigger riders a chance. This opening time trial was also important to me since I had a freak chain issue on the final climb last year which cost me the stage win and yellow jersey.
You can have a lot of fun analyzing this course for best equipment choice and pacing. Time trial bikes are not allowed, but you can still use disc wheels, aero helmets, and skinsuits. I modeled the course and had plenty of fun running different pacing scenarios using different equipment. The best pacing scenario I could come up with involved holding back on the opening climb compared to last year, which would then leave me with more power in the 2nd half and give me an overall faster time.
Coming out of the start it’s so easy to get carried away and blow up on the hill. I settled into my power targets right away for the different grades, and then came over the top of the hill in about the same time as last year. I weigh 3-4 lbs less this year (195lbs), but held back 10-15 watts on the opening climb so it was nice to see the same time coming over the top and still feeling good. There was a tailwind this year in the 2nd half, so I got moving quickly and found myself nearly spinning out my 53×11 top gear. I had just enough gearing to keep the power up at my target while staying as aero as I could until the short downhill into “the dip” where my speed passed 48mph just before hitting the big wall that starts the finishing climb. Last year I somehow bounced my chain off the chainring on this wall when I was hammering out of the saddle trying to shift up the cassette – something I was never able to replicate in training. I came out of my tuck in the dip with a few clean upshifts on the wall, then held all the power I could for the final climb which lasted just over a minute. I was completely spent when I came through the finish line, but was relieved to finally hit the course as hard as I could. My pacing was right where I wanted it, and my official finish time was 13:48 – about 20 seconds faster than the pace I was on last year before the last minute mishap.
My time placed me 2nd overall, 7 seconds back from Eric Follen. While the yellow jersey would have been nice, I was really happy for Eric since we did a bike fitting with him last winter and he’s been having a great season. He also missed the yellow jersey in the opening stage last year by a fraction of a second, so it was well-deserved this year. I felt like I raced at my absolute limit with the best pacing and equipment I could, so I was really satisfied with my result and enjoyed the podium ceremony.
Stage 2 – Circuit Race – 72 miles
It was pouring rain at the start of the circuit race. We’d ride 3 ¾ laps of a 20-mile circuit consisting of a long gradual climb up Duxbury Gap, followed by a fast descent, and then the rest of the course was flat with a few rolling hills. There were time bonuses at the finish, so if I had the chance to get into a breakaway or place 3rd in the stage or higher I had opportunity to take the yellow jersey. I knew I’d have little chance against the great climbers in the field in the mountaintop finish tomorrow, so my goal was to finish high enough to win the yellow jersey today.
The start was neutral up to the top of Duxbury Gap, and then we were live on the descent. Right away I was having trouble slowing my bike down on the descent – pouring rain while descending at 45-50mph in a group where I outweigh everybody left me holding my brakes constantly so I wouldn’t run into the guy in front of me. It was so sketchy that I slowed and went to the back of the group and decided to wait things out for a lap or so hoping the rain would stop or the field would break up. The next couple laps were uneventful – climb hard, descend at the back of the field, and occasionally help pull in any breakaways that looked dangerous. The last time up Duxbury Gap a few of the race favorites went to the front and pushed a fast pace up the hill. There were a couple guys that attacked with a lap to go and they were almost out of sight on the climb and it was time to pull them back. While I couldn’t hang onto the lead guys on the climb, I was able to come over the top about 20th in the long drawn out chain of riders. Knowing many guys were at their limit, I went to the front to push the descent and try to split the field. If I could get away with a bunch of climbers, my chances were good at sprinting to a top 3 finish on the stage and the yellow jersey.
When I tucked on the faster part of the descent, I looked back and saw a gap behind me. One of the many race tactics I’d considered was attacking on the descent in this race, but at this point the pace of the field was so fast it was less promising. I decided to commit until the bottom of the descent since I wasn’t burning any matches in doing so, and then I could always relax at the bottom and go back to the chasing field if I didn’t have enough separation to stay away. I pedaled hard when the slower parts of the descent took me out of my tuck, and as I approached the bottom I could see the 2 breakaway riders – Taylor Warren and Ryan O’Boyle – coming back to me quickly. I caught up to them just before the bottom of the descent and waved them onto my wheel. They were clearly strong riders having quickly built a gap this late in the race and we’d go faster if they worked with me. It’s also beneficial having 3 guys in a break since the chasing field is more likely to sit up from chasing and race for 4th place compared to just chasing a single rider down.
We had about 7 miles of flat to rolling roads before the finish and looking back I estimated the gap was 30 seconds to the chasing field. I pushed most of the flats and descents, and urged my 2 breakaway companions to help as much as they could on the climbs. I told them I only cared about getting time on the field and as long as they helped me on the climbs I’d ride hard the rest of the way. This gave them both the opportunity to sprint for the stage win at the end and also the added bonus of moving up the General Classification if we stayed away. I won this stage last year in a similar position – a 2-man break with Graham Garber that put him into the yellow jersey and me on the stage win podium. Despite the fatigue from spending a full lap off the front together, they both rotated through on the hills and then I took the front for good as we approached the finish. Taylor came around first and outsprinted Ryan for the stage win, and we finished with a 52 second gap on the chasing field and each received time bonuses for the stage.
I received the yellow jersey at my 2nd podium ceremony in a row and looked forward to wearing it in tomorrow’s road stage. Ryan O’Boyle was now in 2nd overall 38 seconds back, and Eric Follen was in 3rd place 52 seconds back. There were a number of favorites now a minute back in the overall standings, but that was a small amount of time considering what was coming in tomorrow’s 100-mile road stage finishing with a mountaintop finish on App Gap.
Stage 3 – Road Race – Finishing at the top of Appalachian Gap
The 100-mile road stage included 2 trips up “Baby Gap” – an 800ft vertical stair stepping gradual climb – followed by the final climb up the 1200ft vertical “App Gap” to the finish.
Keeping the yellow jersey would be difficult, and tactics for such a long stage without any teammates were tricky. On one hand if I wanted to maintain as high a GC position as possible on the overall leaderboard, simply riding at the back of the field all day and letting the climbers worry about the breakaways was the best tactic. Riding at the back would leave me as fresh as possible for App Gap, where I estimated I’d only give up a minute or so to the best climbers – perhaps leaving me in the top 4 GC which was all I needed for a Cat 1 upgrade. The problem with this tactic was this kind of negative racing has always bothered me and in the end I couldn’t stomach it. I decided I’d ride near the front most of the day and keep myself in position to see the breakaways and hopefully work with other favorites to keep things under control – knowing that anytime spent near the front was going to mean less energy in the end of the race. It would be more fun and satisfying trying to defend the yellow jersey then simply defending a high GC position. There’s more to bike racing than just the final finishing results.
The first hour of riding was fast and several breakaway attempts were pulled back. While there weren’t many big teams in our 80-rider field, there were a number of small 2-3 person teams so many of the guys near the top of the leaderboard had teammates to help pull in breaks. A good size break got away when we turned onto route 2 for the long tailwind section. This was exactly where a huge breakaway got away and stayed away last year, and the circumstances were the same. A dozen motivated riders with nothing to lose commit themselves in the breakaway, and many of them have teammates back in the field either blocking or not bothering to help chase. They quickly put time in to the main field, and the overall race leaders are left with the tough dilemma – the breakaway needs to be chased down, yet most of the field is going to sit and wait for them to chase it down since they have more to lose if it stays away. It’s a game of chicken where the odds of winning are better when you have less to lose. Things would be different if there were larger teams (a dozen motivated riders from different teams in the protection of the main field would chase down the breakaway fairly easily), but the unique make-up of the field allowed things to play out this way for the second year in a row.
From miles 30-40, a small number of teammates from race leaders put in a good chase and kept the gap to the break at around 2 minutes. I went to the front a few times riding tempo in the flatter sections to keep things going. Earlier in the day I’d told other guys that I’d help chase breaks only with the cooperation of the other GC leaders. When the other GC guys stayed in the back of the field during this time, I finally gave up helping on the front and went to the back of the field with them. If they wanted to throw their GC chances away on a gamble that the yellow-jersey wearer without any teammates was going to ride all day on the front, then I wasn’t going to stop them.
After the feed zone climb around mile 45, the time gap was announced at 2:30 and everybody seemed to get the message that this break was dangerous and perhaps they should start helping ride it back. I finally saw several of the top 10 GC guys come to the front and help with the chase. We chased well for the next 10 miles and the gap closed to 1:30, then 1:10, and the break was just in front of us. I took a number of longer aggressive pulls during this time – particularly on the faster descending sections. With a few miles to the first climb up Baby Gap, I found myself at the front again without anybody pulling through, and basically watched the gap start growing again while I shook my head. It was time to play out the lesser hand I was left with, and I went to the middle of the pack to wait for the first Baby Gap climb. I felt great going over Baby Gap as the GC leaders stayed together on the front, but there were a few more attacks on the following descent. Now there were several breaks up the road and the chase would get worsel. Fresh riders that had teammates in the break attacked smartly, and other GC guys hiding in the back all day also took advantage of the now dysfunctional chase and attacked. I even found myself off the front on the descent – deciding whether to bridge up to the breakaway or go back to the chasing main field. I decided to stay with the race leaders in the main field for one last chasing attempt. We still had 20 miles before hitting Baby Gap again, so with just a small amount of cooperation we’d pull the break back.
The chase never got going and reality was I knew it wouldn’t. Eric Follen was riding on the front a ton at this point, and at one point he unclipped and got off his bike on the side of the road when nobody would pull through. I was laughing since it summed up the whole situation (“I wish I’d done that” I said out loud). I even had another GC guy tell me it was my responsibility to chase more than everybody else since I had the yellow jersey. While I can understand where he’s coming from, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This was one of the many top GC guys that let the current situation get to this point (for the 2nd year in a row) so in my mind he and the other climbers were responsible for this deficit. While we’re on the subject, let’s take a minute to list the actual responsibilities of the yellow jersey wearer:
- Wear the yellow jersey for the race
Yes, I’m digressing, but that’s the whole list right there. It may be in your best interest to ride at the front and control things, but you can’t control a field alone. We got to Baby Gap again and I was now feeling the fatigue of the whole day (and yesterday) in my legs. I sat in on the descent to App Gap, which was quite slow since nobody wanted to waste energy at the front. The stage winner and tomorrow’s top GC riders were certainly up the road at this point. The only thing left to do was try to stay with my group until the end. The yellow jersey was fun while it lasted.
When we hit App Gap, I only lasted a few minutes in our group before blowing up – in hindsight I should have let them go and paced myself from the bottom, but that didn’t fit in well with my “go down swinging” mission this day. I tried to maintain a steady pace to the top, but my legs were cramping all over and heart rate stayed pinned over 180. I’d also dropped one of my 4 bottles in the feed zone, so perhaps dehydration was kicking in too. I was completely blown, and the last 10 minutes of the climb were an eternity. It took everything I had to keep the bike moving, and when we got to the steepest part in the last 500 meters I had to zigzag paper-boy style so I wouldn’t fall over. My Garmin was auto-paused a couple times I was going so slowly. I had plenty of fans cheering and encouraging which helped me push to the finish. I crossed the finish line 29th, more than 4 minutes back on the stage winner and 2 minutes back on the group I started the climb with. I fell to 17th place in the overall standings now 3 minutes back.
You can look back and 2nd guess everything, but in the end I felt I went down swinging trying to defend the yellow jersey. It would have been physically easier to hide in the back all day and roll the dice (lots of guys did and they’re higher up in the standing now), but it wouldn’t have been as enjoyable a race experience. Lots of guys were thanking me for the help throughout the day, so I was happy with the effort in the end.
Stage 4 – Burlington Crit – 21 miles
I won’t get long-winded with the crit. It’s a 6-corner technical course in downtown Burlington that we’d ride 34 laps of for 21 miles. These things always going out really hard and aggressive and often times the field gets split up and riders get lapped and pulled off. I raced to a position of around 15th after the start, and planned to hold that position and if things settled out I’d work my way forward and perhaps make a move to the front or a breakaway in the 2nd half. Around the 10th lap I hit a big pothole while riding out of the saddle and threw my chain off the big ring. I got it back on in a few seconds, but the mishap dropped me all the way to the back of the group which was now down to about 40 riders. At that point I just sat in and stayed safe until the end. The last 20 laps consisted of sprinting up one long uphill section which often times opened gaps and popped guys off the back, and then recovering as we whipped through the 6 corners. I had to close gaps ahead of me a few times as guys blew up and went backwards. I uncorked my big sprint on the final climb which launched me from last place to about 5th from last place and finished 37th in the crit. I moved up to 15th overall in the GC since a couple guys in front of me got dropped. My highlight of the crit was breaking 1300 watts (I’m not a sprinter) in my final sprint which was a personal record for me. That alone put a smile on my face! Also, the winner of the stage was Ryan O’Boyle – one of my breakaway companions from Stage 2, so congrats to him for a getting himself a stage win too.
All the race files are on strava.com. Here they are in order:
It was a great race experience overall. I don’t have any planned races until Jamestown Classic over Columbus Day Weekend, so I’ll enjoy some more casual riding (and eating) until then.
Thanks for reading!