Purgatory Road Race – Masters 35+ Field – Mass State Road Race Championship
The course was an 11-mile circuit that we did 5 times for 55-miles total. The highlight was the final 200 ft steep-flat-steep stair step climb at the end before leveling off for the finish. There was a long steep sweeping shaded descent on the backside and plenty of rolling hills spread throughout.
I’d been looking forward to racing in the 35+ field all season, and this was my first opportunity to do so. The field included many of the big cycling names in the region including ex-pros and plenty of Cat 1 and 2 racers. It was chosen as the Massachusetts State Road Race Championship this year, so that boosted the level of competition as well. Aside from a handful of big names and customers I knew in the field, the majority of racers I didn’t know so I planned to stay relaxed and ready for anything. There looked to be about 60 starters with race morning signups on such a nice day.
I spent the first lap getting to know the course since I hadn’t ridden it before. The sweeping fast descent worried me the most since it was tough to see the pavement in the shade and everybody was flying down this thing. When I backed off slightly at 45mph, guys would start passing me on both sides and making me more nervous. Later on it would get easier once I knew the road. I planned to stay close to the front on the final climb in case a breakaway formed. My legs felt great the first time up the hill, and I surged with a few guys at the top. We pushed the pace for a bit, but when it was clear the field was still attached we sat up. When given the chance, I felt it was a smart move to push the pace over the top of the climb to make it harder for any guys falling back to catch back on.
I spent laps 2 and 3 in the field trying to save energy as my legs were already feeling beat up from the hills and constant surges. Throughout the race there seemed to always be a small breakaway up the road and occasionally I’d help pull it in. Former national pro road race champion Mark McCormack was in the field with his brothers and seemed to be the most marked rider. As soon as he surged or bridged to a breakaway the whole field reacted. I tried to stay close enough to the front to bridge up if he ended up in a breakaway that looked strong.
The big move came climbing the finishing hill with 2 laps to go. A few guys hit the bottom of the hill hard and looked strong. I bridged up and came over the top with them and immediately pushed the pace on the front of the group as we descended. We ended up with 6 of us in the breakaway and everybody quickly started rotating together. One of the guys in the group was Matt Mitchell who is a big diesel I’d ridden with before. I didn’t know the other guys (Graham Garber, Sean Groom, Gerry Clapper, and Jason Croteau) but clearly they were all very strong as nobody missed a pull or showed any signs of fading. I recognized all of their names afterward from my limited pre-race intel gathering. The most obvious absences from my perspective were the McCormack brothers and our local CCB Racing team, so I knew a strong chase would be coming from those guys and any other teams not in the break.
It didn’t take long to figure out I could go downhill faster (go figure) than the other guys in the group, so I stayed on the front for prolonged pulls in those sections hoping to boost our time gap to the main field where possible. There was a couple times where I actually gapped the group on the fast descent, so I’d sit up and wait a few seconds for them to reconnect. We stayed together on the climb before the final lap with a few verbal reminders from guys in the group to keep working together. Starting the final lap the motorcycle pulled up and said we had 49 seconds on the main field. The news seemed to energize us as we all kept rotating strong knowing that our chances of staying away were very good. In the final downhill/flat stretch before the finishing climb the motorcycle announced the gap at 48 seconds – excellent. At this point either some of us were hurting or possibly starting to get tactical since the rotation stopped and gaps things started getting sloppy. It wasn’t a big deal – I think everybody was just trying to get anything they could in their legs before the finish climb.
I led the pack off the flat/downhill into the finishing climb, and then did my best to ignore the shattered feeling in my legs and muster up one more effort. I immediately found myself hanging on in 6th place as everybody surged at the bottom. The climb was a bit of a blur and I remember laughing (or was it crying?) to myself about the thought of trying to hold this pace to the finish. At least it would all end soon, which quite frankly was all I cared about at that moment. Fortunately I stayed attached to the group and by the top of the climb guys were popping before me and I managed to move back to the front as we crested the top. Knowing everybody was hurting, I crested the hill at the 500-meter sign and poured all my energy into accelerating on the short downhill before the false flat to the finish hoping this would at least keep a couple guys from catching on. I attempted to soft pedal for a few seconds before the final surge, and then at the 200-meters to go sign I put everything I had left into the pedals. I think I tried to stand, but sat right back down, and perhaps tried to stand again – can’t remember. Graham Garber slowly came around my right side to take a bike length lead with 100-meters to go. I leaned closer to his rear wheel and kept pounding the pedals hoping nobody else would pass. I came back slightly up his side and ended up finishing perhaps a wheel down with my final surge to take 2nd place. It wasn’t until a few minutes later in talking with Graham that I found out he was from Connecticut, which meant I was the Massachusetts State Road Race Champion. I couldn’t be happier with that finish in my first Masters 35+ race!
In talking with guys after the race it sounded like the main field was trying to chase, but kept getting frustrated. Graham had a teammate who said he did some blocking at the front, and I’d have to assume any 545 Velo guys – Matt and Jason’s team – tried to block too.
The power stats tell the story. When I remove the neutral start, my normalized power for the last 2 hours sits right on my all-time high on the power-duration curve, so it’s no wonder my legs and body were so toasted. Ironically, my normalized power wasn’t much lower when I was riding in the main field the first couple laps, but average power was much lower. This is testament to the massive surges you’d end up making in the main field where the pace was more consistent in the breakaway. Taking out the 2-mile neutral start, here are the numbers:
Total race time 2:13
Total race average power 301 watts
Total race normalized power 366 watts
Breakaway time: 59 minutes (including the climb before breakaway started)
Breakaway average power 342 watts
Breakaway normalized power 376 watts
All the power/speed/lap/elevation/map data is on strava: http://app.strava.com/rides/10509774
Race results are currently here: http://www.road-results.com/race/1813 with full results eventually posted on bikereg.com
I’m looking forward to some great events the next month. Next weekend I’m riding in the 148-mile Harpoon B2B .
6/23-6/24 – My most important event of the summer. Riding for my sister Marleigh in the MS150. Please consider supporting our Fitwerx/MPB team. Donate $50 or more and be entered into win a free $2600 bike that Fit Werx is donating. Click to Donate
Read more about Marleigh’s story here: https://fitwerx.com/ms150
I’ll then finish out the month with the Fitchburg Stage Race on 6/30 and then climbing Mt Washington on 7/7 at Newtons Revenge.
Thanks for reading!