This past weekend I made the haul up to Bennington, VT for the Tour of the Dragons, a 2 day, 3 stage race, consisting of a 11 mile time trial and 50 mile circuit race on Saturday, followed by a 71.5 mile road race on Sunday.
Saturday’s time trial was a winding course with a decent amount of climbing. I found myself wishing I had some lighter aerobars, though it wasn’t hilly enough to forgo them completely. After about half a mile I lost sight of my 30 second man through a turn, but saw a figure in the distance a few minutes later. I promptly passed him with disappointment, realizing he was my minute man, going backwards fast. I found myself struggling to keep my momentum on the climbs, and got passed by the eventual winner (who started 90 seconds back from me). Gave it everything to finish strong, but only ended up 23rd out of 39.
After a brief rest back at the hotel, I started the circuit race around noon. 3 laps of a 16 mile loop. Theinitial few miles were flat and fairly well paved. About five miles in we crossed a set of rail road tracks and hit the gravel. I was led to believe this would be a 1/4 mile stretch, which proved to be somewhatof an understatement. We went hard and fast through the initial mile of loose, gritty gravel, and I was able to maintain my position. The gravel kept coming for another couple miles. Then we hit the real climb and KOM point. This turn out to be about a mile uphill (still gravel!) slugfest at 5%. As we crested the top I saw what remained of the pack start to leave me to my own devices. On thedownhill the gravel became pavement again, and I chased hard for the remaining 6 miles of the 1st lap, then sat up to wait for someone to ride with. I remarked to the spectators at the finish line that it was going to be a long day. Four of us worked together well for the 2nd lap, going steady, but not too hard. At the end of the 2nd lap we lost one to a flat, but pressed ahead. Once we hit the gravel we started to pick up stragglers left behind by the field. I kept the pace steady through the gravel climb, and ended up shelling the folks I had been previously working with and finding a new compatriot in a member of the GPM cycling team. We worked together and kept the pace up for the remaining 6 miles; I was probably doing 75% of the work, but I was grateful to have someone to help out. I ended up beating him in a downhill sprint to the finish, which was a moment of some excitement for me (whose sprints usually look like they come with a parachute attached). Ended up 11th on the day, 15th on GC (10 min back).
Sunday was the road race. 71.5 miles. I knew from the previous day’s level-of-gravel that there was probably going to be more than suggested in the race packet, so I went with 700×25 gatorskins on my aluminum wheels. I made the right choice. The first dirt section was loose and dusty, but only lasted about a mile. I made it through fine. The next, at maybe 12 miles in, was long, flat or slightly downhill, and fast. I fought hard to stay with the group, watching with dread as the lead car kicked up a cloud ofdust impossible to see beyond. The gravel was big too, frequently golf-ball sized. At points I struggled to keep my bike steady; lots of wobbling happens as one tries to power through that at 25mph. I made it through at the back of a reduced bunch of 20 or so. A short climb followed that I used to make my way up towards the front of the field, but was unfortunately followed by a long and fast decent that pushed me to the back again. We passed through the quaint little town of Pawlet (with spectators cheering us on). As I am just beginning to catch my breath, about 23 miles in, we exit Pawlet and come across a behemoth of a dirt/gravel climb that I stare at in dread. I can’t hack it and get dropped. A group of 3 start to pass me, I take a pull, and am popped from that group with 40 miles to go. I pass a few dropped Cat 3’s weaving their bikes in a reckless, jovial fashion up the next steep climb. I come into the feed zone chatting with at rider from the Pro1/2 field, who complains that it should have been a crit on Saturday and proceeds drop out (along with most of the pro field – 16 finishers out of 64 who started Saturday!). I am resolved to finish – I don’t want DNF’s on my cat 3 upgrade application. I push through it, and finish 15th out of 25, 14 minutes back on the day. Which I am happy with, given I spent 40 mi riding solo. I have not been dropped in many races of late, and it was not an experience I am apt to repeat, but I was pretty happy with just how not-bad my result ended up being. My persistence paid off somewhat as I ended up moving up to 13th on GC.
Overall it was a fun, excruciatingly painful weekend. Although the course was not quite as advertised, it was well run and organized – despite what you might hear some of the local 1’s and 2’s saying this week. The local folks were very supportive and the volunteers seemed to keep things running smoothly. I find these stage races a lot more fun than TT-Crit-Road Race stage races I did in the mid-atlantic. I think I have figured out eating and drinking during races, but I came home with a bit ofsunburn as a souvenir. Still need to figure out how to re-apply mid race.