Race Report: Tour of the Hilltowns

Here is Dan’s report from the Cat 3 Tour of the Hilltowns-

So, I will admit that me and Hills have a complex relationship. We have been on again off, again, have had our fights and wonderful moments, and they have been the key to triumphs and downfalls.

Then came along this race we call “Tour of the Hilltowns”. When someone says: “It has a 20 minute climb before the half-way” all you can think is: “Where the hell in Massachusetts do you find something like that that doesn’t include a MOUNTAIN?”. You get to thinking that people are making mountains out of molehills or they are embellishing a set of rollers. Well let me tell you, I learned my lesson.

Hills were not treating me kindly this year, race weight was still a far off dream and despite my relatively good motor chasing 120 lb juniors up a long grind was not high on my list of “happy thoughts”. But I was aiming at GMSR later in the year and I was told that there was no better way to train…

One thing about this race was that it was one of my first few Cat 3 races (My 2nd I believe) and I met another rider there who is a friend and told me his plan: GO off the front before the big climb and solo it (This is how he won the race last year as a 4). He invited me to come along and as we rolled along in neutral he chatted with other guys about how he did it last year. He was trying to get guys to go with him because as he stated: “A 50 mile solo breakaway is no fun”. Well I can see why, we were similar riders in our strengths, me having a slightly better sprint, him having a slightly better TT both of us were breakaway specialists (Despite how many people say that those roles don’t exist at our lowly level)

So eventually while I was watching him about 10 miles into the race and maybe 3 before the hill he started to go. I knew it was his move but I was trapped behind other riders and by the time I made it out into the wind he was almost out of sight of the field. I made an effort to bridge but apparently after seeing one guy go they decided the second guy was not getting away scott free so after a failed attack I sat back, found a few of the favorites and began to plan and brood.

I reminded people he did this last year and that as much as he was a friend, I wasn’t going to watch him do this without any pressure. But before I knew it we were at the Hill, and let me say it was quite a Hill. I made the idiot move of trying to get a good position at the front and promptly blew myself up trying to ride with those juniors and found myself dangling dangerously close to the back of the field.

But as is my way – that is when I get my second wind and turn the motor back on – I stuck myself into the pain cave and churned away at threshold. I carefully kept the main group in sight and picked up people who popped off their group and even had a few people join me from behind.

I ground on and on at a steady pace using my anger for those who had dropped me from letting myself get dropped from contention. Eventually we crested the Hill and the chase was on. We must have chased for atleast 5 miles trying to get back into the group but the rolling hills, tight downhill turns and even attacks from within my own group made it hard to bridge the gap. We made it back though dragging maybe 8 riders from my group into the main pack of maybe 15. As I took stock of who was there I noticed that my friend who had taken his early flier was not there, and I hadn’t dropped him on the climb.

As far as I was concerned the hunt was on now. I knew he was still off the front and I immediately got to the front of the group and pulled. I was driven by pride at this point. I didn’t want someone else to pull one of my own tricks when I was fully aware that it was happening. But for some reason the small field seemed to be filled with amnesiacs. Every time I mentioned the fact that there was a guy off the front I got a “Really?”. My continuous insistence of this eventually lead to my brow-beating of the entire group and even got a junior to yell at me to shut-up after I began insulting people’s intelligences.

Then came the moment that gave me hope, up the road I saw a single rider and the lights of a police cruiser. I waited for a slight lull and I launched. I delved into my typical bag of tricks and tried to perform a bridge. When I looked back I saw the field had suddenly decided that I was a treat and had strung out in an effort to catch me. I continued riding towards my friend up the road, eating seconds and distance out of his lead until he was maybe 300 meters from the pack and I was about 25 meters back. I decided that while my attack had failed I had atleast managed to reel him in, cycling can certainly be filled with bitterness. I had just wasted my own energy to shut down a friend’s chance at winning. I even felt a little bad about it (Despite the fact that he can be a little arrogant at times, but I guess it takes one to know one).

But I had forgotten one of the cardinal laws of bike racing “Your not caught till your caught” or  my personal one “Packs are fickle”. As soon as they caught me the entire pack sat-up and went right back to the Sunday coffee ride speed as I watched my friend sail off into the sunset. That is when the name-calling started, perhaps a little over the top but what happens on the road stays on the road, right?

We rode on until we hit the final hill before the finish and just in the last mile it seemed like the pack woke up! All of a sudden there were people shouting “Hey there is a guy up the road!” and they surged. Only too little too late. My friend won by 7 seconds and I came in 21st, last in the main group.

I was certainly disappointed in my finishing place, but I was proud of myself for surviving the race with the main pack and even being a factor in the race. I had to remind myself that the big goal was coming later in the GMSR but the loss and failure to reel him back in stung a bit. My biggest lesson from this was: Learn when to race for 2nd place. I wasted so much energy trying to bring the leader back to the pack I lost the chance to race for 2nd.

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