I pre-registered for the 35+ and the Pro-am for this criterium in Stirling New Jersey. The trip was supposed to include a teammate but those plans were changed last minute and I hit the road solo at about 5:00 Saturday afternoon. A friend of mine was hosting my layover in Cresskill, NJ. Haluk Sarci is the first [and last known] Turkish athlete to complete the Ironman in Hawaii, and repeatedly. The walls of his house were covered in photo finishes, medals, plaques, and enough honors to fill a museum. Haluk and his family took very good care of me. I don't usually sleep well the night before a 'big' event (one where I expect to do well) so I took an Advil PM before hitting the sack at 11:00.. I should have taken two. It took an hour to fall asleep and I was up at 6:45 to get ready for a 45 minute drive to Stirling. I got to town at about 8:30 and stopped at the market for some extra water, Powerade and my ritual can of Red Bull. Hunting for parking near the race course killed some time, and I settled on a completely empty parking lot on a residential street that was blocked by the booth containing the officials, the announcer and the camera- kind of like the street behind the Whaling City Cyclone. This parking lot was completely FULL by noon time. I signed in and got my numbers at 9:00 with 45-50 minutes to prepare for the start of the 35+. It was a hot day- already 90 degrees when we started racing. I made the mistake of thinking that one water bottle was enough for a 45 minute criterium. It was not. My water was all but gone with 5-6 laps to go, but I'm getting ahead of myself here.. Let me just tell you that in New Jersey, asking your opponents for water has about the same effect as asking them for the Crabby Patty secret formula. Stupid grins and laughter. Had I been racing in New England, my request for water would have been successful, that's for sure.. Again, I'm getting ahead of myself, but with 3 laps to go a couple of guys went up the road and everyone looked at me to chase for some reason and I was like, "Screw you- give me some water if you want me to work.."
In a nutshell, I felt GREAT today. The race started and I was immediately on the front, within the top ten guys for all but 2 or 3 laps of the entire race, and even then, not very far back.. I'm now in the habit of using my lighter Easton wheels (1480 grams isn't bad for alum clinchers- these are the wheels which originally came with my LOOK 486- tried and true..) INSTEAD of my G-D Powertap wheelset. I love the Bontrager RaceXLites to death , but they are absolute PIGS as far as their weight. As much as I love seeing good race data (the best kind) this race was a flat 0.9 mile rectangular criterium where I wanted an edge relative to acceleration especially out of the corners. Not that I was touching the brakes very much!- When you're racing in the top ten guys you can power through the corners while those behind you are often required to grab a handful of brakes and then sprint back up to speed. Race positioning 101, Murat gets a PASS.
So the race begins at 9:50 or so. We're racing 45 minutes, plus three laps. There were a few primes- all merchandise. I could care less for them.. The course was flat and fast. The finishing straight had a very slight rise after the final corner, and then a slight downhill to the line. Okay not exactly flat, but it may as well have been because it did not affect speeds too much. Two ends of the course are short- about 200-250 meters. A police radar was positioned just past the finish and I do not recall any laps where the speed was under 30 mph on this stretch. Had I looked up at it on the final sprint to the line, I would have expected to see 39-40 mph. At any rate, where was I?? Oh yes- feeling great. Nice light wheels, one water bottle, 70+ starters, 91 degrees and rising, lots of the same faces I raced against at Prospect Park last Saturday.. I went into this race with what I would rank as a nominal amount of training. You have all heard me pine about missing four consecutive weeks of training in late May and June. So indeed I have done some solid volume in July, but not one single structured interval, not one Wells Ave, Ninigret or Wompatuck, not one day of sprinting drills. All I have for high intensity is a few races- beginning with Attleboro, then a time trial in Scituate, then Prospect Park, then today.. Tuesday I did the Scituate time trial plus 3 more hours, 4 hours total. Wednesday I did 3-1/2 hours, rode down to Ninigret to a race that was cancelled due to thunderstorms, and then rode home in said thunderstorms, mostly tempo. Thursday I went out and did 2-1/2 hours easy. Friday I spun on the trainer for an hour. Saturday morning I did 3-1/2 hours extremely easy- like 125 watts average. I came into this morning feeling like I had a good balance of training stress and rest. Believing is 80% of the game and I was spot on for a change. The legs felt like they could not possibly get tired today. I was in the front, chasing attacks, bridging to attacks, following counter-attacks, attacking. Once or twice pulling the whole field along, which sounds stupid, and it certainly can be, but sometimes you need to show your teeth, show opponents that you are not a weakling, especially if most have never seen you before. It can pay dividends later.. except when... you're out of water with about 6 to go. Then they're happy to exploit weakness.. My mouth is dry. I have a shot glass or two swishing around in my bottle and I use it to wet my lips a few more times before the end. Three to go is announced and it really starts to get hot. And fast. People are taking chances. Faces I did not see all day, appear at the front, and it kind of annoys me because I have been dancing on the edge and having the wind blow my hair back for the past 45 minutes. I'm starting to feel fatigued, so fighting for position in the top ten becomes a little bit difficult. It gets physical. Two to go and we're strung out single file- it's starting to hurt, but it's a good hurt. One lap to go- bell is ringing. We're diving into corner one, then two. The back straightaway is insanely physical. Guys are taking crazy lines across the road to grab a wheel and not looking back. If you're not focused on this 110% you may as well sit up. We head into the 3rd turn, about 6-7 guys wide. I am on the right, about 15th rider from the front. Field is all together. There is a small curb comprised of little granite bricks cemented together. It's not very tall, but it's jagged enough to blow out a tire. I am riding the edge of these stones at 30mph, grazing them because everyone wants to take the final corner wide and fast. It's not far to the final corner. We string out to about 2-3 wide at this point. Another surge and I am positioned to take the turn within the top ten guys. I do not have an inside line though. Just as I am about to take the corner, riding on top of the guy to my left, I have this weird feeling, like maybe when my dad grabbed the steering wheel while teaching me to drive. Someone on my right had rode up into me just before the corner and locked his handlebars with mine, and the left horn of his brake lever was against the inside of my right wrist as we cornered at very high speed. I'm pulling left, he's pulling right, and I am imagining myself changing bandages for the next 3 weeks.. Then instinct takes over, I take my right hand off the handlabars and I lift my right wrist to release this tangle of arm/handlebar/brake lever. It has the effect of letting go of the rope in a tug of war. Whoever this rider was, he was slingshot out of the corner and down the side street while I completed my left hand turn with only my left hand on the bars. It was a split second hesitation of not pedaling right after I freed myself, but that's all it took for the front of the race to open up a gap on me. The finish is 400 meters away, but to keep in contact with this leadout train, I have no choice but to sprint, now. I get myself onto the tail of the action, which is already stringing out as the final selection is made, but the slight uphill turns into a slight downhill and I'm completely spun out. I attempt to shift but nothing happens. I punch it again and I get a gear which I can turn and I'm immediately on top of it. I pass about 3 or so guys who were torched before the line but 3 or so also passed me as I inevitably ran out of power. I ended up losing 5-6 places in the corner screwing around with tangled handlebars. It's a small miracle that I'm not in the hospital or covered with bandages. For all the success and good form of the past 50 minutes, the best I can manage is 15th, in what I consider to be a very highly ranked masters field. I set a realistic goal of top 10- I was expecting to finish in the money, and I almost did. If not for a little bit of bad luck, I would have had a clean entry into the final corner, with both hands on the bars and no hesitation. That's bike racing, eh?
On to the Pro race! At noon when it's probably about 95 degrees, but at least there was some wind. The field seemed to have about 100 guys in it, and the announcer was all giddy announcing this person and that person, Olympics this, Bissel that, Jackie Simes, GS Mengoni, an elite team from New Zealand.. all the things which might make a lesser rider want to shit his pants, the announcer was gushing. Immediately this 60 minute race is strung out single file. Your hero is tail gunning the first few laps, but slowly, surely, moving up. Every lap gaining a few positions. After about 30 minutes of very painful and fast racing, I have moved up through about 1/3 of the field. I'm hurting though- on the edge. I can really feel that last race in my legs. With extreme caution I'm metering out the effort so as not to waste a single watt. We're in the 44th minute, maybe it's lap 21 or 22.. two bikes in front of me look like they hit a patch of ice- these guys are sleeping on their right side tonight, that's for damn sure. This happens on my watch, right in front of me as I begin to lean. I'm prepared to bunny hop one of these guys, or one of their bikes, but they are sliding uncontrollably. It takes a split second to correctly predict their direction and pick a line, but not without grabbing two handfuls of brakes. I do not stop, but if I had to go much slower I may have had to put a foot down. I'm in the drops immediately, chasing an accelerating field. A few guys are tagged onto my wheel and for a second it looks like we can make it across.. so close. Then I come to my senses. I decide to go for a free lap. I'm the 2nd to arrive at the pit, and within 30 seconds another 10 people line up behind me. The announcer doesn't miss his opportunity to point out that since we were caught behind the crash, we were probably on the verge of being dropped anyway. Grrr. I was feeling fine and had every intention and ability to finish this one, dead last or otherwise. The field goes by and we all sprint to get back in the field before the first corner. I'm suddenly not feeling so good. Turn 2 goes by, the back straight has me cross-eyed. Turn 3 and 4 my teeth are clenched. (Indeed I had plenty of water this time) We're back on the finish straight and the announcer calls out that we're 48 minutes into our event. Twelve more minutes plus three laps, probably nine laps total. Speed is insane. I make it past the start finish and I'm all arms and legs, humping the bike to garner every last bit of speed. After turn one, I cut to the left side and wave everyone past me. Put a fork in me, I'm done. So close.. to.. the finish. That 1/2 lap of chasing after the crash took me deep into the red and no chance of recovering enough to hold the speed. From the sidewalk, I observed the last few laps of the race- some insane speeds. I watched the break of ten guys go past when the bell rang one to go, and they were blown apart completely when they arrived at the finish. The break didn't form until after I was popped- I bet it slowed down some right after I sat up. Such is bike racing I guess. I hate DNFs!
It was a long drive home. Well, it should have only taken 3 hours but the approach to the George Washington Bridge was such that I went 4 miles in the span of 2 hours. Then more delays on I-95 passing through Manhattan and the Bronx. My trip home took 6-1/2 hours. If I had any idea how fucked up the GW bridge traffic is, i would have gladly driven 1 hourt out of my way to take the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is how I got to Cresskill in the first place. Who expects to be in line for 2-1/2 hours to cross a bridge? $8 fucking dollars to cross the GW? Never again. As I said to others already, I would sooner drive a knitting needle through my eyeball and into my brain before crossing that pig of a bridge again.
I kind of went out of my way to make this a good report for you, so I hope you enjoyed reading it. Thanks for reading it if you got this far! Here's the results of the 35+ and Pros: