By Hank Pfeifle
I signed up for the Pro/1-2 race at the Lake Auburn Road race for two reasons, 1) I didn’t want Fred Thomas to be lonely racing by himself, and 2) it is good to enter a “stretch” race every now and then for a reality check against the best. Not 50 year old best or 40 year old best. I mean best best. Last winter I was feeling good on the XC skies and thought I would jump into a regional qualifier race against some top XC young guns to see if my good was up to their good. Historically when I feel good at something I can do ok against the field. But, aaahhhh, the XC race in Hanover was an eye opener and I got my butt severely waxed. Severely. So now I wanted to see if that same outcome would apply to bike racing (which I prayed wouldn’t) because I have been feeling good on the bike. I wanted to confirm with myself that my good on the bike is still good against ANYBODY. With the 40+ field filled with OA/CM’ers and thinking that others might want to explore other options, I thought I’d put out a feeler to see if I could lure some other teammates into the Pro/1-2 field. A-ha! Stu Abramson and Jeff Yingling took the bait. That makes four of us toeing the line. That’s a good team. We could do some damage.
Riding the Pro/1-2’s quickly reinforces the belief that, at all levels of bike racing, it is so important to be physically and MENTALLY in the game. Those that are not focused in both arenas are soon dispatched out the back. The beauty of the bike is that mental acuity can make up for a lack of physical giftedness. That can be frustrating to the strong guys (right, Christian?), and I have nightmares of gobs of wheelsuckers passing me at the finish line. Nightmares? It happens plenty in real life, too! Anyway, I paid special attention to always tucking in and conserving all my energy. Secondly, it is important to observe the players around you and assess their ability and their attentiveness – especially on the hills. Some guys get lazy or fall asleep or just aren’t strong enough, and let gaps open on the hills. You want to know who these guys are and make sure not to be behind them. Because little gaps turn into insurmountable chasms (right, Jeff?) as the pace picks up after the crest of the hill. Five yards is instantly thirty and the pack is screaming down the road single file. Catching back on to that train is no easy task. You may be able to do it once, but let it happen again and you are gone. I gotta tell you, I love the pro/1-2 racing because the throttle is always full gas and there is no sympathy for any mistakes.
The Lake Auburn race is 6 x 11.5 miles for a total of 70 miles and features a two mile or so stair step climb to the finish. The first two laps were an assessment period for me and I was happy that climbing the hills was not overly stressful. That jacked the confidence up and when a 4 man break with no OA/CM representation started getting serious on laps 3 and 4, I was able to get on the front to help reel them back in – with good power. Stu and Fred were playing it smart and sitting in conserving energy for the last assault up the hill that was sure to come. Soon another 4 man, non-OA/CM break got established and built a 30 second lead going into the last lap. The break had Dan Vallencourt and Tim Mitchell in it – two guys who can motor and win. The chase was now down to 20 guys and we kept the break at 30 seconds. As we headed toward the final hills the pace picked up and the pack could smell a catch. As we rounded the corner that took us to the hills, I rode off the front with a Team Harvard guy. When we saw the gap, Team Harvard and I immediately hit full throttle. I couldn’t believe they let us go, but this could only have 3 positive outcomes:
- Team Harvard and I would roll up to the tiring and splintering break, blow by them and win! (a very farfetched outcome but a positive delusion to sustain the pain).
- We would bridge to the break and duke it out from there (Hummm, maybe)
- Our move would close the gap on the break and it would force the guys behind us. to chase to catch us. This would allow Stu and Fred to sit in as others chased us and then attack hard after Team Harvard and I were gobbled up.
It was scenario 3 that played out. I was hoping to make it to the top of the hill as then I felt I could accelerate and grab onto the back of the attacking pack after the catch. Unfortunately, we got caught 50 meters from the top and the attack from Fred, Stu and company was as hard as anticipated. No grabbing onto that, and now the full on roil to the finish was under way for them. The attacking mob gobbled up all of the break save Tim Mitchell who hung on for the win. Fred grabbed 7th, Stu hung on for 12th and I rolled in for 14th. Not bad. We were able to play our cards and, yeah, it would have been nice to have had a podium finish, but we were in the hunt till the ever unpredictable sprint finish end.
It is good to have a solid outcome. My mind is at ease for another year knowing that I am still not some old guy wanker pack fill in the Pro/1-2’s. It’s nice to feel I still belong there, and that paying my $30 every year to keep the 1 on my card is actually justifiable. I like that.
Thanks (and sorry for making this write-up so “me” focused),