Monthly Archives: July 2011

Tour of Hilltowns – Women’s Pro 1,2,3 Race Report

By Cindy McNett

The Tour of the Hilltowns in northwestern Massachusetts lives up to its tough reputation.  The 57 and 97 mile course winds through the Berkshires, goes through 8 towns, and features grueling climbs.  The temperature on race day hovered around 100 degrees.

The women’s pro 1,2,3 division raced 57 miles and included the best of the best.    My expectations were to see how they ride, have fun, and finish the race.  It was a leisurely pace to start with, which picked up steadily.  I focused on staying out of the wind and out of trouble, but neglected to drink enough early on.  This would haunt me later.

After about 35 miles of scenic riding, with a 40 mph descent,  we reached the bottom of the East Hawley Hill Road climb.  As we made a sharp right hand turn, there was a disturbance in the rhythm ahead and someone swerved. The rider to my right tapped her wheel and in an instant was on the ground, catapulted over her own handlebars.  As a commotion ensued behind, two riders peeled off from the left and sprinted uphill.  Ahead loomed the biggest, steepest hill I had ever seen.  It looked like the stairway to Hell, complete with heat waves shimmering off the black, soft tar.  There was not a breath of air, except the labored breathing of the riders.  The field strung out into small groups as this hill went on and on.  I made an effort to catch people, but too quickly found myself in the “red zone” and overheating.  My decision to stick with two others no matter what was pivotal – we finally crested the mountaintop and worked very hard together for many miles to catch the leading group before the feed zone.  A bottle of ice water poured on my back enabled me to cool enough to continue working, as I had begun to see black spots and felt fuzzy.  We continued at a brisk pace into an arid headwind, heading back towards the start.  One or two would sprint ahead, and no one reacted.  We just reeled them in and continued an organized paceline.

About 5 miles from the finish sharp cramps seized up my legs, so I was done.  It was awful to see everyone just go, but there was little to do about it.  My goal changed from doing well in the standings to just making it back to the car and avoiding the emergency room.  Along the way were many remnants of the men’s fields who were barely moving, some even walking up the long final grade.

I wasn’t first, but I wasn’t last, and relearned the lesson again about dehydration and electrolyte depletion.  But it was a good experience, that I hope to repeat again next year with better preparation.  Congrats to all the 500 or so riders who raced this very challenging course on such a hot day.

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31st Annual Yarmouth Clam Festival Race Report – July 17, 2011

Submitted by Joseph Reis

Portland Velo Club hosted the annual Yarmouth Clam Festival race on July 18th this summer. There couldn’t have been a better day to hold this mid-summer classic as it was beautiful with warm temps and a clear sky. This was my first time racing in the clammer so I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was extremely excited as this is probably the closest thing I have to a “home race.”

It was nice to see so many riders show up for the men’s P/1/2/3 race, but it was even nicer to see so many fellow PVC and OA/Cyclemania riders come out to drop some watts. Definitely a great feeling to be among so many supportive and familiar faces.

For those who don’t know, the course is a short (under 4 miles) circuit starting and finishing on Main Street in Yarmouth. Interesting features include: rail road/ bridge crossings, five turns ranging from those that you can pedal through to fast and sharp corners on hills, a slight uphill on the back stretch, an interesting downhill, and finally a final wall-type climb before a slight downhill finish. Certainly a fun course for racers and spectators alike.

The race started out at a decent tempo. Being able to start towards the front was a nice change as it allowed me to spend less energy jockeying for position in the first part of the race. There were a few attacks early on, but since the event was so short, nobody was willing to allow any major gaps to form. I took a few digs at the head, but for the most part I just stayed tucked away safely about 15 wheels back. Each lap I tried out different lines coming through the last corner leading to the final climb and finally decided that an outside line was necessary to hit the final wall with enough momentum for a strong sprint.

The action picked up a few laps into the race after a couple local riders made it off the front. This was a dangerous break as a few other very strong riders made the move as well. Team tactics came into full swing here as the blocking began from CCB. It seemed that everyone was content with letting the riders in blue and pink control the race. There were a few attempts to bridge up to the group of 5 (or 6?), but nothing was successful and nobody was willing to work together. For a while, it seemed that this break would stick, but as the finishing lap came closer, a couple riders were dropped from the break. Unfortunately, two of these dropped riders were local. Much credit goes out to those boys who put in that dig; it took a lot of guts.

The pace really picked up on the last lap as the break was within reaching distance. By this point, the adrenaline was pumping and I was looking for wheels to follow. I found my mark and went for it. I put everything I had into following a very strong Team Mountain Khakis rider and was almost able to get to the front while riding his wheel, but the last couple kilometers of a circuit or crit can be so chaotic sometimes and plans don’t always work. I lost his wheel on the downhill leading into the final turn and put my focus towards giving everything left on the hill. I did just this and moved up a few more wheels, but there was still a long downhill sprint to come. I quickly hit my 53×15 junior gearing limit and my cadence sky-rocketed. I was able to move up even closer to the front, but I was too far back for anything special. I rolled across the line for a 15th place finish.

I had been looking for a better finish for my first home race, but I had so much fun just being at such a great local venue that my placing didn’t matter. Hard to be upset when you get to race your bike, especially on such a beautiful day!

Thanks Portland Velo Club for putting on such a spectacular event!

29th Annual Exeter Hospital Criterium – June 29, 2011 – Pro1/2/3

Race Report by Joseph Reis

On the 30th of June I traveled down to Exeter, NH for the 29th annual Hospital Crit. I had heard a lot about this race and was very excited to test my legs against some of the best names in the east. After watching an OA podium finish in the preceding masters race, I jumped on the road to claim my spot in the start pack for the Pro/1/2/3 race.

The call-ups were quick and before I knew it, I was digging in to the pack on the first corner. The course was a fast and technical crit course featuring three 90 degree turns, one more gradual bend on a fast downhill section, and a little climb through the finish and up through the first corner. With some big primes and strong riders, I had a hard time moving towards the front in the first part of the race. Racing from the back of the pack always seems kind of strange. I could hear what was going on from the announcer, but by the time I would hear about the early attacks, it seemed they would already be back. Luckily, besides a few small crashes, the first half of the race was relatively uneventful.

Eventually I fought my way towards the front where I could finally relax. I stayed up in the first quarter of the pack and maintained good position until about 8 laps to go when I was hit by a rider on what seemed to be the crash corner. Fortunately, neither of us went down, but the rider casually mentioned as he went by that my back wheel looked a little “wobbly.” Frustrated, I drifted back a few wheels to see if I could further asses the situation. After asking around about the condition of my rear wheel (the best answer being “yes, but I didn’t really look. Ask someone else.”), I decided that I would stay in the race.
The race seemed more difficult at this point. I was pretty close to the back of the pack and there were about 5 laps left. I dug as hard as I could and made it about halfway up the peloton. The legs started to hurt with about 3 laps to go as a crash split the field and forced those who missed it to chase back on. This, combined with the high pace and the fight for position caused my legs to really hurt. It felt like someone was holding me back and my power wasn’t translating into speed as it had been. I realized that something with my bike was up, but it was too late to do anything about it. 1 lap to go and I was digging with all I had.

I finished in the pack at 44th place. I looked at my back wheel after the race and the late race pain made sense. My back wheel was pretty badly out of true and I couldn’t make it spin a full revolution by hand due to the fact that the warped rim couldn’t pass by the rear brake. I was happy that I was able to finish in the pack with this problem.

Exeter was an awesome race. The course and crowds were amazing. It was definitely one of the most fun crits I have raced in. A big thank you goes out to the event organizers for a great event. I will certainly be back again next year.

USAC Junior Nationals, June 2011, Race Report

Race Report by Joseph Reis

During the week of 6/20 I competed at the USAC Junior Nationals. Nationals took place in Georgia starting on 6/23 and ran until 6/26. The racing consisted of a 30km Time Trial, a 50km Criterium, and a 96km Road Race on the last day. My Dad and I made the long haul down to the peach state a few days prior as to have a little time to settle in. I knew that the heat would be a major factor in the way I raced, but when I stepped out of the air-conditioned car after two days of driving, the heat hit me like never before. I knew this was going to be a challenge yet I couldn’t have been more ready to race. In these next few paragraphs I will give detailed reports of the new experiences each day had to offer.

6/23- Time Trial
The TT course was a pretty basic 30km out-and-back route that started and ended on a long dam. The terrain was relatively flat with a few small rollers. I wasn’t exactly sure of my abilities going into this race though. My body had been responding well to the heat so far and my legs were feeling snappy after spinning them out and doing some openers the day before, but this would be my first real TT of the season. Besides this, I had to change my riding position the night before so as to comply with UCI regulations. The bike fit was radically different now and my riding style had to be tweaked. To say I had the pre-race jitters would be an understatement. I tried to focus on the task at hand though and I just focused on positive energy and getting a good warmup.

When I rolled into the start ramp, my body took over. I watched the starter’s fingers slowly fold as she counted down the final seconds on her hand and then it was go time. There was nothing to hold back now and it was up to my training to decide how I fared.
I slowly settled into a groove and tried to stay as aero as possible while keeping a high cadence. This was the longest TT I had ever done so I wanted to make sure not to burn myself up in the first half of the course. I kept the competitor ahead in sight and slowly worked my way up to him. There was a bit of head-wind so I was sure that many of the kids would go out to hard and not be able to take advantage of the wind on the way back. I just kept my effort steady and powered through the hills.

A few minutes into the race I was powering past the competitor from earlier and the confidence was rising. I used this confidence to my advantage and kept up the positive thoughts as I approached more and more riders. By the 15km turn-around, I had passed a few riders and was now ready for the fast return. With the tail-wind, I easily spun out my 52×14 junior gearing and my cadence was sky-rocketed. The race was no longer about who could turn over the biggest gear, but about who could sustain the highest cadence. The legs were feeling fast and I let them run. I passed more and more riders who were slowly fading and before I knew it I was back to the dam. With 1km to go I pushed until I could push no longer and it was full throttle to the line.

I finished with a time of 41:30 which put me in 37th for the day. Overall, the race went well. I gave everything I had and I finished well into the top 3rd of the 122 rider field. I was excited, but the second I finished, I knew it was time to forget about the day’s results and focus on the racing ahead.

6/24- Criterium
The criterium at nationals was a simple 1km course with four corners in downtown Augusta. Having the race at 4:30pm on one of the hottest days of the trip was brutal, but I certainly learned a lot. The legs were feeling alright after the previous day’s effort, but the body was not responding well to the 101 degree heat. Hydration was key and I managed to drink a lot leading up to the race, but a lot was not enough on a day like this.

I got my warmup in on a trainer in the shade and I was already overheating. As I made my way to the staging area, I could tell that the field was bigger than yesterdays race. There were 130 riders all crammed into the staging chute and I was in the back. I could tell that getting to the front would be an all-race event on this short, tight course. The sun was also brutal and the tall buildings of the city didn’t seem to provide the shade many wished for. I knew this was going to be tough.

Call-ups started and I was able to edge into the 2nd or 3rd to last row of the pack before we took off, but this hardly made a difference because the pack was instantly strung into single file. All of the sudden, the late afternoon affair had turned into a matter of survival. As each lap passed, I became hotter and hotter. The pace never really died down and we were all spinning out our junior gearing. About half way through the race, I managed to move up towards the middle of the pack and missed a crash, but I wasn’t able to get into a position closer to the front before the pace picked up. By this point I had nothing left. I was overheating to the point of chills and moving up was not an option. So I hung on for life and hoped to finish. With each corner I had to dig deeper and deeper to stay with it. I was suffering. Everyone was still fighting for position and I was just happy to not be at the very back of the field.

All the riders in the field were doing relatively well together. We were communicating and hanging together, but the combination of the heat, the high pace, and the short, fast course made things difficult for many of the riders. About 50 ended up coming off the back for one reason or another. I managed to stay with it and rolled in with the pack for a 57th place finish. This was perhaps the most difficult race I had ever done and I was happy to not be part of the long DNF list. Had I started at the front of the pack, the race might have gone differently as I wouldn’t have over-exerted and over-heated by mid-race, but the way the course was, moving up was extremely difficult. This is one experience that I will make sure to learn from and never forget. Next time I am in a race like this I have to find ways to keep cool. I witnessed many southern racers’ methods of keeping cool and I will know what to do in the future.

6/26- Road Race
The road race went pretty well. The race was held on an army base which made for a very interesting morning of going through security checkpoints and listening to machine-gun fire while warming up. I was feeling much better about the race than I had about the past two races. For one, the race was being held in the morning so heat wouldn’t be an issue. The course also had some nice hills in it that I knew I would be able to fare well on. Unfortunately the hills were not big enough to split the pack, but they were enough to sort out the group.

As I warmed up I could tell the legs were back. I made sure to get to the staging area well ahead of time in order to get a decent spot and was lucky enough to start towards the front. The race started at a pretty good pace, but like most junior fields, the first few minutes were a little sketchy. The first climb of the 24km loop came faster than I thought it would. The 140 rider field stretched out, crested the hill, and descended the back side at a good click. I’m pretty sure there were a few attacks at the beginning too, but they were all brought back in a matter of minutes. The course didn’t really favor a breakaway though. With its long straightaways it was just too difficult to get out of sight.

Things stayed pretty calm for the first lap, but then the crashes began. I am not sure how it is possible, but there were close to 10 crashes in this race. Not just small crashes though. These crashes were nasty. Kids were going off the road into signs and were crashing in feed zones and taking multiple people out. The first crash happened before the finishing climb. From what I saw it was pretty bad and took out a number of kids. I was lucky to miss this one and hammered up the finishing climb and through the feedzone in order to get to the front and stay out of trouble.

The attacks continued, but never amounted to anything. A few teams put riders on the front to try in an attempt to control things, but there was never much organization and besides the crashes, not much really happened until the hammer dropped on the fourth and final lap. The legs were still feeling fresh and I was ready. I positioned myself in the top 20 and kept moving into better positions. About 15km out and a group of two go off the front. There are a flurry of attacks to try and bridge up to this group, but only one more rider would make the gap. I was trying to decide whether or not to go for it and decided against it based on the fact that nothing else was able to stick. I positioned myself 5th wheel and waited. I watched as the break was brought back to 10 or 20 seconds and then the team driving the train let go and the pack ballooned. I realized I was in trouble as I was suddenly blocked in on both sides with 3km left to the finish. I tried my best to get to the outside, but the more I moved, the further back I was forced by the swarm of riders edging for a wheel. We hit the final climb at speed. I had finally made it to the far left of the group and I was attempting to get to the front again. All of the sudden, the front of the group exploded. Riders started dropping left and right. It was ridiculous. I could barely move up the road because it was so congested. I had to slam on my brakes a number of times to wait for holes to open and then I would shoot through them to have to wait on another hole. By the top of the climb I had only managed to take back around 10 spots and had missed the lead group. I finished just behind in 33rd.

This was a pretty frustrating way to end a race that I felt confident about, but I guess that is just the nature of bike racing. The race was definitely a fun one though and although I didn’t place where I wanted, I know the legs are there now. It was also a new experience as I had never raced in a field of 140 riders. I didn’t realize how crazy the final kilometers could be, but next time I am in a field of that size, I will know what to do.

Going into nationals I knew that I was in for a wild experience. It is true that each race could have been different for better or worse, but the things I learned from these races were invaluable and overcome the feeling of “what if.” I know I gave it my all and I had a fun time. That’s all the matters.

As a final note, I would like to thank PVC for all the support! I can’t express how great it feels to be part of such a wonderful and supportive club as a junior.