Submitted by Joseph Reis
The Tour of Catskills is an event that can only be described as epic. Anthem Sports and Dieter Drake do a fantastic job with these events. The tour consisted of three days of racing based around the Tannersville, NY area and featured a 12 mile out and back prologue TT, a 65 mile road race, and a 60 mile road race on the third day. The highlight of these three days was certainly the two road races as they each featured a number of scenic back roads and lots of epic climbs. The first road race had close to 5000ft of climbing and the second one had over 5000ft. I raced in the Category 3 field which had about 80 riders in it.
Stage 1 – Time Trial, August 5, 2011
I arrived in Tannersville, NY on 8/5 for the TT with plenty of time to spare as my start time wasn’t until 5:41pm. The spare time allowed me to drive the TT course and the first road course. It was good to see the first road course as it featured the famed “Devil’s Kitchen” climb towards the end, but more to come on this climb later.
After a 20 minute warm-up, I rolled down the Hunter mountain resort access road to the start of the TT. I shook out my legs, did my junior gearing roll-out, shifted into my starting gear, and was off on the course before I knew it. The course was slightly downhill on the way out with a bit of a headwind. There was enough of a downhill grade to spin my gears out pretty quickly though so I just focused on keeping my cadence as high as possible. By the turnaround, I had caught one person and had spotted my next targets up the road. Even though the way back was almost all uphill, I still ended up spending most of the time with maxed-out gearing due to the wind which was now to my back. As I edged closer to the finish, I couldn’t see anyone else for a ways so I just dug and kept pushing. I hit the town of Hunter and went through the few turns that brought riders up to the access road. As I hit the final couple hundred meters and the finishing hill, I unloaded the tank and gave everything to get across the line. I finished feeling that I had given everything, but my legs still had more power for the days to come. My finish was good enough for 19th place, which I thought was a good starting place for the tour.
Stage 2 – Tannersvill Road Race, August 6, 2011
Stage two was the Tannersville Road Race. This race was to begin in the village of Tannersville with a neutral start for about a mile. There was a slight delay in start times, but other than that, the race started problem-free. The attacks commenced once the flag was dropped with two riders getting a couple of seconds on the downhill coming into the first climb of the day. The peloton made the turn onto Scribner Hollow Road a few minutes later and the break was brought back about halfway up the ~500ft climb. I may have burnt a few matches on this climb to stay towards the front, but I was glad I had as the descent afterwards was very steep and fast. As everything regrouped on the flats after, a break of a few riders slipped off the front for the first KOM that was roughly 10 miles away now. Everyone seemed quite content with letting this move go as there was a 5 mile downhill after the KOM climb and things would more than likely regroup.
I was able to relax a bit before the climb and latched onto the wheel of the yellow jersey on the early foothills. The break was suddenly in sight and the yellow jersey took off up the climb with a group of about four or five of us. We crested the climb to find that the break was bigger than expected and there were no more points to be taken. Unexpectedly, the break was allowed to go once more. It wasn’t until about 10 miles down the road that the peloton regrouped. The pace seemed to drop here as I think everyone wanted to conserve for the upcoming Devil’s Kitchen climb. A few flyers went and gained time before the climbing began, but as soon as the base of the Kitchen was in sight they were brought back almost instantly.
The race picked up at the bottom of this epic climb. Having driven it the day before, I knew it was nothing to joke about. It was incredibly steep with pitches reaching 22%. I did the only thing that I could have and got to the front where a group of the fresher riders was forming. I stayed with this group for a few minutes until the grade really ramped up and then it felt like I hit the wall. I was just barely able to turn over my gears and didn’t have anything to stay up with the leaders. As I started to fall back, I noticed riders coming past me spinning their gears at a nice cadence while I was grinding in the 40rpm range (hit 34rpm at one point). I suddenly looked down in agony to realize that I was still in my 19! I was trying to crank a 39×19 up a 20% grade! I shifted to my 25 quickly, but by that point my rhythm was gone and all I could do was suffer up the remainder of the climb. By the top, I was sitting in the top 30 somewhere, but my legs and rhythm were starting to come back. The climb flattened out momentarily and I was able to get on top of my gearing and clawed my way back into the top 20s somewhere.
As the road flattened for good, a group of us formed a paceline and started to bring riders back. I gave everything I had to keep the group together and pull back time. Luckily, we managed to work well and the group now held about 15 riders. Instead of pushing through the line and taking back a few more seconds, riders in our chase group decided to attack with 1km to go. It pretty much turned into a bunch sprint by this point and I had done all the work I was going to for one day so I sat in and didn’t worry about placing. I finished same time with this group for another 19th place. This bumped me up to 14th in the GC. I wish that I had realized my gearing situation sooner, but I am glad that I got back into the race by the top of the climb. After a short post-race spin, the mind was thinking about the next day.
Stage 3 – Windham Road Race, August 5, 2011
Stage three was the Windham Mountain road race. I decided that I couldn’t hold anything back on this last race as I needed to make a serious move if I wanted to get any time back. I thought that a break would go early for the first KOM, but I was planning on sitting in and waiting until the yellow jersey made his move. With even more climbing than the day prior, I knew that the group would likely be shattered. Sure enough, a break with the KOM jersey holder was off the front and gaining time on the roughly 7 mile descent that started the day. A few attempts to bring this break back were tried, but nobody made any serious progress. I stayed close to the front leading up to the first climb of the day and focused on minimizing my surges and conserving my energy. With a few miles to the climb, I accidentally dropped one of my bottles. I knew that this might be a problem later in the race, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. By the time the base of the 4.5-mile climb was within reaching distance, a few of the stronger riders moved to the front. I followed the yellow jersey who soon joined them and before I knew it, we were on the climb. This was a beast of a climb. It was much more gradual than the Devil’s Kitchen, but it seemed to go on and on. I was sitting third wheel pretty much the entire climb and after about 10 minutes, I looked back to see that the 80 man peloton was out of sight and there was only one more guy with us. Our group of four caught riders falling from the break and soon had the two remaining riders in sight after going through the KOM line. I was happy with the position I was in at the moment, but I knew that there was a lot of work to be done as there were still 30 miles to go and another extremely steep climb.
After the mid-race feedzone, our group was able to catch the two remaining breakaway riders and we all started to work together. I was lucky enough to have my father in the feedzone with a bottle for me and was also able to pick up a neutral bottle to replace the one dropped earlier. After a few more hills, we were on the flats and working in a paceline. The moto-ref kept giving reassuring time gaps and my hopes of staying away were now becoming a reality. Before I knew it, we were on the final KOM climb. I shifted fast and watched one of our six breakaway companions drop off on the first section of the climb. I was able to stay in it and the legs were starting to feel pretty good as the road flattened momentarily. The next section was brutal however as the road kicked up to 25% (I have heard some reports saying that it was higher than this). I hung on for as long as I could, but I needed a 27 or 29 instead of my 25 in order to turn over the pedals quick enough. Once again, I was dropped on the steep part. I did my best to fight my way up the hill, but I realized I would not be rejoining the four riders ahead of me.
By this point, I knew that I had two options. I could either sit up and wait for the rider behind me or I could put everything on the line and solo the last 12 miles to the finish. I suddenly realized that I had not driven all that way to sit up and wait so I shifted down and started to lay down some watts. This was a very painful 12 miles as it never really flattened out, but as the finish came closer, I was starting to see that I had a shot at a fifth place finish. The moto-ref gave me my final time gap with a few miles to go and told me that there was a solo rider about half a minute back with a chase group about 2 minutes back. I was now suffering, but I knew I had to keep pushing all the way. I made the final descent through a little town and rounded the corner onto the Windham mountain access road and knew I had put enough effort out to maintain my place. I would finish a few minutes later in fifth place. This bumped me up to eighth place overall in the GC.
Overall, I am very happy with my Tour of Catskills experience. I had made mistakes with gear selections that had cost me, but I am glad that my legs were there for the third day when I needed them. I had a great time and will definitely make the trip out to the Catskills again next summer. A new challenge will be present though as I have now gained enough points for my Category 2 upgrade.