By Hank Pfeifle:
Yesterday 120 or so topnotch 50+ age group riders from throughout the Northeast gathered for the 2012 Quabbin 65 mile undulating road race around Quabbin reservoir in central Massachusetts. It was as big and talented a field as you would find for any national or world event. The race is a “balloon” course with the start/finish road being the “tail” located in the reservoir park and a clockwise course around the reservoir. The left side and top of the clock is rolling uphill, and the right side of the clock is downhill. The hill at the top of the course is fairly big; it crests and goes downhill a bit, and then turns 90 degrees right onto a small road that descends for about 3-4 miles. This narrow descent is not that steep and is a fun part of the race. It dumps onto a bigger road that leads to a park and then into a town. From the town you exit onto a larger road and soon head uphill. This is a testing uphill followed by a good run-out descent, a short flat section and then a left hand turn back onto the “tail”. A half mile onto the tail you turn right into the Quabbin park. The park road is about 3 kilometers long and goes flat about .5k, gradual uphill .5k, flat 1k and uphill at 4-5% for the last 1k. Tricky.
Quabbin is a race where patience is required. The field easily stays together through to the town of Ware at about the 50 mile mark. It was important to make sure nothing happened on the uphills, but the hills before town were all done at tempo pace. The road was packed side to side with people. No screaming single file hard charging lines. Ho-hum. So people pretty much sit in and try to save their legs. We lost maybe 30 guys. There is a very fun descent from mile 45 into town and there were a flurry of attacks as the descent leveled off before town, but nothing stuck. The only effort I made was at the top of the last hill before the descent where I got to the front in order to be one of the first guys onto the winding downhill. No problem there.
Coming out of town things got serious as it was time to break up the field. I flew up the two part, fairly long climb immediately after town hoping to draw the strong legs with me and establish a break of 5 guys or so. No takers. Ok, I’ll solo to the finish. No to that, too, as the dwindled pack of about 50 gobbled me up at the moderately inclined final peak. So my push up the hill did accomplish half of its goal in that it did reduce the field to a more manageable 50 riders. Just as the catch of me was made, Anthony Felitte of the always aggressive and astute Keltic team, sprung away on a solo flyer. And everyone watched him go.
Soon we were heading quickly and en mass downhill. Surely the power of the descending pack will catch the lone escapee. Nope. We’ll catch him in the park …. As everyone looks around? “We’re riding for 2nd ?” Jeff opines in my ear. Wait a second, I think. Guys fade all the time on the final climb on the Saturday morning ride. We catch them all the time. “Hop on, Jeff, we’re going”. We get a, ummm, good jump on the field and immediately hit full on bridging speed. I take Jeff across the 1k flat section and deposit him onto the base of the final 1k ascent. Off he goes with full vigor. I drift away and 3 hard charging guys zoom by in pursuit of Jeff. I latch onto them and wait as they drag me up to Jeff. Just as we catch him with about 500 meters to go, I spring away determined that this in my final launch to the finish line. Gotta go hard for 500 meters. For 200 meters things are cool. This may work. Then Skip Foley appears on my rear wheel. Skip’s a former pro football player – wider receiver, Wes Welker-ish … even looks like him. Soon he’s beside me. Then ahead of me. What’s with these former pro football and hockey players? Strong. Hey, I was a former pro runner. Anyway, I’m thinking “good. I’ll latch onto his wheel”. Then he starts inching away. Hummm .. maybe that’s why they get all the girls. 300 meters to go and now I’m thinking 3rd is a respectable finish. 20 meters later Kevin Mosher inches by. Then Doug O’Neil. The Haluk Sarci. Uh-oh. Got to stop the bleeding. I punch it into the big ring and with 150 meters to go and dig like crazy. No pussy-footing. No wheezing into the finish. 100 meters to go. 6th place goes by. 7th. 8th! Hey!!! Finally the finish and, I hate to say it, 9th place goes by, too. 10th. In the money but so disappointing when you’ve been ready to dine on bigger fare.
Jeff rode with a winning attitude all day long and made a good, good effort on that initial 500 meter grade to the finish, but the grade does eat up your legs and 1K at high intensity is a loooong way. In retrospect we did not organize well as a team over the final 3k, but it was our first group test of the season like this and I think it will stand us in good stead in upcoming big races. Communication before and during the race needs to improve (me!) and I think our deep resource of talent will marshal itself to put one of us on the podium soon.