By Hank Pfeifle
On Saturday Ta Herrera, Ron Bourgoin, Kevin Hays, Bruce Schwab and I traveled to Sterling, MA to contest the 6 x8 mile course of this New England classic bike race. Christian Muentener (4’s) and Mark Caron (35+) also made the trek. Sterling, with its initial steep hill and then elongated gradual climb, offers a course that tempts aggression but often rewards patience. But with 100 starters, sunny skies and warm temperatures one could expect aggression to be prominent, and it was right from the get-go. Always competitive Todd Buckley (Arc-En-Ciel) and Eric Pearce (Cyclefitness) took off at the gun and built a good lead through lap one. During lap 2, three more guys bridged over to form a solid escape group. Before the start of lap 3 on the long run in to the town of Sterling, Ta Herrera (our Ta!) initiated a second bridging effort. “Ah, this is good,” I’m thinking as I’ll use the steep initial climb to bridge over to Ta and work with his group to complete the bridge.
Hills are good to me and I used it to full advantage as I quickly make my way to Ta. “Ta! Ta! Ta!” I yell in alert so that he can get up to speed as I came up to his group. Continue through I go as we hit the long gradual climb and threw the chase into warp speed. We had a bridging mission to accomplish. Unfortunately Ta was in a vulnerable state having been in a sustained chase and now a sustained and (sorry) fast ascent. He popped just before the crest and, not realizing it, I kept the gas on full throttle. That was indeed unfortunate because Ta always gives a full and eager effort during a bridge. Meanwhile, Ron’s attempts at bridging were continually thwarted by the suction of the pack. Kevin and Bruce quickly gathered to the front to help in keeping the chasing pack under control.
So now I was into lap 3 in full bridging mode. With me were 3 other riders who proved to be slightly …. Hummm, how do I put it ….unrulely. Here I was pounding away and two of the guys were behind me bickering about something. Believe it or not but I had to ease up and give them a lecture on the benefits of cooperative behavior in a chase. Properly chastised they settled down and started to pull through. That spirit of cooperation lasted about a half lap and then I began to sense a real reluctance for anyone else to lead but me. So then I had to ease up again and give a second lecture on the importance of “dedicating oneself fully to the cause” in order for the bridge to succeed. That lecture didn’t seem to catch hold, and soon I had to resort to my last lecture of the “joys and benefits of the acceptance of pain” in the pursuit of one’s bicycling life fulfillment. Perhaps en total these impassioned discourses resonated with my three companions or maybe it was the miraculous appearance of Dmitri Buben onto the back of our group, but we were soon humming along and making good progress in closing the gap.
It took us two laps but we did gobble up the Buckley/Pearce gang. Not pausing to chit-chat we powered through and continued the fight to maintain the lead for the remaining two laps. The goal now was to whittle the group of 9 down to a group of 1 – you’ve got it, me! Attacks on the hills. Attacks on the flats. Attacks everywhere. I had the legs. I desperately tried to break things up and escape either alone or with Dmitri (always a worker). The efforts succeeded in shedding two guys, but everyone else smelled the barn and were plenty strong enough to cover all moves. In the end it came down to a power uphill 30 second sprint to the finish line. Everyone pretty much jumped at the same time when we turned the acute corner onto the finishing hill. I was thinking about giving them a lecture about the importance of respecting one’s elders, but 3 of the group were too far up the hill to hear me, and when I crossed the finish line 4th, I was too out of breath to express the thought.
There was good riding by everyone in the always competitive 45+ group. Although Ta could not revel in the fun of the break, his aggressive riding directly contributed to my being able to get into the break. It’s always frustrating riding and being patient and ready to strike in the peloton on the chance that the break is caught. But Ron, Kev, Bruce and Ta rode well in that role as, more often than not at Sterling, the break does get caught and then it becomes game on again.