This is over 3 weeks late, I know, I know, but bare with me. Better late than never!
It was the third day and stage of the Tour of the Catskills. I was in the yellow leader's jersey and I had a 1:55 lead over second place. There was almost 80 miles of racing to tackle, with a one mile climb in the first hour and then the 2.3 mile beast-of-a-climb up Devil's Kitchen near the end, which would likely decide the overall winner. I was in great position. I had won yesterday's stage in the final uphill sprint to the finish. The weather was perfect - blue skies and cool crisp mountain air. But that morning I was feeling, eh, so I knew this was not going to be an easy day for me.
The Cat 5 turnout for this race was a bit of a disappointment. I guess that was also a sign for what would plague everyone who was racing from day to day. There were 20 registered Cat 5 riders, only 19 raced, and one rider was ultimately disqualified the final day for performing the ultimate meat-headed-ness of actions - passing the lead marshall by going over the yellow line during a long downhill. Yea, we all get it, you can go fast downhill. Not only did he endanger his life but the lives of everyone around him. It was nice to finally see some "justice" during a race. I've seen plenty of rule breakers this season but this guy took the proverbial cake.
Since the Cat 5 field was small, they grouped the Women's 3/4 field with us. That gave us 27 racers. Not a large group but no longer small. Either way, on the second stage, a group of 7 of us formed off the front and became the contenders. All three leaders jerseys were in this group of 7, the yellow for the overall lead, the polka-dot for the King of the Mountain (KOM) points leader, and the green jersey for sprint points. We all knew that we would end up racing together on the final day as well, which turned out to be true.
The time trial on the first day was exciting. I was giddy after my run. I didn't have a full time trial bike but I managed to slap together an acceptable setup on my road bike. Zipp clip-on aero bars, a shorter stem, and a Profile Design fast forward seatpost put me in a comfortable and aero position even though it looked ugly as hell! I wore an aero skin suit and one of those teardrop aero helmets like a scene from the movie Aliens. I looked fast and felt fast even if I turned my road bike into a jalopy of sorts. I won the TT in my age group but was 2nd overall against all the Cat 5s. Yea, I know that sounds confusing. I was happy none-the-less and dreaming of getting a full TT bike for the future.
Back to the last stage. About 10 or so of us made it up the first climb of the day that broke up the group and we sailed along together until the final climb of the day. I did my best to conserve energy and this was aided by a well working group. We kept up a pace fast enough to avoid getting caught by the chasing group and distributed the work among everyone without one person putting in too much work. When the final climb came, I knew I didn't have the legs to attack early so I watched and waited for the others. When my rival in 2nd place attacked, I had to go with him and try to keep him within reach. That lasted for a while but then when the road went up over 15% gradient I was now losing contact.
Platte Cove Rd otherwise known as the Devil's Kitchen is a befitting name. This is a hellacious climb. The road is narrow and steep. There isn't much to look at except the asphalt continually rising in front of you. The air is stagnant and the temperature seems to rise the deeper you climb. My legs were exhausted, my heart rate was pegged within 10% of its maximum. In other words, I was at my limit but I needed to go harder, faster, or else I would lose this race. All day I knew I needed to come up with something "special" for the Kitchen, meaning, I knew I was in trouble but was hoping I could push through the fatigue and find some strength to carry me to the top and still be in contention.
So I rode my own race on that climb. I abandoned the idea of keeping my rival within sight. I simply didn't have the legs and he did. I knew that once I got to the top, I would have to give it all I had and try and salvage my lead to still win the race. After the climb ended, there was still another 6 miles of rolling terrain until the finish. One other rider was attached to my wheel and I pulled him along for a while until I finally asked for some help with the pace. He was able to put in a couple of turns in the front which gave me some brief recovery.
I needed to go faster, I was getting desperate, I had no idea how far ahead my rival was. I could see people up the road. Who were they? My rival? Others? So I pressed on the gas pedal, my legs began to scream, I could feel the onset of cramping but was able to keep it in check. I lost my partner, he was done and no longer able to stay with me. I passed other riders along the course, but not my main rival. Ah! The finish line was just ahead, one last sprint, I needed every second.
In the end, that final effort worked. I won the overall by a scant 10 seconds. Never give up I say!
Kudos to my mother-in-law for this award winning birthday card. That's the photo at the top. Me and my amazing Cat-skills, get it!?