words by Alex Grabau
photos by Erica & Jay Robbins
Today was the Queen stage of GMSR, as Jay tells me that means it’s the hardest stage of the race and I guess I’d have to agree with that. We started just after 8am rolling down a cracked and rutted neutral start from Sugarbush resort on what would become a race of just under 70 miles.
Speed controlled by two neutral cars and a throaty BMW two-cylinder motorcycle riders pulsed their brakes to control speed. The morning air was misty and cold. I had to pee... again. This would become a trend. Our wheels were barely rolling and two riders flatted within two minutes of the start, one was a tire explosion. I figured that they were simply riding their brakes and overheating the tubes inside. I thought about that for about 15 minutes under the neutral control and decided that using my front brake and then the rear, alternating would keep the heat down and keep my from encountering this problem whose cause I had completely invented only minutes before.
After a few minutes we rolled into Waitsfield and we were no longer under neutral control. A few very excited riders surged to the front taking fairly hard pulls, some even out of the saddle into what seemed like oblivion since we were only a few minutes into the race with so much ahead. I just kept thinking about Ap’ Gap, which we had driven the night before… in second gear. Ap’ Gap was waiting after all these early sprints and efforts.
Much of the race was easy. The early heroes were humbled after one or two rolling hills. About 15 miles into the race there was what’s called a Hot-Spot Sprint for a time bonus. This caused a little disruption in the pack and the result for us was that Oscar after several early attempts to get off the front with a good sized group succeeded. He was in a break with about 6 riders for over 20 miles. It was an incredible effort and part of our plan to keep the pace up and also to protect our GC (general classification) leader Matt who was highest in the overall standings. The race leader from Breakaway Bikes (Cole) was not in the break and he was getting nervous. Oscar made it all the way to the KOM sprint and the break started to disintegrate. They had made over two minutes on the pack at their best. While Oscar was in the break Matt, Jay and me were in the pack and I had a very professional and discrete “nature break” while rolling down a hill at the back of the pack. Perhaps my best move of the weekend. My intent was to make sure Matt stayed in his position and conserve energy for the end of the race where we hit a 7 mile climb. I hoped to (in Oscar’s terms) Go Apeshit and put it all into one climb.
Jay and I rode together for a while in the pack, staying clear of trouble and keeping our efforts low and steady. Matt rode near the front to make sure that he wasn’t involved in any crashes. At about mile 54 Community Bike Team Rider Daniel Nuzzo-Mueller apparently rode up to me and said “Hey Alex, I’m going to go to the front and make an effort” I say apparently because I have absolutely no recollection of this. We consider Daniel an ally of our team’s and we worked yesterday with him to keep the pace up in the circuit race. He was giving me an invitation but it was apparently sent to the wrong address and not my house of pain. Daniel then rode to the front, then off the front and later won by over a minute.
Fifty-six miles was the magic point. Matt and I worked it out last night using Google Maps. 56 miles was the bottom of what’s called Baby Gap. Baby Gap later turns into Appalachian Gap or “Ap’-Gap” for a total of about 7 miles of climbing from the 56 mile point. The last two kilometers are 20% grade in some places which for me meant dispensing with my usual 39-23 for a 39-26 from my buddy Mike who saved the day with this larger cassette. The road race course profile looks like the decibel reading in a once-quiet room after Oscar has had coffee. Even with the revised gearing I was standing out of the saddle and g r i n d i n g for the last ten minutes. It was unreal.
Back to the race with Daniel off the front and our GC guy Matt at the front of the chase, Jay and I in the same group we hit the climb and of course, it got really spicy. I kept looking up and around every corner and it kept coming. It was in the type of pain zone where you just hope nothing disrupts your breathing or rhythm as it would be a disastrous consequence. Some tall guy in a green and white kit made some huge out of the saddle sprint effort on the first steep pitch. The guy next to me muttered “good idea buddy, 1000 watt sprint, seems like a good time” Lucky I have no power meter to tell me how much I’m hurting. Matt answered. I made a personal call to keep my rhythm and it was a mistake. The group of 6 or so gapped me by about 15 feet and there I hung for two kilometers. Some stragglers that fell off the group earlier chugged by me and I kept my rhythm, and somehow after the longest 200 final meters of a lifetime I finished. . I finished 30th today. At the time I thought it was much better than that. (doesn’t it always) Matt finished 7 spots and 15 seconds ahead of me. Jay had one of the best climbing days that I’ve seen rolling in very soon after me. Normally a sprinter he may have found his climbing legs. Oscar was next, the “sensations” (read with euro-inflection) of the enormous work from his breakaway(s) had set in and he was able to produce the goods to finish at 15 mins down on the leader, Daniel who beat the rest of us mortals by about a minute. Oscar probably worked the hardest of us all today by making the break and adding to that the hill at the end.
Happy to be finished.
It’s hard to write a report as good as Celia’s past race reports, especially if you aren’t in the same race. (although we discussed the ethics behind attempting that this weekend) Maybe we’ll be lucky to get a writeup from her solo efforts up here in the women’s race at GMSR. She is having the best performance of us all this weekend, finishing a scorching 2nd in the time trial with no aero wheels or clothing to help her cut through the atmosphere. She was only ONE SECOND off the leader. One second She claimed to not know where to put her hands and that her constant recalculation of hand position potentially cost her a second.
Day two, the circuit race. Celia quietly set out on a humble mission of total competition-destruction over oatmeal and coffee and about half a watermelon. She was going to get her missing second back. The night before Kyle from Embrocation, team mate Joy’s husband got her into a hateful head by quizzing her on the origins of our money supply. The mind tricks worked but luck was against her in the circuit race. A clumsy crash caused by a fellow competitor left her on top of a bike pile up. Unhurt but rattled, Celia then rode (I think she said) 5 miles (!!!) on a flat tire before neutral assistance circled back to help her. This took away her chances of a top GC finish but she was not defeated.
Day three- Road race. Celia re-claimed her spot at the top riding again, unsupported into 2nd spot in the hardest stage of the weekend. Hopefully she can fill us in on details later.
That’s it for now. The criterium is tomorrow in Burlington. Additional photos are here.