It was grey and dreary as we drove to the start
of the 2010 Quabbin Reservoir Road Race. The mood inside the car
took a turn for the worse as raindrops started to hit the windscreen
(windshield, for those who don't have their English-American dictionary
handy). It got even worse when I couldn't find the perfect song
on the iPod, Richard Thompson's "Poor Will and the Jolly
"Here's a toast to the Jolly Hangman
He'll hang you the best that he can"
I was sure I was going to feel like Poor Will before the day
What a contrast from the day before, which was sunny, with temperatures
in the high 60s/20 Celsius. Being a gemini, I was in two minds
as to whether I had been smart by taking full advantage of the
day, or a fool by overdoing it. My wife Pamela and friend Dena
had ridden the Westfield 200km Brevet. I had gotten some extra
beauty sleep - not that anyone noticed - and set off to meet them
in Shelburn Falls. I had it in mind that it was an easy 50 mile
jaunt, but I ended up with 90 miles on the clock and some tired
legs for my troubles.
Back to Sunday, after some indecision about what to wear in the
cold and drizzle and a minimal 200m warm-up, taking in the view
from the tower, and I made my way to the start line. After some
mood improving gallows humour (spotting the theme yet?), the Masters
35 field, probably 60 strong, set off downhill towards Route 9.
My fillings survived the teeth chatteringly chilly descent and
I looked forward to the first hill to get some blood flowing.
That is, until we hit the first hill. My gemini self was suddenly
in no doubt that I had overdone it the day before. What had I
been thinking? Damn, my legs hurt! I had to tell myself that a
few others in the field must have tired legs from racing at Turtle
Pond the day before, but that didn't seem to be slowing down CCB's
Ciaran Mangan. He put in several strong surges before getting
away with a couple of others for 5 miles or so, after we turned
onto the roller coaster Route 202.
With unerring accuracy, I seemed to pick the rear wheels of those
following the classic non-climbers advice of "Get to the
front of the group at the bottom of the hill. Then, if you fall
back, you'll still be in contact with the group." Thus, I
found it difficult to get around them as the rest of the group
surged around us, and I found myself at the wrong end of a split
in the group. My legs screamed as I closed the gap, burning a
few (damp) matches in the process. At least the rain had stopped
at this point and the road was dry as we turned onto Route 122.
The pace was consistently high, but that didn't stop the attacks
and surges from coming, although things calmed down slightly before
we took the turn onto Hardwick Road. The road became choppy, both
in terms of the hills and the road surface, and the attacks recommenced.
A sharp right in Hardwick took us up another climb which in turn
led to a fantastic, twisty, bumpy descent. I was really feeling
in the groove and let it hang out on a sharp right hander that
nearly caught several people out. However, that groovy feeling
didn't last for long, as there was suddenly some virtuoso accordian
playing going on at the front of the group. A dirt trench at the
bottom of the descent caused some disarray and sent one of my
water bottles flying. I almost caught it between frame and calf,
but I ened up having to console myself with the fact that it wasn't
a scorcher of a day and my bike was now lighter.
Things took a turn for the worse on a climb shortly afterwards.
I've never dropped a chain on my bike. Not only that, but I can
often be heard recommending to people that they fit a "chain
watcher" gadget on their bike so that they don't have this
problem either. So, what happened on this climb but I drop my
chain! My legs started to spin effortlessly. While this often
seems like a desireable occurrence, when you suddenly start going
very literally backwards, it doesn't seem like quite such a good
idea any more. Glancing down, my chain was skating on top of the
Deda Dog Fang thingummy. I tried to get the chain back on the
big ring, but to no avail either.
Luckily, I was to one side of the group, so I was able to pull
over without affecting anyone else and get the chain back on.
In my dreams, I did an impressive cyclocross remount and effortlessly
caught back up to the group. In reality, I think the air around
me turned blue and I burned a few more (slightly drier now) matches,
to go into match deficit, as I hopped from straggler to straggler
before finally regaining the group.
It started to drizzle again as we approached Ware, and my mood
dampened further on the sharp climb up Route 9 that followed.
My legs began to cramp as a carefully planned combination of a
lack of race miles and a surplus of pre-race miles the day before
came together in painful symphony. It was a pity, as my breathing
felt good, but it seemed like my race was over at this point.
Still, I hung with what I estimated to be a 30 strong group and
my legs started to turn without twitchiness again as we re-entered
the Quabbin Park. I started to wonder what I could do to help
Brian in 545 Velo, one of the Wednesday Night Hill Ride gang and
a much better sprinter than I, as I made my way to the front of
the pack. A big guy in green said something, presumably to a teammate,
about leading it out and he was good to his word. He went to the
front and lined us out for perhaps a mile. The road curved to
the right and a stretch of water came into sight as he pulled
off. There was probably a mile to the finish at this point and
the hesitency and tension in the group was palpable.
Suddenly a Bike Barn guy jumped and I could hear Brian say, "Close
him down." I jumped next and quickly caught him. Too quickly,
I thought, so I put my head down and kept going. In the words
of the Cowboy Junkies, "Now I'm leaving normal and I'm heading
for who knows where."
I was surprised to find myself gaining on a rider up the road.
Sure enough, there was a CCB rider going hell for leather and
he hopped on my wheel as I went by. I had a vague recollection
of someone going off the front on the Route 9 climb, but I was
too busy writhing in agony at the time to pay much heed. I heard
his breathing behind me for a while until, well, I could only
hear my own laboured breathing.
It was at this moment that it became apparent to me exactly how
important it is to have a nice looking stem on your bike. And
for some reason, I've been waking up in a cold sweat every night
since, with the words "Chris King Sealed Bearing" dancing
in front of my eyes. Think clean thoughts, John!
The Enfield Lookout slowly hove into view. Holy mackerel! (I
wasn't really thinking in multi-syllabic terms at this point.
Use your imagination.) I knew we had the whole road from there
to the finish, so that must mean the finish was close! For the
first time since I jumped, I chanced a glance back over my shoulder.
If I wasn't mistaken about the finish, I had what looked like
an unbridgeable gap.
I clicked it up a gear and absolutely buried myself for the last
few hundred metres. Pamela and Dena had gone for a spin of their
own in the doom and gloom, but had returned in time to see the
finish, They were shocked to see someone that looked like me leading
the pack but they recovered quickly to cheer me across the line!
I attribute my win to eating toast with Marmite and a carefully
planned lack of race miles. The result was that I wasn't a marked
rider and I had really bad breath. Thanks for reading!