Green Mountain Stage Race Report

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By Heather McLaughlin on September 6th, 2012.
Green Mountain Stage Race Report

Some races just don’t go according to plan. Coming into the Green Mountain Stage Race (GMSR), I really wanted a strong race. I had a 6 week training lead up and a week-long taper to be nice and fresh for the start of the four day race on Friday, August 31st. My bike had new wheels and a newly upgraded drive train and I couldn’t wait to see what it was capable of in its hopefully last race before retirement as a training bike.

Unfortunately, I woke up on Thursday with a horrible sore throat, the first harbinger of an obstinate cold that made the whole race a lot more challenging than I had hoped. However, despite my initial anxiety, the weekend was a triumphant mix of hard efforts, awesome people, and beautiful scenery that made me so happy to be a bike racer.

I got a ride to Vermont with two ladies from the Ride Studio Cafe team, who I had never met before the awkward introductions in the parking lot where we met. But by the time we had flatted out on the way up (yes, in the car) and had to change a tire by the side of the highway, we were fast bonded for the weekend. Their lodging plans fell through, so they, along with another Cat. 3/4 friend from NYCross, and two guys from the Embrocation Journal team all stayed with me at my aunt and uncle’s vacant house. What had started out as a possibly lonely weekend had rapidly turned into an awesome opportunity to spend some time with some great Boston-area cyclists, exploring all the Mad River swimming holes, cooking awesome food, and cheering wildly for riders in other categories.

Day 1: Time Trial (TT) (5.7 miles)

The time trial started near Warren Store and then rose for a few miles before flattening out for the last few miles. I warmed up with the other three ladies in my category by riding out on Rt. 100. We turned around after about 4 miles and I immediately got a pinch flat in my front tire from a pothole. My bike was already stripped of all its flat repair supplies in anticipation of the upcoming TT, so I was woefully unprepared. We were about 4 miles from the start and I was 30 minutes from race start. The other ladies started back to see if they could find help along the way (they later told me that they stopped a rec rider along the side of the road to see if he had any flat repair supplies!). Meanwhile, I was clomping along the side of the road in my cleats and racing shoes, trying to look as piteous as possible, hoping someone would stop and give me a ride. On the weekend of GMSR, I didn’t have to wait long: two really nice masters racers stopped by the side of the road, loaded my bike on their roof rack and whisked me straight to SRAM neutral support, with a quick shout out the window to let my friends know that I was alright and on my way back to the start.

The great guys at SRAM quickly changed out my front tube and added rim tape to the wheel to prevent future pinch flats. They also were worried about the rear wheel, so they took the wheel to rim tape during the race and gave me a sweet neutral rear wheel to use during the race. And after that stressful start, I was off! The TT itself was definitely a bit of a disappointment; I had difficulties breathing from the start, for some strange reason I couldn’t shift into the large chain ring in front until close to the end of the race, and basically felt generally crappy. However, I finished 36/47 with a time of 19:21. The woman who won in my category (Bionic Woman) was a pro triathlete who had a faster time than all of the 1/2 women!

Day 2: Circuit Race (~35 miles)

I knew it was a bad sign when I was out of breath during the neutral start. The circuit race consisted of 1 ¾ laps around an 18 mile circuit, with one large climb in the middle. There were opportunities to get both sprint and Queen of the Mountain (QOM) points (prizes given to the best sprinter and climber at the end of the stage race by accumulating points in those categories). The neutral start ended at the top of the QOM and the pace remained pretty conservative until the sprint spot at the finish line, where I finished just out of the points. As we turned back up the QOM climb, however, I started to struggle. I fell off the pack and ended up with only a few people ahead of me when I got to the top and started chasing back on. I caught two other riders over the course of the descent and could see another pack, just within our sight along the curves of the Vermont Rt. 2. We started a pace line, but I was a bit stronger than the other two ladies who I was riding with, so we’d lose distance every time I took a break off the front. I ended up staying in the front for a long effort to pull us back up the group, which turned out to be the chase group behind the main pack. I took a bit of a breather in the back of group, observed some rather unimpressive pacelining (HUCA is so good for teaching us how to do it correctly, without accelerating at the front!) and then sprinted to cross the finish line first out of the chase group 32nd/47, 1:43 back from the winner.

Day 3: Road Race (~70 miles)

The road race was a beautiful 70 mile loop which ended on top of the Appalachian Gap, a Category 2 climb that rises for about 3 miles at an average of 8% grade. One challenge for a race of this length is carrying enough water. There were two feed zones, both of which I thought had neutral water. So I carried three water bottles: two on my bike and one in my jersey pocket and I was planning on getting a neutral water at the last feed zone. The group stayed together for the first 40 miles until the first QOM climb. I made a valiant effort to stay with the surging climbers, but fell back 500 meters from the summit. Unfortunately, I ended up in a bit of a no man’s land. I was the last person not to make the front group, and I was able to keep them in my sight for about 8 minutes, but I was unable to gain any ground. When at last they surged out of my sight, I sat up to wait for someone to work with from behind me. A group caught up to me that ended up being very similar in composition to the people I finished with the day before with similar sketchy pacelining. We sort of worked together, picking up people who had been spit off the back of the front pack, hearing tales of the race ahead of us.

Bionic Woman had gone off the front with a few other women in a break and the field was chasing her down. The officials actually had to neutralize the women’s 1/2 field (which started 5 minutes before us) to let the 3/4 field through. The 3/4 field then was neutralized when the 1/2 field decided to pick up the pace. My group broke up on Baby Gap, the climb before App Gap, and I ran out of water just as I reached the second feed zone. Unfortunately, there was no water left, only some people offering up cans of soda. However, one cheerer from the Lake Placid team took pity on me and gave me his water bottle, which was half full, an absolute lifesaver!

App Gap was quite a climb, especially the last 500 meters. You can see the finish line from there, but the grade increases up to 20% and it becomes a struggle just to keep pedaling. I was very appreciative of my much maligned triple, I definitely went down to the “granny” gear on that last stretch to the finish. I finished 30th/45 in 3:37:36, while Bionic Woman won with a time almost 9 minutes faster than the 1/2 field! The top was quite the festive atmosphere, with Sully from the ECCC doing all the announcing and everyone giving congratulations all around on surviving the hard climb. I was glad to be recovered enough to cheer on fellow ECCC racer Shaena Berlin from MIT and awesome HUCA alumna Sophy Lee as they climbed to the finish! I was also able to return the water bottle to the Lake Placid team with my deepest gratitude.

We had parked at the start, which was seven miles from the finish, including a long climb back to the Sugarbush base lodge. So I went back in the smallest chain ring as we tried to spin our way back to the top to rest up for the crit the next day.

Day 4: Criterium (~15 miles)

The crit course is a relatively short 1 kilometer with 6 turns right in downtown Burlington. I was excited for this race, since I was finally starting to feel a little better! The pace was fast from the start and unfortunately we didn’t get any preview laps like other fields due to being a bit behind schedule. The crit was an important race because they would only place riders in the final general classification (GC; overall standings) if they finish at least half the race, but officials would pull any riders that were in danger of getting lapped from the race. With a strong field like we had, it would definitely be tricky to stay in the race if you fell back from the main pack.

The first three turns were quite tight, making it hard to move up, a fact that I unfortunately only realized as I kept on having difficulties getting around riders that were falling off the pace. At last I wasn’t able bridge the gap back to the front group and ended up in a group of three. We were quite determined to last as long as possible, one of ladies was in the top ten of the GC and was desperate not to get pulled before cut-off. So we worked together, really gutting it out the entire way, and picked up two more riders (including one of my RSC friends!) before being pulled with three laps to go, fully placed in the GC with an estimated finish time of 1:55 back. Unfortunately, we didn’t get alerted when we had one lap to go so there was no sprint for the finish, but I finished in 13th out of the 35 riders with enough laps to get a finishing time.

Final GC: 24th/35

After the crit, I went down to Lake Champlain with my new friends, spinning along the bike path overlooking a picturesque scene of mountains, sailboats, and glittering water. It was a beautiful weekend in Vermont and we all jumped into the lake at North Beach in our chamois, as I heard all about the cyclocross race in that park last year. Although I didn’t race as well as I wanted to, it was a wonderful chance to expand my circle of cycling friends, raise the limits of what my body felt like it was capable of, and learn how to race smarter with each performance being stronger than the last. We left Burlington with tired legs and plans to ride together again, weighted down with a huge bag of vegetables from my parent’s garden.

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