Race Report: Tour of the Hilltowns, Windsor, MA Masters 40+ (Cat.1-4) – Tim Wern
53.8 mile road race
4,100 feet of climbing
July 23, 2016
14th place 41 starters
90 degrees, sunny and 10mph win
Pinarello F8, Zipp 303 Clincher Wheels, Continental 4000S-II tires 25mm front, 25mm rear
Cassette: Ultegra 11-32, 52/36 up front.
First time on this course. Course has 2 major climbs. The first at mile 21 and the final at mile 50. The start of the course is rolling with a few short climbs then rolls downhill for a long way to the mile 21 epic climb. This climb is 4.2 miles and is rated around 7%. It was steeper than I thought it would be. Lots of 10-15% sections. Also quite long. The final climb is a rolling uphill 3.5 miles. Not as bad as I thought it would be.
It was a pretty warm day so threw a 3rd bottle in the back pocket. Very strong field with a lot of the usual suspects. Finkraft, Aetna & Minutemen were well represented. I drove up with Jim Elliott from Keltic. I was a little pokey getting ready and we rolled up to the back of the field at the start. After about a 2 mile neutral start, an attack immediately went off the front. About 6 got away. I was caught too far back to react. Frankly I am not sure I would have chased on or not. We were still well represented in the peloton. All the Finkraft guys and the sole ERRACE guy (Nedeau) were still with me. Finkraft had 3 racers that were all capable of winning and heavy favorites on this course. Nedeau tried to bridge late and I almost went with him as I was up front. However, with pretty good horsepower left in the peloton I didn’t want to burn the matches and then get caught by the favorites. After the break got away, I positioned myself at the front 1/3 of the peloton until the mile 21 major climb. I knew there would be a big selection there. I spent some time at the front, but never pushed terribly hard. Nobody seemed too interested in working hard to catch the breakaway. We also had Greg Galletta, who is typically top 5 in these races, in our group. He chased for awhile but then settled in with us. It was good for me to be on the front on the nasty long downhill. Some scary pavement and high speeds. I heard in the middle and back it was hard to see and even more scary. So they had to chase back on some. It was me and one of the Finkraft boys in front for most of the flats headed into the big climb. Again I didn’t want to be there but nobody looking to work much before the big climb. We hit the climb and the speed was very high. I stayed with the front group as we dropped roughly 2/3 of the remaining peloton. I almost crashed as Todd Bowden from Aetna just came in from my right and pushed me into the tightest little spot where I had nowhere to go. Somehow I was barely able to swing left and barely avoid a wheel and escape. The pain started to sear as the pace was still very high. I found Chris Crowell and jumped on his wheel knowing we are pretty evenly matched. But then a 545 Velo Rider wiped out Nedeau (over the bars uphill!) and then dropped back and took out Crowell’s front wheel forcing me onto the grass at about a 10% gradient. That little melee dropped us off of the front group.. So we regrouped and charged up the hill in pursuit. Me, Crowell & Nedeau. We passed a few dropped riders from the front group including, to my surprise, Jeb Fowler from 545 Velo……a buddy of mine….not the one that crashed us. The climb was longer and steeper than I had anticipated. The front group kept slowly pulling away from us. I wonder if I would have been able to hang on or not. So another 7 or so were now away from us. At the top of the climb we started to chase, but Nedeau (a world-class 1500 meter runner from the US team) wasn’t working. This is his home turf and he seemed pretty dejected at his poor luck. He burned a bunch of matches unsuccessfully trying to bridge early and then got run off the road on the climb. Two other riders caught us and our group became 5 for pretty much the rest of the race. Nedeau was not good to work with. Did not pull through smoothly in our paceline, often accelerating and generally not playing nice. I wasn’t sure if it was a tactic or just his frustration or lack of race experience. He is newer to the sport than me. Chris Crowell was the captain of our group which was fine with me. He was barking orders and, for the most part, worked. He was also berating Nedeau constantly.
We were moving along pretty good. We had a moto official with us for the last 3rd of the race telling me we were still in striking distance. At mile 50 at the foot of the final climb we were about 1:15 off the front group. That’s when Nedeau attacked and my 1st instinct was to go with him. But Crowell was screaming at him and us. He screamed at me “don’t go…he will blow up and we will ride right by him…it’s suicide..” You only have a second or two to figure it out and I reluctantly stayed. I will tell you partly for loyalty and the desire to build a better relationship with Crowell. I know it sounds silly but Crowell was very helpful pacing me up the first big climb when I was hurting a bit. We also worked very well together at Battenkill 2 months ago. But after a bit of thought, I was totally regretting it. Nedeau is a huge horse that would have led me away and I still had plenty in the tank. We never saw him again and he caught the front group finishing 8th. Tip of the hat to veteran Crowell as I think he was a bit spent and kept me back to help tow him home. Big Mistake.
I also was a bit unsure of the exact mileage as I should attacked on the last steep part to dump these guys. Then before I knew it we were on the 1k sign and it wasn’t so steep anymore. I lost my chance. Soon one of the guys in our group attacked towing the rest of us along. Then there was a sharp right turn at about 250 meters to the finish where I got a bit hung up and lost my position. I got pushed a bit into the gutter which was sandy. Almost crashed there, lost momentum and then started a late sprint. I then finished 3rd out of our group of 4 in the sprint. I also just missed passing a rider from the lead group who was going backwards badly. So all in all a terrible finish as I had plenty of snap left but the horrible turn and then short sprint…I simply ran out of road as I was closing fast and passed everyone just past the line.
So all in all a good effort. The group behind us was about 10 mins back and we were only a few mins off the winners. Finkraft went 1,3,5 finish. As it turns out they didn’t chase much as they would have just towed the peloton along. They knew they could just hammer the big climb and catch the breakaway which didn’t have a lot of great climbers. Good call for them.
There are no “true” friends in the peloton. I have to race my own race. Yes, you have friends and help each other by working together some ….but do not……do not sacrifice your race for someone else. My race would have had me going on the attack with Nedeau and/or attacking with about 3k to go. Part of it was inexperience as I got lost in Crowell’s controlling commands. Couple that with not really knowing the course and exactly how it finishes and I had a terrible finish after a pretty solid race in tough conditions against a very strong field. I was the 3rd Cat. 3 across the line. Mostly Cat. 1 & 2 guys up front. I can surely do better. I would like to think I could have dug deep and stayed with that front group on the climb if I hadn’t been run off the road and into the grass on a particularly steep section. And I also had plenty left for the final climb and we pretty much eased up knowing we were 10 mins ahead of the next chase group. Complacency. Another reason to attack…..ugh. Doesn’t sit well with me, but more lessons learned. Waiting to sprint with my group is not in my best interest. Tough course by the way. That first 4.2 mile climb is absolutely brutal. BTW, the group that we lost on the big climb caught the breakaway. We also passed some of the guys who were eventually dropped from the front group. So 14th/41 for me. Literally gave away 3 spots at the end.