1K to go and the field is rapidly snaking it’s way through the final gentle curves and down Route 100 on its way to the finish.
It’s Stage 1 of the 2012 Killington Stage Race and we’re on the last of three 18-mile circuits. I’m tucked just inside the middle of the peloton about halfway back and barely holding my ground, though it’s not because of the 40mph pace. Alarms bells are going off in my head as my field of vision successively tunes into a series of sketch moves by riders intent on getting themselves into position for the final.
Just up ahead of me is my brother, Jere. We had concocted a plan to do the same but the inner debate has begun. My gut says to drop back, avoid the sketch and live to fight another day. My main objective in this stage was to stay out of trouble near the front, avoid last year’s bad luck (an untimely puncture) and pedal as little as possible in order to save my legs for the more demanding stages to come. So far, so good, having only had to work for a minute over the final KOM sprint a few miles back.
The second objective was, with my brother on my wheel, launch an early sprint at around 500 meters. In theory, this would give him a shot at the podium, allow me to hang on to cherry pick an upgrade point or two and put us both in position for a late start in tomorrow’s time trial. Nice idea.
600 meters. Despite the fact that my brother is ahead of me and the field has devolved into high-speed chaos and anarchy, my brain counteracts my gut and I order myself to execute the plan.
500 meters and the left lane opens up just as we turn gently right to reveal the finish line below. A strong surge goes on the right but I jump left into a large gap with no wheel to follow. Colin Powell once said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In this case, no half-baked sprint plan survives contact with a brick wall of a head wind. I instantly bog down along with the 20 or so riders who moved left, including my brother.
400 meters and I’m already resigned to merely sprinting for a mid-pack finish and the 15 extra minutes of the sleep tomorrow that will be the resulting reward.
300 meters. A big rider passes me on the right, sprinting madly and shouting “Look out! Look out!” We, “the leftists”, are all well out of it now and I think “He can’t seriously be thinking he’s gonna win it from this far back?” As if our giving deference to his exhortations is enough to make up for a really late surge from the back of the field…
200 meters. He crosses in front of my line and tries to squeeze through a tight hole between two riders about 10 meters directly in front of me. We are headed into the sun and the whole horrifying scene plays out for me in silhouette.
The three shapes come together and violently collapse to the ground. My heart stops. In the milliseconds that follow I have enough time to grab handful of brake and think “NO. So close. It cannot end this way!” I’m locked up and going sideways as I torpedo the screaming heap at 45 mph.
100 meters. I’m flying. Blackout.
Killington is my nemesis. The 2012 edition marks the fifth time I’ve done this race and despite a few fleeting glimpses of potential along the way, I’ve never finished higher than 24th, having suffered and inordinate amount of perennial bad luck. After last year’s cataclysmic meltdown, I initially vowed never return as did both Jere and the third of our brotherhood of pain and humiliation, Scott.
Soon enough though I was analyzing my performance in 2011, dissecting my physical and mental preparation for the race and coming up with a new training plan. My parents (who live only a few miles from the start of each stage) offered generous support for me to attend the race, which if you’re flying from out of state, costs a small fortune.
Despite there being a handful of races on the Colorado calendar which suit my abilities much better, it was Killington—the race I have absolutely no chance to win—that irrationally fueled my offseason training. My logic was that if I could get in shape for a race as difficult as that, then decent performances at the local races would be an inevitable side effect.
Other than having an off-day at the Superior Morgul Road Race the week prior, this logic has proven sound. I have six months of training in my legs. Although I devoted 90% of my discretionary training to climbing, all aspects of my cycling fitness have improved over last year. My nutrition has been dialed in, I have sharply curtailed my alcohol consumption and I weigh five pounds less. My race-day rituals (IMO an underrated aspect of successful racing) are finely honed. I have a plan to, unlike last year, dose my efforts and conserve energy so as not blow out my legs early. Jere is convinced that we are unlikely to suffer the perfect storm of sandbaggers that wickedly blew apart last year’s race.
On the flip side, I came into the offseason having spent the better part of four months indulging in my two favorite deadly sins–sloth and gluttony–so I started training in October essentially from scratch. The early spring was a blessing for weather but a curse for my allergies. Losing ten days of training to illness only a month before the race has been a blow to not only my fitness but also to my training momentum. Similarly, I’ve come to hate rest weeks and the peaking process in general as the decreased hours tend to subvert my focus and consistency.
All this to say that I arrived in Vermont ambivalent about my chances to achieve one of the season’s most important goals: a Top 20 overall.
And here, on only the first day of the race and only 100 meters from the line, these best laid plans—as well as life, limb and bike—appear to about to become suddenly and violently undone by the actions of an overzealous idiot sprinting wildly for 31st place.
I jump up from the pavement really pissed off. The miraculous news is that I’m conscious, appear to have no broken bones and by some fortunate quirk of evolutional psychology, my brain has instantly deleted the impact and immediate aftermath (the flipping down the tarmac part) of the crash.
Although I would love to report that at this point I am simply happy to be alive, somehow the “that’s racing” equanimity eludes me and I let out a torrent of curses, mostly directed at the perpetrator of the crash who is picking up his bike out of the middle of the road. Spectators and officials rush over and I see my parents and sister-in-law, Courtney, running up the grass to our location.
A loud groan immediately to my right silences my tirade and I look down to see my brother sitting on the ground.
“I just need to rest for a minute,” he says, lying down.
What a catastrophe. Six riders of an 80-man field down in a crash out and two of them are us! Scott arrives on the scene having made the fortuitous move to back off and stay right.
I have further words with the offending rider, who adopts a “best defense is a good offense” strategy by suggesting that I should have braked sooner to avoid hitting the falling bodies, until the officials consider the argument sufficiently counterproductive to separate us. I cannot deny that I have a temper—it tends to be aroused by overt acts of foolishness that needlessly endanger and ultimately injure other riders.
As it is, both Jere and I have dodged serious injury. Later on, a forensic assessment of the road rash on my elbows, knees, shoulders and back has me guessing that I hit the group sideways, landed on my back and rolled on all fours. Jere has whacked his head and cracked one of his Zipp wheels. My right SRAM Red shift lever has been yanked out of the body.
The team jumps into action. Courtney picks up a enough bandages and medical supplies at the local pharmacy to patch up a small village (they were having a 2-for-1 sale—in anticipation of the race perhaps?) My dad brings the bike to the shop, which is literally on the corner just beyond the finish and repairs are affected. Huge shout out to SRAM neutral support who basically handed my dad a new (2011) Red shifter, no questions asked. I am now a customer for life.
We are bent but not broken and will continue on in tomorrow’s time trial.