Well…I’m a 3. I guess it had to happen sometime, and the night of winning Rockleigh was the earliest time I had all my points, so I put in for my upgrade. Sunday was my debut as a 3 racer in New Britain, CT.
Thanks to Yehudah for coming out in the 100*+ temperatures and for awesome pictures, as always.
Thanks for the Koops and Zaks for the peanut gallery. Thanks to Mike, Skoop, Ted and Willie for the motivation.
And thank you to Rosalynn Foley for other awesome pictures.
Heading into Sunday, I was flat out scarred. I mean, I was terrified. I don’t know how The Bash Brothers managed to get me to sign up for the P123…but once I’d realized what I’d done, I was panic-stricken, to say the least. Why hadn’t I signed up for the 3 race? Why did I need to ride 150k just 3 days before the race? Why this, why that…I tried to fill my head with positive speak but the fear was constantly there, nagging, chewing, gnawing.
The drive was 2 hours. Yehudah and I enlisted Malcolm and Ted as carpool buddies. We ended up leaving about an hour late and arriving 30 minutes prior to the start of our race. Fortunately, it was 105* when we arrived, so a long warmup wasn’t really all that important.
I knew it was going to be hot, so I’d been fueling up and hydrating quite heavily over the weekend leading up to the race. Lots of rest, lots of carbs, good amount of protein and lots of liquids.
We made our way to the start line where I lined up next to Brian Breach. THE Brian Breach. Obviously, I struck up conversation.
My heart was racing as the announcer blew the whistle. I was looking around and saw all the teams and riders who I’ve heard of but never saw. I was able to reach out and touch them. I did, later on – I couldn’t resist.
We took off in the blistering heat and then we were racing. Apparently, the race course was built FOR races (Horwitz, Skoop et al.) by a bike racer, and you could tell. Wide, sweeping turns, a nice little uphill kick and mostly decent pavement. There was a prime the first lap and a break developed immediately.
I had some gatorade/water mix in one bottle and just water in the other. It should have been 2 water bottles – the gatorade wasn’t doing anything for me…or maybe it did. My goal was to stay as close to the front as I could and simply survive. I didn’t want to get dropped and I felt that I stood a real chance at survival.
Unfortunately, these plans seem a lot better on paper than they do in practice oftentimes. I was swiftly rotated to the back where I was left to fend for myself and make up one or two positions on the insides of the 3 corners whenever I could.
The race was 40 miles. That’s 40 laps. At about lap 17, someone decided it was time to shut down the attack. Whatever progress I had made moving up through the field was immediately lost. As I came around and saw ’23’ displayed proudly by the start/finish line, it was all I could do to hang on and hope beyond hope that I would last the rest of the race. I certainly didn’t feel as if I would make it.
The race proceeded as any race would, and I took a certain joy in watching Mike and Skoop move around the field freely. I was in front of Ted for a while and didn’t notice him much but I was focusing on the wheel in front of me, making sure not to crash, making sure to drink, making sure to speed up when necessary, making sure to get the right amount of tilt in the corners…when there he was.
Adam Alexander had ridden up next to me. I was awe-stricken for long enough to almost crash into the bike in front of me. Then I regained focus…until I saw Isaac Howe. And Gavi Epstein. All of them were there, and I was attempting to ride my bike next to them as they raced along blissfully at 29 mph. OK, maybe not blissfully, it was very hot, after all.
I was feeling really tired, really quickly. As I expected I would. 40 miles was a longer crit than I’d ever done and the pace was very high for me, especially on such a hot day.
At one point, I recall Malcolm pulling alongside me in the inside of the track and quietly saying, “I’m here, Eli.” I acknowledged him only moments before I hear Ted commanding, “PEDAL, MALCOLM, PEDAL!” He does. He goes straight to the front and launches a full-fledged attack as Howe gets on his wheel. Howe takes 3 pedal strokes, then looks back and merely sits up.
That was the last I saw of our boy Malcolm.
Eventually, I began to drift further and further back. I don’t know how, but Skoop noticed. I watched as he pulled off the front, moved to the inside and coasted until I caught him. He pulled me back up to the front. Not once. Not twice. Three times.
Mike was with us one time and, just as Skoop pulled off, Mike pulled to the left. I tried to speed up to get on his wheel when a rider jumped out of the field at the same time…forcing me onto the grass. I had my 5 seconds of cyclocross practice and then managed to get back onto the road with little to no ground lost. But I almost hit a lamp post. It was not fun.
I don’t know when it happened, but I know that the field split. I don’t know how it happened, but I know it did. I thought Mike was in the breakaway when I saw him up the road, but he was actually the chase group. There were 13 riders up the road and Mike part of a 4-man chase. In other words, the rest of us would be racing for 18th.
After being brought back to the front a few times, I began to feel better – maybe the pace slowed, maybe I was becoming acclimated, I don’t know. As we climbed the little riser one time, I saw Gavi coming at us fast – he was losing ground. I reached out to give him a push but was too far. I ended up grazing his butt with my fingers. He looked over, and I just said “hey.”
A crash 6 or 7 riders up, right in front of Ted. I swerved left, Gavi right. After losing a bit of ground, I chased back onto the field for about a minute but finally caught them. Our field was now very, very small.
For one lap at least. 2 riders went down, and 10 jumped back in at the next lap. Apparently, in the P123 race, if you get stuck behind a crash, you get a free lap? It was weird for me to learn that way.
Another interesting thing I learned about the P123 field is that hand-ups are apparently legal – I saw multiple WS United and Foundation riders taking handups on the back stretch. That seemed very odd to me, but I guess in the big leagues the rules are different.
With 10 laps to go, there were still a bunch of us in the field and I was feeling good so I was getting a little aggressive Too early, but I didn’t know that.
All of a sudden, I hear the announcer, “5 to go, 5 to go! No more free lap!”
I had done it. I had survived. I had no secondary goal, so I didn’t know what to do there. I made my best attempt to race and figured I’d see where that took me.
I knew I wanted to be up near the front coming out of the last corner…but I got there too early. I moved up with 4 to go and was promptly edged out with 2 to go. The racers on this level are more aggressive and confident than what I’m used to – I’m going to have to work on that. I didn’t keep my position but still managed to sprint at the end.
13 got away.
12 beat me in the sprint.
31st in the race, 13th in the field sprint.
Everything hurt and everything was glad to be done. I can’t wait for the next P123. But I need to start riding more. A LOT more.