Vermont is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to visit. The area around Burlington in particular - I really haven't been elsewhere - is there anything that Chittenden County doesn't have? Lake Champlain, colleges, a hip vibrant city, beautiful mountains and friendly people. It is a long 4 hr drive from home, but well worth the trip.
I'd never been there before the last year's edition of the Catamount Cyclocross weekend, but that trip and a long weekend at the stone hut on Mt. Mansfield in January were all it took to sell me on the whole Vermont thing. Reports are that the mountain biking is excellent as well. They have Ben and Jerry's and the Cider House. It could only be better if Long Trail Harvest Ale flowed from every faucet in the state.
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We left the kids home with Grandma and went up early to get a day in the city before the weekend of racing. Friday was a perfectly sunny day: we a bit of strolling, had a nice ride on the bike path, checked out the race course at sunset... very romantic. We met the boys at the Cider House for dinner, and once again the meal was excellent.
We woke Saturday to find it bright but cool and windy. A beautiful fall day with the foliage at about 30%. Here's the camp:
Verge races are always stressful, but this venue doesn't help at all. This may be the toughest course of the year, the way it was laid out had us going up and down theses short punchy climbs one after another after another. There was no place to recover on this course, and these Verge races bring out the best in the field so I lined up in the third row in a lane behind Roger Aspholm thinking that this should open up nicely.
At the whistle the pace was, err... high. Yeah... it opened up a bit. Holy $hit was it fast. I had moved to about "10th holeshot" but by the third turn I was around 17th. It became immediately apparent that this was no Suckerbrook. I don't recall much of the first two laps, they were full on race pace tongue wagglin' sufferfest. I was riding with Jon Foley who was incredibly smooth in the corners but didn't speed up on the straights. I couldn't match his speed in either place though, which suggests that my straight away speed is about how fast he can corner. Impressive.
I laid it down in a dry grassy turn just after the start of lap three and slid back to around 20th. A half a lap later I was trying to get back in touch with the guys I had been riding with before but of course they were never to be seen again. Here's the barriers on lap three.
I eventually settled in with two Bikeman riders... Stephan Marcoux and Ryan Rumsey, but honestly there are 4 or 5 guys on that team that look exactly alike so I didn't know who they were until afterwards. The three of us rode away from a group of four that was right behind and then we settled in a bit, not extending our lead but not losing any ground either. Here's one of those punchy uphills. The straw you see on the ground was slick and too much power to the rear wheel was sure to break it free. It was still super fast.
I circled the course for the final 3 laps following Marcoux and Rumsey and started to think about just getting to the finish and staying in the points. They go 25 deep this year (as opposed to 15 last year) and as you all know those with points get called up for the preferred starting positions at the following series races. I've got no delusions of a front row start, I just don't want to have to be known as the guy who registers super early so he can get the best possible starting spot amongst those with out any points. I'm already known as that guy, I should just embrace it.
So I shamelessly sucked wheel and didn't ride aggressively the entire time but occasionally got second wheel when the paranoia set in that Rumsey was blocking to spring Marcoux. Here we crest the ride/run up on lap 6.
I felt like a tool for doing so little work that rather than sitting on and trying to out sprint them at the finish I figured the honorable thing to do was to attack with 1/4 lap to go and try to hold it. If they caught me, they deserved it and if I stayed away, well, at least it wasn't a cheap "win."
I took off on the back side of the course into the wind and got 10 bike lengths pretty quickly. Through the last few turns I was losing my advantage but hoped that the effort the others had put in to get back to me had them just as tired as I was quickly getting.
Not so much.
Here's the drag up to the line. They both passed me well before the finish.
I collapsed in dramatic fashion after crossing the line to finish 21st. I was happy to be in the points but once again humbled by the quality of this field. Missing from last year were Mark McCormick, Mark Stotz, John Meerse and a bunch of 45+ guys that kicked my ass last year but with a change to the race format were doing a different field this year. Still, I was 17th in 2008.
Listen, I'm comfortable being slower, but I don't think that was the case. In fact, I think I'm in better shape than last year but the front of this field is so damn fast. Hell, the back of the field is fast. It's going to be a great season, I hope to stay competitive and healthy.
I'm no longer the fastest guy without a Verge point, but I may be the slowest guy with one. I admit it was nice not having to stress at noon today when Sterling registration opened... I'm thinking about registering day of for that one... just because I can.