I briefly considered racing back to back fields at this past weekend's 19th annual West Hill Shop cross race, but one glimpse over the edge of the monster run up and the knowledge that we'd would have to go up that thing 7 or 8 times in one race was enough, doing it 16 times over two races would be plain old dumb.
Visiting from Portland Oregon for the week was Zanconato teammate Terry Keele, a guy Mike and I had stayed with two years ago for the USGP race at the Portland International Raceway. Terry's a solid dude and had flatted out of Canton the day before so he was really looking forward to seeing Vermont and the legendary Putney course. He'd never been to Boston until this trip either so he was really blazing new ground. Boston, Canton and Putney VT in one weekend! Holy Cr@p! Keep the aspirin close!
I bobbled the daylight savings time change, first waking in a panic and rushing out the door "late" to the car pool only to discover that I was actually 45 minutes early. Could have used that extra sleep and less stress. We loaded up the crossvagen (can I just say once again that this effin car is amazing! We fit four people, four bikes, two spare sets of wheels, four big bags - including Mike's which is the size of a hockey equipment bag but heavier - of gear, a cooler, a grill, propane, a few bike tools, cupcakes, and a box of pizza) and hit the road at 7am. Here's the vagen on the way home, loaded up and performing admirably once again. Oh yeah, we got 29 mpg the whole trip. this car has 235,000+ miles on it . I will be seriously depressed when this car dies.
We arrived in VT plenty early to register (no free hats this year) and pre-ride the course. It had rained pretty hard overnight, and Putney usually doesn't need any help being slick, but somehow it wasn't bad... tacky even despite the rain. The conditions were perfect really and it was going to be a great race where fitness and finesse would be equally important to success.I'm lacking in a sufficient amount of either but thought I may be able to put something together for a half an hour and see what was what. I've lost places on the top twisty section of this course in the past so I was focused on taking smart lines there rather than going super hard. Putney is usually a pretty tactical race too: the run up right before the finish and the lengthy field sections make pack position super important.
I lined up second row (the first row was 20 guys wide) behind Matt Domnarski who warned that his new shoes may keep him from getting into his pedals clean. At the whistle I went up the left side and never saw him again. The legs felt great and going into the barriers I was 3rd or 4th wheel. Todd Bowen got the whole shot and started to ride away as Erich Gutbier and a Maietta rider I didn't know represented the front of the chase group. Onto the field for the first time Rob Hult and Jeff Molongoski joined us as the Maietta rider fell back. Bowen stretched his lead and the four of us began to open up a big gap back to 6th place. I lead towards the hill at the end of lap one when Hult and Gutbier came around to assumed the pointy part of the chase.
Through lap two I was 4th riding with Molongoski in 5th and out onto the field we were just a few seconds behind Gutbier, Hult and Bowen who were all together. The gap to 6th was up to 15 seconds at least, and it appeared even then that the top 5 was all but set.
Generally I don't lap people, but I was shocked when I lapped the last 55+ guy before the end of my lap 2. That would be before they even finished a single lap! I actually caught two guys before the end of lap 2. They had started 2 minutes behind us but it has to suck to not even finish a lap before you are getting passed.
Molongoski is in a different league than me, but working with him was allowing me to ride away from the field so I made the investment in the effort and stayed with him as long as I could. Here I am leading Jeff into the hill at the end of lap two.
Since Jeff had led most of lap two I took over on lap three and confessed that I'd be glad to help but that I was probably slowing him down. He took the help, most likely (and correctly) figuring that I was no great threat and would be done soon enough.
Ahead Hult had dropped the other two and Jeff and I were dangling back about 10 seconds from Gutbier and Bowen. Here's a shot from the field on lap three...
... and another from the tunnel on lap 4.
It looks like we were sharing the work but I assure you that only lasted for three laps. I went into full wheelsuck mode from lap 4 on because it was working great. I dug deep a few times on lap 4 and 5 just to stay with Jeff and was able to do so, increasing our lead over 6th to a minute at least. When your in someone's draft and you are at the limit to match even their gentle accelerations, your number is almost up. Shortly after the photo below we were on the corn field for the 5th time, and the firm but slow packed mud was taking it's toll as much if not more than Jeff's steadily increasing pace.
There was a slight incline out in the field that we went up for the 5th time and I knew it would be the last lap I'd be this close to Jeff in that spot. I told Jeff he'd be alone soon and as we came through with three to go I fell off his wheel and started to slow.
Here's the gap he opened in about 2 minutes of racing after I came unhitched. Soon enough he had caught Bowen who had crashed but he still ended up 4th.
The rest of my race wasn't very interesting, I was so far ahead of 6th I rode smart to avod crashing and the gap came back down to about 30 seconds at the end. I had sat up for the last lap and a half, enjoying the course and starting my cool down a bit early.
The team had a strong showing, with 7 racers on the day. I had 5th, Karen Potter took 2nd in the elite women's race, and Kenny Ambach had 4th in the killer Bs.
*all photos except the ones with the car in them from uber-promoter Alan Atwood