Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Purgatory Road Race Recon: blog form

Why the Southern Worcester County recreational landscape is dominated by bass fishing and country music has escaped me for all of the 12 years that I have called this place home. I like skewering a slimy worm onto a hook and throwing it into the water in hopes of enticing an equally slimy fish to consume it so that I may hoist it clear of it's sub-marine home as much as the next guy, but the number of bass boats per capita in this area is bizarre. And country music. Isn't this the same state that legalized same-sex marriage, kept Ted Kennedy in office for a few generations and counts Amherst, Northampton and Cambridge amongst it's townships? Country music seems so... I don't know... red state? Is that wrong to say? I've been around the rest of our Commonwealth and am comforted by the fact that these interests don't seem as pervasive in other areas, but you never really know until you live somewhere I guess. The bass boats are on the water by 5:00 am and the locals don't play the music out doors so it doesn't affect me that much.

I blame Webster.

What this area should be best known for is some of the best cycling in New England. Maybe it is because everyone's too busy cleaning out their livewells to get on a damn bike and go for a ride, but as an avid cyclist living in the area I can assure you that this place has got it all if you fancy two wheel (non-motorized) endeavors. Let's break is down by category, starting with my favorite...

Cyclocross: New England is a hot bed for cyclocross, and if you were to plot all of the cross races in the area you'd be hard pressed to find a more central, convenient, and affordable place to live than Worcester County. Plus Mikey Zanconato builds the best cross bikes in the world right here. 'nuff said.

Road: The roads in this area are great: light traffic, not a lot of development or city centers, very few stop lights, beautiful forests and lakes, and generally courteous drivers. From here you can go north and west to do some climbing or head south and east to ride the flats. The RI shoreline is easily within reach from southern Worcester County.

Mountain: There are three trail systems in Sutton alone and a half dozen others within a 15 minute drive. One in my back yard. Team BUMS has built many of these and those guys know how to build trails. Don't believe me? Just ask Colin.

Triathlon: Honestly, this isn't really even cycling now, is it... so let's stop here. But if you must know, there are probably more serious triathletes in these parts than serious roadies. Now that is a cry for help!

I'm not the only one to recognize this area as the cycling mecca that it should be, the guys at Green Line Velo see the light as well, and are hosting a road race in Sutton this weekend as their way of celebrating that fact. The course map (below) shows a neutral start rolling south from our public school compound (we just approved a new $60 million dollar high school... how liberal is that?!) and dropping the riders off onto Mendon Rd where the real fun begins. I live on the course so the elevation chart starts about 4 miles into the loop. Racers will travel just under a kilometer before hitting the first hard hill on Mendon Rd, a short but steep incline that flattens out a bit half way up. This will be the hardest hill of the race in my opinion, but I'll get to that further down. Please, keep reading.

After cresting that hill, there is a bit of rolling terrain (two small ups) before the long 1.5 mile descent on Mendon Rd. Two years ago this road was nearly un-ridable, but more liberal capital project spending and a fresh coat of tar make this one of the best descents in the area, topping the popular but much busier Purgatory Chasm road running parallel and just to the north. Let 'er rip people... just watch out for the rogue car that may be heading up the hill. Course marshals are supposed to enforce the temporary one way traffic direction for Mendon Rd. on race day but the old Lincoln RI training crit was supposed to be marshaled as well, and we all know how that turned out.

At the bottom of the hill there is a bit of flat and then a right hand turn onto Barnett Rd, the street that I call home. There is always, always, ALWAYS, A!L!W!A!Y!S!!! sand on this turn so be careful. Always no matter what. Even when it gets swept. Just be careful here - please.
Barnett starts flat for a kilometer or so then drops before going up a short hill of moderate pitch. I've labeled this hill #1. With the rest that everyone will be enjoying on the descent, I don't foresee this hill as posing much of a problem, unless that rest inspires some nutbag to launch an attack, in which case this little hill will certainly hurt. It's over quickly though, and you'll be turning right again onto Whitins Rd. in no time.

Whitins Rd. is flat for just over a mile, then rises a tiny bit before descending and running out for another mile. Easy stuff here, especially in the pack.

You'll cross Putnam Hill Rd. (Zank's shop is in the mill building to the left before the intersection... drop in and say hi) and begin a long, shallow climb on Manchaug Rd, marked #2 on the map (green arrow shows start of climb, red the finish). This is one of those long, false flat climbs that will be made hard by the sheer speed of the field. It's not steep enough to cause a selection, so you'll try and hang on and will be quickly into the red. It gets steeper as it goes, which is always fun. The first of the three crowns.

Cresting the hill on Manchaug you'll descend along the Blanchard YMCA camp and along the rocky shores of Lake Manchaug, which will no doubt be loaded up with bass boats. They will stare so don't be afraid, that's just what they do. I'd say rest here, but it'll be over so quickly what's the point really.

The next turn will be right onto Lackey Rd. I avoid this road as much as possible. In fact, I'll be racing (riding) up it 5 times on Saturday which will probably double my total number of ascents of this hill, marked as #3 on the map. It's not that the hill is steep... it's that it isn't on my way to or from work and... ah - who's kidding who, I avoid it because it's steep. This is the finishing climb. It is most steep at the beginning, rising away from the lake quickly in the first 75 meters before settling down over the next 200 meters, though it never goes flat, that's for sure. It will level out again (but never go completely flat) for another 100 meters and then bend to the left, where it pitches up again for the final 250 meters at a grade about equal to the section right after the steepest part down towards the bottom. All distances are approximate of course. Once over the top there is a slight drop, then another gentle uphill to the finish of the lap (and later, the race).

Through the finish line you drop quickly down Putnam Hill and will take a high-speed right hand turn back on to Mendon where you'll come to that first hill I mentioned before: it is marked #4 on the map. This little guy looks tame but it comes at the end of the long Manchaug high speed hill, the steep Lackey Rd. climb, and an insufficient amount of rest from the Putnam Hill descent. The field will hit it at speed and it will smack everyone in the face. I've tried... many times... to power up this little hill, and I always blow up before I reach the top. Always! Unlike Lackey Rd, this one is on my way home and I've ridden it a lot, I think it is steeper and longer than it looks because you can't see the whole thing from one spot as it twists first left, then right and is heavily wooded. Enjoy.

So there you go... Come on out and play on the roads I get to ride each and every day. Good luck, be safe and try not to leave too jealous!
As for my race strategy, I'm expecting to go out the back somewhere during lap two or three, so the pressure is off and I can just roll home easily enough.


G-ride said...

wow you really sold that. yup, staying home to ride the MTB or something.

matt said...

wasn't trying to sell it, just trying to keep it real.

pj said...

Nice report. Great to see someone talk up the area. Hope this race becomes a classic. Gotta go bass fishin' now.

RMM said...

That was alot of paragraphs to tell me that I am going to get dropped.

Thanks for posting that, it is really useful. Especially since this is the first time this race will be run.

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