I went a lap early. A gad damn lap early! I’ve never been especially good at math, though simple addition usually isn’t a problem. During the race, having lost count of the laps with a few to go, I fumbled through my computer screens to find out that we’d raced 87 miles. “So that means that we have two more laps,” I thought. “Because two times 12 (mile-laps) is 24. And 24 plus 87 is 122.” This is not correct. By the way.
The roar of the crowd yesterday was unlike anything I’ve heard before. I could feel the boom of screams and yells in my chest, and as I attacked to the finish line from the field on that penultimate lap, at first thinking “Wow I’m fast! No one is even close behind anymore!,” the crowd helped turn my legs over even quicker. Then, as I continued passing dropped guys from the break, I realized that up ahead the remaining breakaway wasn’t slowing down after the finish line. My heart sank. Okay, do or die now. I went even harder to latch on the back just at the top. I could have drifted back into the field and rested my legs for that last lap and still had enough to given anyone a run for their money at the podium, but the excitement and adrenaline had me do otherwise.
In hindsight I should have just sat up right then and there, but who knew what was going to happen? We could have stuck it had there not been quite the large number of guys left in the field to chase us down. If the group had split over the climb that second to last time up, maybe they wouldn’t have had the organization to bring us back.
I’ll start at the beginning. And the beginning always starts with breakfast. I woke first when Allen shook my leg, second when Joe yelled at me to get up, and then finally a third time when Joe coaxed me out of bed with the bribe of a free meal.
There was another buffet going on downstairs, this time in the conference room specifically for the racers. Well, for the pro teams actually. Us worthless amateurs had to pay…as if I was going to do that. Diego, Leo, and Victor were already down there and Leo had snuck in (sort of) and was eating food off of Diego’s plate. I was a bit more bold and walked in like I was supposed to be there. I piled a few plates with eggs, sausage, my own oats, peanut butter, and yogurt mixture that I’d prepared the night before, and a large omelet with all the omelet ingredients available. I ate just enough to not feel sick. Perfect.
We rode down to the course at 11AM and were already drenched in sweat by the time we got to the top of the Manayunk Wall, from where the race started. It was hot and humid, though not quite as sweltering as the day before. There was even a chance of thunderstorms, which I hoped would hold off until the group of 200 was whittled down quite a bit. The descent would be sketchy if wet.
Like I just mentioned, the race started at the top of the Manayunk Wall, which is a 2 to 2.5-minute climb that has pitches of up to 16%. It’s lined with thousands of fans, some slightly less drunk than others, and all screaming at the tops of their lungs. I’ve never experienced that level of cheering/sheer madness before. Even the start was a rush as we rounded a corner and headed down hill. Most of the 12-mile course was lined with people. Lemmon hill was packed to the brim too.
I sat mid-pack for the first couple laps, not doing a very good job moving up for the Manayunk but usually getting up into the top 30 by the top. I missed a large split that went at the end of the second lap. It was pretty worrisome actually, because most of the favorites and just about every big team was had representatives in it. I feared the race was over. The 20 guys that got away at the top of the climb had 40 seconds on us, plus another 10 riders had broken away on the flat section before the split happened. So now there were 30 guys up the road.
Not to worry. Olheiser, Barry, and a handful of other guys got off the front a few kilometers before the Manayunk in attempts to bridge up there. I came across to them on the climb and after some work on the descent and flat section, we made it into the split’s caravan and into the group, just as another guy crashed in front of some cars. There were crashes everywhere today. The feed zone was mayham, guys were going down on the descent, the strung-out tailwind section, the climb…everywhere.
I looked around the group I was in and knew the large breakaway would come back. We had 30 guys and all of the contenders in the group. Unfortunately another 30 came back on later that lap. But now, half way into the race, positioning would be quite a bit easier leading into the climb.
The 10-man break split apart eventually and reshuffled with guys bridging up there at some point. I’m not sure when this happened, but a mostly new group of a dozen or so riders were up the road with somewhat fresher legs.
Side story in the race: I’d say one of my favorite moments of Sunday was when Cole House’s seat fell off. He’d crashed earlier, judging from all the road rash and torn shorts, and was standing up in front of me out of the saddle when his seat just fell off onto the ground to my left. I yelled at him that it fell off, and assumed he heard me because he kept standing up for what seemed like an unnecessary amount of time to stretch his legs. But he sat back down (hard) on the seatpost and let out a yelp. Race over. I laughed. Sorry Cole but how could I not? That’s cartoon material right there.
Laps five, six, seven, and eight were pretty chill in my books. I sat near or on the front on the climb with no difficulties at all. I managed to get enough water in the feed zone to feel too full, and my food stock was holding strong. With just under two laps to go (at the time I though we just had one) we began bearing down on the remaining eight or ten riders up the road. Half a lap later they had like 30 or 40 seconds at the base of the Manayunk. This was shortly before I attacked.
Going up the base of the climb, I wondered why we weren’t going all out yet. Was everyone really this timid about going too early? I’m usually not timid about going early, so I went “apeshit” according to Matt. But of course I realized my mistake and had to overcome quite the mental blow to find the strength to do that one true last lap. At the top of the climb I struggled to hold Elbowz rider Eric Marcotte’s wheel on the descent. I took a few corners too slow and had to do a couple keg-sapping sprints to catch the four riders left in the breakaway, which included Chad Beyer (Champion Systems) Scott Zwizanski (Optum) and Bruno Langlios (Garneau)–he was also the KOM winner and still riding like a beast unleashed.
We only had 12 more miles, but I was out of water and food, my legs were still acidic from the climb attack, and I was nearly void of mental stamina. I struggled to pull through and had to sit on a bit for longer than I wanted, but luckily the guys let me rest a bit and no one yelled at me to take pulls, which is more than I can say I did about 15 minutes later when one rider was too gassed to take continuous pulls.
But, for the most part the break worked very well together over those last 10 miles and our gap went back up to 30 seconds from 20 that we had at the top of the Manayunk. I knew we’d need at least 30 seconds at the base of the climb to hold off the guys in the peloton that final time up, and also knew that there would probably be a concerted chase effort if the group was as large as it was the previous lap. My only hope was that it had broken up that penultimate climb. It had not and there were still 40 guys left in the peloton.
Doomed with 3 or 4K to go. Zwizanski in orange, me on the right in yellow/black, Marcotte behind me, Beyer behind him, and Bruno tucked behind Zwizanski. UHC did the lions share of the work to bring us back, then Optum took over when it was obvious we were done for, in order to give their man Anthony a lead out to the base of Manayunk.
As we came into the town of Manayunk we could feel the peloton breathing down our necks. I attacked. Bruno attacked. I attacked a few more times and then it was over with less than 2K to go. I looked back and saw Optum lined out with Zirbel crushing the front in an all out kamikaze pull. They charged past on the left as we went up a slight rise. I didn’t even latch onto the back in time, because they were going balls deep, and I went from the very front of the race to the very back (of the guys still in contention. Only 67 finished).
My shot at glory was over but I wasn’t done yet. I went around the three 90-degree corners in Manayunk and headed up the climb for the last time, intent on catching at least a few guys that had just been hanging on all day. I grabbed a beer feed from the crowd and pounded about a quarter cup of warm beer, immediately feeling it burn in my chest, wondering if it was actually a strong mixed drink. The crowd didn’t care that I wasn’t in the lead and gave me a huge cheer the entire time as I continued to grind out a hard pace and pass by a few stragglers. I crossed the line 36th, 1:11 down on the winner Kiel Reijnen of UHC.
I was pretty bummed at the finish, though I received quite a few congratulations on my effort and the good show I helped put on. If anyone knows where I can find the TV footage let me know!
While riding the break that last lap was certainly exciting, it wasn’t what I came to Philly for. I came to get a damn result. I know I could have been in the top five that last time up. And yes, maybe I’m being arrogant but I still think I had a shot at the win even though Keil was absolutely flying that day. What a race though. Hands down the most exciting race I’ve ever done. The crowd, the intense climb, and the huge prestige of the race just made it an absolute blast. I knew about this race even before I was a cyclist. To get a chance to race it was a big deal for me.
After the race I rode down to PennAC on Boathouse Row to check out my old rowing club. The guys there used to talk about the race and I remember discussing how cool it would be to do something like that (back in 2005 during my rowing days). The boathouse was closed though.
That night, we went over to eat a magnificent surf and turf dinner at a fire station. Victor, Leo, and Olheiser spent the drive there and back farting on each other, during a heated debate Leo and Victor had about who was darker (they’re both Hispanic). We got a few crappy beers from the most ghetto liquor store any of us had been too and headed back to the hotel lobby to hang out with any fellow racers who’d be seen with us, where I saw Morgan was busy chatting up some girls. Not surprising at all.
I have to say, for a composite team, we had a phenomenal race. With five guys in the main group (Barry, Olheiser, Diego, Adam, and myself) we placed between 15th and 36th. This was better than quite a few of the pro teams. Andrew, Leo, and Victor did a terrific job getting bottles, which was no easy task since Joe drew the worst caravan spot possible (the last car at position 24). Joe did a good job keeping things in line the days before and the day of the race, while Allan worked tirelessly as well and organized a good crew out in the feed zone as well, including himself. The Nutela on bread was a great idea. We just needed a slower feed zone for it to work!
I’m hoping I can adjust back into the real world for a week before I head off to Nature Valley next Monday. I’ll be guest racing with Full Circle and gunning for that best amateur jersey, as well as the win on that final circuit race. The Stillwater crit is like a miniature Philly actually, except with zero flat. I think I’ve done everything needed to show I’ve got what it takes except for getting a big win. I can feel it coming though. It’s on the verge.