Some slept soundly, while others tossed and turned. Sunday’s 70 mile road race with a mountaintop finish and three KOM climbs promised a chance at the leader’s jersey, or the possibility of missing the time cut. We awoke early to find the temperature had dropped 15-20 degrees, and began preparing to drive to what would feel like a Fall road race. Peter and Tom were focused on getting points for the sprint competition in the intermediate sprint, and then surviving the climbs, while Liam, Luke and I foresaw ourselves in the front group working to get one of us a podium finish and gaining enough time to move up in the general classification.

The race started nervously as everyone seemed to understand that the stage profile would require each of us to save our energy. The two smaller climbs are spaced relatively evenly, but the final climb starts eight miles from the finish, and continues relentlessly up until the final kilometer where it feels like a cliff face. A couple of early moves snuck away, but nothing felt threatening given the finishing climbs. Midway through the race Luke and Peter set about bringing back a move of four before the sprint point, and took Tom to the line for fourth place in the sprint. Unfortunately points only went three deep, which marked the second time in two days that Tom missed sprint points by only one place. Nonetheless the ability to take control the race and deliver our man to the finish gave all of us a bit of pride knowing we’d be strong in Monday’s crit.

After the immediate sprint things turned uphill and everyone’s day got a lot harder. We worked to get over the first KOM, Middlebury Gap, and our sprinters, Peter and Tom, were quickly in trouble. Peter caught back on in the descent, but Tom had a harder time and battled his way through a serious cramp. No one had seen him for a while, and Luke went to the rear of the race and confirmed that Tom wasn’t back, which seemed to mean his race was over. We pedaled another 10 seconds before hearing the unmistakable sounds of Briney shouting expletives of pain and frustration as he finished his chase and regained contact with the group. We couldn’t have been happier, and that manifested itself in laughter, which Tom wasn’t too happy with, but we were ecstatic knowing that he’d make the time cut, and live on to be a factor on Monday.

Liam, Luke and I decided early that we’d conserve as much as possible and not worry about folks going off the front as the common wisdom was that small moves wouldn’t be able to stay away over the climbs. We did this perfectly, but unfortunately lost Luke due to a flat on one of the dirt descents, leaving Liam and I alone in the front group. Peter played the role of consummate teammate and offered his wheel, but Luke declined, knowing that SRAM support would reach him soon. A couple of seemingly antsy guys had gotten away throughout the race, but our occasional time checks showed that they weren’t gaining much time. We were working hard to stay with the front group over the intermediate KOM sprints, and were sure that any work we did at the front would only hurt us at the end.

The middle of the race seemed to fly by, and we were quickly at the bottom of the eight mile finishing climb. There were still 40-50 guys together, and Liam and I were well situated in the group. Liam started the hostilities with an early attack and eventually got brought back, but attacked again and forced the top GC guys to bring him back, and pretty quickly I countered his move and got a gap. I was eventually caught, but this was the move that broke the climb apart. I stayed with three other guys all the way to the top as it strung out behind us. We swept up remnants of the early breaks all the way up as their day-long efforts took their toll. The last kilometer of the climb was brutally hard, with each pedal stroke feeling like a single-leg squat. Two of the riders in my group managed to put a small gap into me and the other rider in our group, and so it would stay. I managed to put in a small effort to beat the rider next to me, but we later learned that there were several guys who managed to stay away on the climb. I finished eighth, which vaulted me into fifth place overall. Liam finished about 90 seconds behind me, owing to the brutal last kilometer. Luke rolled in a couple minutes later after having passed lots of riders on his chase back after his flat, and several minutes later Peter and Briney finished—well within the time cut.

We donned warm clothes and rolled down the backside of the mountain back to the barn we’re calling home for the weekend. None of us could believe the ordeal we’d just survived, but we’re anxious to defend a GC spot tomorrow and try for a stage win.

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