Chapter 3: The Circuit Race
When I awoke on the morning of the stage race, dreams of racing glory gave way to the scene of destruction laid out before me. Sweaty skinsuits and cycling garp draped over air conditioning units, on towel hangers, from the ceiling, even in front of the open window which was to be our only source of fresh air for the weekend. I gulped in my first breath of the "Fresh, Clean Vermont air" that I was promised on the hotel website and my eyes began to burn as I choked on the chlorine gas which we had synthesized overnight while terra-forming a fairly nice hotel room into a World War I trench.
Pretty Ricky and Diesel had already gone downstairs to eat while Jake and I were still sleeping. This gave way to yet another harrowing discovery as I stepped into the bathroom, which had been (redacted) left in (redacted) bad condition. The point being, if you're stage racing with a couple of bros, wake up first or at least have the foresight to bring a gas mask, a snorkel, or, should your now weakened immune system succumb to the cholera, some means of taking an honorable death (see: Samurai sword).
Jake and I slowly made our way downstairs and were greeted by a bountiful feast of bagels, Eggo waffles, and high-grade Vermont maple syrup (thus separating us from the apes). After exchanging a few tense, knowing glances with the clearly self-satisfied perpetrators of the assault on common decency witnessed just moments before, we scarfed down our sustenance and left for the circuit race.
The order of the day was 3 and 3/4 laps around a roughly 19 mile circuit: a total of 72 miles with around 4,000 feet of climbing. According to Jake, the day's course was "made for him," a reasonable statement for a man whose training typically consists of 800 feet of elevation change over the course of a century. Before the stage, Diesel had advised that we sit in and save energy for the queen stage and to "not do anything stupid." Considering he had placed second in this stage the previous year and finished eighth in the GC, I was inclined to listen to him.
Jakobie was not. He went on a solo campaign at the first sight of an incline, maybe 6 miles into the first lap. "Well, speaking of not doing anything stupid" I sarcastically announced when I spotted Jake's helmet perched atop his fiery flow 20 seconds ahead of the peloton. I gathered myself and moved to the front, slowly coming to grips with the idea that I now had to block for Jake at mile 6... out of 72.
As I moved to the front, one of the riders spearheading the chase and I met one another's gaze and, in a totally platonic moment my purpose was betrayed. We locked eyes and he saw deep in to my soul (nothing sexual) and knew that I was going to block the (expletive) out of them. He attacked. I followed. Not because we had experienced a deep, cosmic connection in the heat of battle, but out of my duty as a teammate (See? Totally platonic).
Much to my surprise, I looked back and our chase group of three which had nearly reached Jakobie had put some convincing time on the field. "Well (expletive)," I thought, "now I'm in the early breakaway along with my dangerously insane teammate." Jake looked back and smiled, though his smile offered no comfort. Barely concealed behind his pleasant countenance lay a simple, singular message: "Welcome to Hell."
As opposed to the Katy Perry abomination which played on a loop in my head the day before, my mantra for the breakaway more closely resembled "Super-cali-fragilistic-expi-ali-docious" if you replaced each syllable with a swear word more distasteful than the last. We went HARD. Then maybe a few of us went HARD. Then Jake went HARD. Then I got dropped HARD. I was powerless to do anything but watch Jake and his lone breakaway companion stay off the front up the first KOM climb with the field steadily closing on me. 10 miles, 2 new all-time power records, existential pain. I desperately waited for the draft of the peloton to wash over me.
I rested in the peloton for a few miles, continually aware that Jake still had not rejoined the pack. I considered trying to guilt Pretty Ricky into blocking for Jake, but we were saving Ricky for the climb on the following day and it was decidedly my burden to shoulder. The yellow jersey team had finally rallied to the front and decided that Jakobie's time was nigh, so back to the front I went.
Despite my best efforts, Jakobie's group had been nearly reeled back in by the time we reached the KOM for the second time. I had moved to what I believed to be mid-pack before the climb to save some energy, though I was much closer to the rear than I should have been. Much like Nemo, I touched the butt (of the peloton). The pack sprinted for the KOM and I got gapped along with a few others who began to chase.
The neutral support car had gone by and an organized chase was just beginning to form when the unimaginable happened. Pshhhh... shk, shk, shk... flat. (Expletive)'n flat. Hopelessness gave way to despair as road imperfections and gravel greedily munched away at the carbon brake track.
To keep it short, I had to stop several times to discuss my fate with course officials, who eventually agreed to not time cut me provided I completed the distance on a wheel lent to me by SRAM neutral support. I began my final 3/4 of the lap when the pack finished the race, so a dismal time was assured. Also, they took down the course markings at all major turns, so I had to stop and ask a kindly old man which way the race went. I crossed the line an hour adrift of my compatriots and rode back towards the car, another 5.7 miles away.
It was right around then, from the pits of despair, that a gleaming white chariot emerged from around a tree line. There it stood, a vision in white, resplendent in its Minivan-ness. The Mystery Machine beckoned with its sliding side passenger door opened wide, the yawning chasm of interior space and ample legroom realized through Stow-N-Go seating. Never have I loved a van so much, nor shall I ever love another.
As I hopped in, the prime directive became food. This duty was quickly taken up by the ever-famished Diesel, who brought us to an iconic local burrito joint (Vermont: Muy Authentico!!) which provided us with some only moderately authentic Mexican food, seeing as we were in the middle of nowhere in Vermont.
Though my metaphorical GC ship had been abandoned, scuttled, and submerged long enough to foster an artificial reef, reprieve came in learning that Jake had come in sixth on the stage. The cost was justified and I allowed myself the faintest notion that every bit of blocking and work in the breakaway had somehow contributed to his success (though we all know who was dragging who). All that was left was to eat, recover, and rally together whatever form I had to defend Jake in the Queen Stage.
Apologies for the length on this one! Please comment if you'd like coverage of the Queen Stage and the Crit!!