Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Big Indian Epic Road Race Report - A European one-day Classic

It is a rare August morning in New York that we wake up to temperatures in the 50's, but is has been commonplace to wake to the sound of rain this summer. It was the case on Saturday morning rolling out of bed to see the rain falling and feel the chill in the air as I let the dog out the front door.

Granted, I was at our weekend home in the Catskills where temperatures tend to be 10-15 degrees cooler than the city, but nonetheless, it felt like an earl spring morning.
This Saturday morning I was signed up for the Big Indian Epic Road Race. A first year event, 20 or so mile loop with a good 10plus mile climb and a crazy dirt road descent. With the weather the way it was, I gave a second, third and fourth thought as to whether I really wanted to venture out.
I was getting over a cold and had spent the night in the baby's room because my wife had come down with the cold and was a coughing, hacking nightmare.
Going on 4 hours sleep, I prepared the coffee and oatmeal while trying to convince myself that either it would be fun and good for me to get out and race or to pack it in to kick the lingering effects of my cold while relaxing on the couch. I doddled around getting my gear together, my subconscious knew exactly the final choice I'd make, and wondering what I garments I had that would both keep me warm and dry.

There is not one thing you can wear that will keep you warm and dry in a bike race. Warmth needs to come from riding hard and letting the internal furnace do its job, while just succumbing to the fact that water will penetrate every layer of clothing.

I finally loaded my bike on the roof of the car, gear bag inside and started the 20 minute drive to the town of Big Indian.

Big Indian, not so much a town as it is a fire station and a parking lot. I pulled into "town" where I saw a few other hardy souls preparing for the race, good sign.

Once I was checked in, it was back into the car/dressing room to make final preparations and cherish my final moments of dry warmth.
Ten minutes before the start of the race I slinked out of my warm dry cocoon to make an attempt to ignite the furnace and generate a little warmth in my muscles before the race start. Wet within 30 seconds and feeling a good chill, I lined up with my designated start group. The race director proceeded to review the rules and course layout and ended with "because of the weather and we don't have big numbers, we will all start together."

I really had no idea who any of the other riders were and what category they were racing. I liked this fact, it is nice to race without labels.
We worked our way out of "town" in a bunch. Oh do I love the spray off the back wheel of the bike in front of me, road grime never felt nor tasted so good.

Five miles into the race the group was still intact, my shoes full of water and feeling as though I was draped in a wet towel, the pace was pedestrian and I was really starting to feel a chill.

We started to climb, nothing too steep, just a gradual rise in the road. I needed to get warm or I knew my fingers and toes would not be last. I made a move off the front thinking that going hard for a few minutes would get the blood flowing to warm me up and put me into a mental state where I was not thinking about how much road water I had ingested and if the guy in front of me was paying attention.
I was off the front, warm and breathing hard enough to eliminate the distraction of the rain. Looking back to see if I had anyone looking to join my posse, I saw one brave soul and the rest of the bunch either too cold and wet to realize what had just happened or too smart to make this big an effort so early. Now warm, do I sit up and rejoin the bunch or join my new riding partner to try and build a break? Once last glance back, one more trying to bridge the gap and the rest looking around at one another. We slowed a bit to allow the third passenger in our train to couple on and then proceeded to work on putting distance on our chasers.
I was the oddball in this group of three as the makeup of the break was two small rabbits and one large elephant. The rabbits smartly tucked in behind the elephant for the benefit of the draft to the base of the climb. Making the break, attempting to stay away and driving at the front had me very warm and feeling like I was breathing through a straw.

We hit the base of the road kicking up to a nice 14 percent grade and it was anchors away for this big hairy mammal, while the two little jackrabbits danced on their pedals up the hill like it was nothing. I made every attempt to hang on to their wheels, breathing through my fingernails, eyes bulging out of my skull and heart pound like a jackhammer, I wanted off that bike; I wanted to lie down on the side of the road and die. I found something inside to keep the pedals moving in circles and my break buddies in sight.
The hill hit its peak and the asphalt ran out. We were now descending on a muddy road with skinny tires, oxygen deprived and not seeing clearly. This allowed for no rest and kept the heart rate at an uncomfortable level. I caught the number two guy and hung with him, making the decision not to test my luck on the slick mud.

Back onto a real road and the smoothness of the asphalt gave the false sense of safety. Blazing down at speeds over 50mph we worked to try and catch the lone leader. The conditions were making that effort difficult and dangerous. Rounding the last corner, on the road leading to the finish two miles away, I was locked into a battle not to be caught by the chase pack and the thought of the podium.

We worked in tandem to maintain our lead and in the final stretch I had no legs to contest a sprint; across the line in third place overall.
A really terrific race, cool course with conditions that made me feel like I was a part of a European one day classic. I happily took my third place winnings and returned to reality where I treated my wife and son to a great lunch and beers (formula for my son, of course) at the local brewery.

1 comment:

Hans said...

I know Big Indian (it's a stop on long solo rides through the Catskills) and was surprised to find today that there was a race there this summer. Thanks for the posting; looks like fun (especially if drier). I'll check it out next year.