Okay I don't have kids but when I do, they are going to be pretty annoyed with hearing me tell this story over and over.  But this is one I will re-live.  So many great memories here that I didn't want to just rifle off a standard race report on the Men's forum, but genuinely wanted to share this wonderful experience.  So a little more of an article with some pics and details.  With thanks if you have time to read and enjoy, and thanks to all who dropped me a lauditory line earlier this week!4

Day 4 Vermont: new jersey (I love puns).

Ironically, going into this, I'm not sure how much I can say my heart was in it.  My body is aching at this time of year and this was my fourth stage race.  In fact, I've done 28 races this season.  The prospect of trading a relaxing weekend needed to catch up with domestic needs for a hectic tour of suffering wasn't one I relished, especially the first week of September when my life just explodes.   But my fitness has been good and the possibility of finally reaching the Cat 3's- My season goal- seemed more obligatory than recreational.  

The beginning of the school year is always consuming.  No time to train so on Monday I did a TT interval for 5.6 miles with my backpack on as I commuted to school.  That was the last riding I would do for the week.  My bottom bracket was making noise so I brought it down the street to Gearworks.  Turned out my saddle was also about to snap in half.  So, I borrowed one of the only demo saddles they had... which was way too wide but beat sitting on a topless post. 

Day 1 Friday Warren TT:
 I frantically threw my gear into the car and ripped up to Warren on Friday.   No chance of hitting the group condo the night before as work kept me up until midnight. After registering I went straight to the race.  I stuffed on Julie Lockhart's amusingly undersized helmet (which makes me look like an ostrich but is definitely fast and has been hugely appreciated) and gave Tim Dodd's TT helmet to Zach Levy since he (surprisingly) has the bigger head.  (Zach also got a skin suit from Cujo).  So thanks to all these generous souls. 

The Time Trial was what it always is for me... a session of nearly blacking out.  No power meter right now, but if my legs and lungs are burning and I'm drooling like an infant, that's usually a good sign.  No TT bikes allowed at GMSR so I focused staying low on the hoods: crouching tiger: smitten draging.  When my arms hurt, I put them in the drops and tucked in my elbows. 

 To those who don't TT or have only done 10+ mile TT's, 5.6 miles may not sound like much on a bike, but when you are riding like death is on your heels its a special kind of sufferfest.  The fitness averse can likely simulate if they chain smoke a pack cigarettes as fast as they can.  Searing lungs, nausea, head throb and a myriad of other miseries. 

 Passed three guys, and almost passed out at the finish line, and noticed other guys were pedaling with ease on the way back to the start after the race.  All good signs.  Fourth place in the 4/5 Masters with a very solid 16 min on the nose.  Zach Levy put in a monster effort and took 3rd in the 4/5 U36 with 16.16... A solid cat 3 time... incredible when you consider he just upgraded to 4.  Podium for NEBC/Cycleloft: nice way to start things off. 

Zach "Heavy" Levy on the Pode for a 16.16tt!

 Finally to the condo, an awesome place that Tommy-Gun Simmons and I found.  We had Cujo, "King Kong" Kevin Teves (MRC) and Tommy-Boy Fagan (ATA).  Hot tub, great kitchen, great place and cheaper than a Motel.  Pays to work together!

Day 2 Saturday:  Circuit Race in Duxbury
The 53 mile Circuit was 2.75 laps around a rolling course.  One grinding kom and 3200 vertical for the race so plenty of ups and downs.  Comedy of errors. I took 5th in a KOM that only had 4 places, 5th in a sprint spot that only had 4 places.  Coming into the finish yet another frustrating swarm, guys made space where there was none.  The official swooped in to beep at us frantically since the pack was spilling beyond the yellow line right before the 500m mark where the road was supposed to open for the final sprint.  This spooked two guys who connected and crashed in front of me at 40mph.  Didn't go down, didn't lose GC time but was buried in the results.  The dominant Canadian who had taken the yellow in the TT blasted to a first place win and some more bonus seconds on the rest of us.  He had also taken most of the KOM's and sprints. We were starting to wonder how they rank folks north of the USA.

 Best part of the day was seeing strong riding out of Ryan "Tombstone" Tomb, who had the pack digging deep as he led it up the first KOM, and chased down an attack. Much, much improved Ryan!  

Still figuring out saddles for the race I had Borrowed a gorgeous Selle Itallia glider from Tommy-Gun Simmons for the circuit.  It looked razor sharp, but it also felt razor sharp.  Returning home my external organs were alarmingly numb and it burned to pee.  I reassured myself that was a quintessential cycling experience that would build character but put a slightly less aggressive saddle on that Tommy-Boy Fagan brought for me.  

Tommy-Gun's Awesome (looking) Saddle

Day 3:  Mad River Champion System Race (App Gap finish)
64 miles on this one, 5 Kom's over 6000 of climbing.  Two of Vermont's notorious 6 gaps, a dirt section and a decidedly uphill finish on the sublime Appalacian Gap

After a steady start, another hard lead by Ryan Tombstone on the front to ratchet up the pace into the Middlebury Gap.

I stayed on the front next to the yellow jersey.  As we hammered up this first big climb, my breath was in control: a rising and falling ocean.  His was starting to sound more like drowning.  Right then and there I knew I had him on this stage.  I kept it hard up the hill and kept smashing on the descent.  

He stayed with us but there was a group behind and presumably lots of stranded folks trying to bridge to us so I incited my company to work together to either make a break or just make it miserable for the ones who didn't crest with us.  I kept hitting it hard on every hill and then attacked in the dirt section right after a short but steep KOM.  Any time I sensed it might put a nail in someones coffin I hit the gas.  

One guy was really dominant on the climbs.  Learned later he's 135 pound cyclecross guy who doesn't usually road race.  Sheesh. I Couldn't quite keep with him on the App gap, but I had destroyed him by 90 seconds in the time trial so he would not be within striking distance of the GC.  Everyone else fell away and I put over minute on the yellow jersey, taking it without much chance of reissue to him and securing a second place podium on day 3.

...Well, almost every one fell away on that hill.  Dave Mingori "Details" of MRC traded blows with me up the Gap.  He started paper-boying at the end and I had an extra gear so I stormed past him and opened up 7 seconds.  But, he had bested me in the TT by 5 seconds.

To summarize I had a second place podium for Day 3 and the Yellow Jersey in the GC.  But I only a second on Dave going into the Burlington Crit.  The ultimate stage is loaded with time bonuses for sprints: The GC was very far from decided and by all math it was me vs Dave in a strangely fateful duel between NEBC and MRC... the sister clubs outside the hub.

Uneasy dinner that night.  King Kev was staying with us and wanted to eat dinner with Dave.    The NEBC guys went to check out the hostel bar which had a great vibe according to Tommy Gun, but it was closed so we joined Kev and Dave at Timber restaurant. Normally there's nothing but camraderie between clubs, but it was hard to ignore the tension as I sat right next to the guy I'd be going head to head with.   Dave is a financial advisor so he really is a details guy.  I knew he had to be looking at the manual and paying close attention to the GC sprint time bonuses.   There were three in the 25 laps.  One with 20 to go, one with 10 to go and one at the finish.  The first two awarded 8-6-4-2 seconds to the first four finishers.  The Final sprint awared 10-8-6-4-2 to the Top 5.   

Uneasy Dinner with MRC.  Didn't help that I stole Kev and Dave's French fries.

Its safe to say neither Chris nor Ryan nor I are rock stars when it comes to crits.  We seemed hopelessly over-matched by MRC.   Dave Mignori and Todd Jewett had bested me in the TT.  Kev Teves was a contender for the Green Jersey and was 7th in the GC.   Knowing I might not be in control for long, I decided I had to go on the offensive and draw first blood..   Nothing to do but prep and get as much sleep as possible.

Cujo headed into Day 4

Day 4 Burlington Criterium.

Tim Dodd describes this course as his favorite.  Its easy to see why.  A picturesque downtown sits on the lip of the green mountains, overlooking the ocean-esque Lake Champlain.  This 6 turn tech rally has it all: narrow back streets, bricks, cobbles, hard uphills,  a screaming descent, screaming fans, excited announcers and music on the big speakers.  

This isn't a crit that you can just register, kit-up and show up for, it is a reward for surviving three consecutive days of racing.   To enter this wearing the yellow jersey is really an indescribable feeling.  You get called up to the line with the Green and Polka Dot Jersey and the other GC leaders with rows of fans looking on. 

But with one second on Dave Mignori and over 30 seconds of GC bonus time up for grabs, there was also the distinct feeling of anxiety that the GC was mine to fumble.  The race officials allow you to take the yellow jersey home with you as a token for leading at any point.  I wondered if it would just be a shiny reminder of losing the Stage Race. 

Once again, not as much time to prep.  The jersey was only available to be picked up at the race start and the Directors were late and distracted so I just had to wait to get pinned up.

Waiting for Staging

The Crit went hard for the whistle.  I managed to clip in properly, which I often fumble with at crits due to nerves.   Immediately the pace was livid as the big guns blasted forward to jockey for space.  I was buried in a bad way and needed to move up.   I gasped as I tried to make my way upstream.  Poor Ryan was valiantly trying to guard me but he was so hypoxic that he cut into me on the corner as he wrestled with his bike and we both nearly went down.  

Beaten on the first GC Sprint: Dave Mignori and Keven Teves bury me... and will take the yellow jersey if I don't respond

Sufferfest: Cujo and Tombstone dig in and take another big helping of pain after soldiering through 3 epic days.

Lap 20th came and with it the first opportunity for GC points.   Kevin and Dave slipped up to the front and I floundered after them.  Dave hit the finish line first for an 8 second reduction with Kevin easing out of the way in second in a smart team move.  I took the scraps: 4th place and two points.  So long yellow jersey. 

Jon, you have to get the next one! It was Steve Jette: Long time friend, former NEBCer and now co-manager of Cannondale team, up for the weekend to coach juniors.  He was shouting on the backside of the course where he was close enough to be audible. The words have to seemed to click.  With 10 to go and another GC sprint I blasted from the top corner.  I heard Dave scream "COVER THAT KEVIN!" but they were both half a crank slower.  I gained a lead on the downhill, hit the turn fast and then sprinted for the line.  Dave was right on my tail but so was another racer who had been roused by what he thought was an attempted breakaway or maybe confused into thinking it was a point sprint for the Green Jersey.  I took first, Dave took third.  Back in business...

...But not quite good enough.  "Jon, the GC time is Neutralized.  You have to beat him in the final sprint!"  Again, it was Steve Jette with a critical proclamation.   The last few laps seemed to go in slow motion.  I was sitting in the eye of the storm, the sweet spot about six places in that drifts along in a technical crit while the rest of the group is thrashed about.  My legs felt awake and all the chronic quad pain was silent.  

The bell rang for the final lap.  Tim Dodd had told me about the "passing lane:" a short stretch on the top corner of the course where the road briefly widens, right after a tricky section that rattles over a curbstone and manhole cover.  

The second I hit that curbstone I just f@%#$^g drilled it.  

Somewhere I sensed a few folks yelling in surprise.  I rounded the second corner so hard I flailed a little but then absolutely went as fast into the downhill as I could, dropping my chin to the bar as I rocketed down the street.   I hit the final turn as faster than I've ever hit any 90 degree turn on any vehicle and just leaned into it.  The course rotated for the last time and the finish line and no other riders were in site.   Andre from Onion River (Who I call "the Big Onion" because of his enormous size) slipped around me to take the crit win and I came in second.  Dave didn't catch my wheel that time.

The finish video:

YouTube Video

There were pats on the back form friends and strangers.  There was a podium shot, a black medal and a Vermont Teddy Bear with a tiny GMSR tee shirt.  There were laughs at the bar and prize money to cover the beers.  We watched the cat 3 riders go by and I thought about what it would be like to race with those guys.  A group of four were off the front.  They were futuristic pharaohs on streamlined chariots vengefully bearing down on the city.  One devil was wearing an all black skin-suit in defiance the 95 degree weather.  On the skin-suit and the helmet were a massive skull: familiar to comic fans as the harbinger of The Punisher Marvel's sadistic vigilante.  I knew right then and there GMSR would not be the last race of the season.  I would get my upgrade, sign up for the Mayor's Cup in Boston and fly NEBC colors against the Punisher and the other big boys.

The drive back home took me over the Rochester Gap.  This is the final climb of the Six Gaps ride, known for its endless waves of uphills.  This was the classic endpoint of Charlie Dow's summer ride, a place of good memories.  I crested it on a perfect day with the screen of a giant blue sky opening at the summit and a strip of native land below, sun lit valleys and rivers far below cooly spilling over the forested horizon.

 Its hard to explain bike racing to those who don't race.  It may appear frivolous, egotistical, senseless, pointless.  But the best things in life are pointless and beautiful and fleeting.  Pointless art, pointless music, pointless dance, pointless poetry.   To clip into the pedals and fly over mountains propelled by your overflowing life force is a song that is sweet and sweet again.  

With thanks to my teammates, friends and family.