Throughout the season I have thought about this race more than any other single race. The screensaver of my laptop has been The Vermont 50’s elevation profile for months now. I have pulled out my cell phone to calculate gear ratios more times than I can count. I would think about The Vermont 50 while I was driving to another race. The other race would be like “Where are you right now?” and I’d be like “I’m with you race-baby, I’m with you”.
So ya, it stressed me out something fierce when I had to set up a new bike a few days before the event, sure. The fact that it had been raining for days up there also concerned me, I have done four VT50’s, but never a wet one. How would it effect my gear choice? I spent a good part of the day Saturday discussing tire options with Jeff. Whenever either of us is having a Geeky Freakout we can count on the other to be right on the same f-ed up page. I would stick with my selection of a Bontrager Jones XR 1.8 in the rear and a Mud-X in the front until about eight hours before I had to get up for the race.
The rain was still coming down at 9 O’Clock so I dragged the bike out of the car and set to swapping my rear tire to a Mud-X as well on my friend Sue’s porch. I had only swapped one of the Bontrager tires without the help of a compressor once, so this was a calculated risk. It worked out, and I could sleep easy…or could I? The larger tire was going to effectively change my gear inches, this was throwing everything off kilter. Single speeds are not so simple when you get down to it.
I rolled down to the racer meeting, ipod on, got warned more than once that I couldn’t ride with the thing. “I know, I’m just getting STOKED, got my ‘GO! Mix’ on”. I need to hear Motorhead’s “Overkill” last thing before I hit the line. Of course I’d already tortured my “Handler”(that’s what they call bottle feeders at this event, I guess it’s a runner thing. Runners, Trained Circus Monkeys, and Rock Stars like Hank Von Helvete from Turbonegro require "Handlers". I'd like to think I'm more an amalgam of the latter two) Miriam with the song in the car as we railed down the dark Vermont roads on the way over to Ascutney. “The best thing about this song is that you think it’s over, you totally think it’s over…but no, it comes back…you think the rock is done, but no…there’s more rock! Here it comes, it’s coming back now!”. All the while I’m doing a sort of Jack Black impression, alternating between air guitar and pounding out the double base pedal beat on the steering wheel, throwing in some Kung Fu dance moves. “It’s just like when you’re racing, you think you’re all done, but you gotta bring it back, gotta bring back the rock!”.
We lined up at 6AM, I had friends to the left and right of me. This was going to be just like a group ride, with my friends…my friends just happen to be some of the fastest bike racers in New England. Lucky me. I pull my patented “Hey hold this, I have to pee (I’m talking about my bike pervo) if the race goes off, just drop it”. We start up the slight uphill and someone’s already drilling it off the front, he was wearing all black, I wouldn’t find out until later that it was John Foley all incognito. I would tell him after the race about ‘the kid hammering off the front at the beginning”. “That was me” he would say. Good thing I wasn’t like “and this kid was being a total bonehead, he smelled like urine and weird cheese, and looked like a shaved chimpanzee with psoriasis”. Sometimes I say stuff like that. That’s really why other men try to mace me.
It's 5:30AM, I'm so tired I could literally vomit, I feel like Bot Flies are about to hatch through the center of my forehead...I have no idea why the hell I am smiling
The funny thing was I took third wheel from the gun, holding it until well after the first corner going into the long, moderately graded downhill. It wasn’t until just before the left-hander where you head up the first climb that I fell back at all. This was good, I thought things would go worse for me with the getting spun out and dropped thing. I was right at the front as we began the climb, it was an incredibly fast start, guys were already popping off the back. Montello was instigating, Whittingham was covering Letendre was getting ready to fire the booster rockets and sail into orbit.
Letendre attacked the false flat between two steps of the climb, nothing I could do, no way to cover, Whittingham was after him though, on a mission. Things were broken up as we entered the woods. I rode as far up the greasy climb as I could then hopped off and started running, most geared riders were too, I wasn’t losing much ground. The woods were dark, it wasn’t yet 6:30, it was hectic, I never saw Jeff and Will get away with another dude (Kristopher Dennan). I knew I was inside the top ten as we rolled along to the mile 12 aid station. By the time we got there apparently the three leaders had a six minute gap, wow. There I took on two bottles and some more food. I caught back onto the group as we hit the next climb, there some very roadie type tactics going on. Someone jumped off the front, he got chased down, then someone else would go, same result. I just sat back and rode my steady single speedy pace, alternating between sitting and standing.
This is where I realized how strong Alec Petro was. There was one dude with a sizeable gap at the top of the hill, Petro dragged the rest of us across that gap like it was nothing. We pretty much all stayed together through the first maybe twenty miles. The group was comprised of Stephen Humphreys, Montello, Kurt Schmid, Terry Blanchett, Tyler Merrit, Brian Currier, Alec Petro, myself, and some others. I’d open up some gaps in the woods, due to the fact that I just had to “get ‘er done” on the climbs, had to turn that gear over. If I had to get off and run, I’d get passed, but then I’d have more juice when I got back on the pass the geared guys back.
Alec and Tyler were the only two dudes I would see for the remainder of the race, we'd go back and forth, gapping each other here and there. Those two would keep me from going off course more than once as I attempted to ride off into oblivion, my mental alertness which is already highly suspect, significantly diminished by the lack off sleep and surplus of exertion.
By the time we hit the tight singletrack section that ends up meandering up to that house at the top of the hill I was pretty hurting. At the end of the race I would realize that I had been way behind on my fueling schedule, three gels still in my pocket. The fact that I ejected a bottle somewhere didn't help either I'd imagine. I would take off through the singletrack only to have Alec or Tyler reel me back in quickly as soon as it opened back up at all.
Once they came on it was pure survival for me. After the prolonged singletrack section in the latter 25% of the course it was just me and Tyler, as strong as Petro was riding I wasn't going to count him out for a late surge. I would get a gap and Tyler would close it anytime I had to put any power down. The cramps were coming from every angle, like Orcas attacking a Gray Whale Calf. The one in my quad would subside, then the calf would go, then my forearm, yes my forearm, then my lat of all things. It was ri-godamn-diculous. I tried a new tactic though, pedal through the cramp using the Jens Voigt "Shut up and do what I tell you to do" method. My legs still turned the cranks over, they just weren't too psyched about it and they weren't doing a very good job. I could blame my fueling issues, but there was also the over-use issue. I was trying crank a 34 X 18 gear on a 29" over 50 miles with 9,000 feet of climbing...in the mud. Genius.
As Tyler and I exited the singletrack and hit the road going into the last bit of trail before the final hellacious ascent to Mt. Ascutney I was hanging on by an unraveling thread to his wheel. I did put in one feeble attack up the road before we began the rerouted but just as horrible final climb. The tall grass of the sloping field was sopping wet, absolutely life-sucking, we were going so slow on flat ground it was clinically insane.
Somewhere we came upon John Foley who had mistakenly taken the 50k runners route and was just re-entering the 50 mile route. He was one of many who had gone off course and wound up frustrated. He was definitely rallying and was well on his way to catching us. Talking to him after the race he was completely positive though "I realized, hey, I just like to ride my mountain bike". He went for a little bit longer ride than the rest of us and still came in with a mighty respectable finish.
A slip on a small, muddy uphill had me off the bike, Tyler shot ahead. My leg cramped as I tried to throw it back over the saddle, it took several attempts to get the intransigent limb back to work. By then I was gapped, big time. I came undone, off the bike more than on, more muscles cramped than not, looking back, expecting to see a resurgent Foley bearing down on me. The new end to the race was baffling to my bleeding brain, I just wanted this thing to be done and over with, I wanted to be rolling down that grassy ski slope to the finish line...now!
Miriam and friend Sue Lee were out for a run, they were situated just at the entrance to the singletrack traverse across the ski mountain. "He's just five seconds ahead!" Miriam yelled. "Every appendage is cramping" I replied. Merritt was gone, he might as well have been five hours ahead. He would put two minutes on me in the last two miles, overtaking and besting the rider in third place. The only thing that got me to the finish was an inner voice telling me that I would be calling in sick to work the next day (I wouldn't and it would suck, majorly).
I would hobble, shamble, and drag my ass across the line for fifth place overall. Technically, and I say technically Tyler was an age category up, so he won his class and I was 4th in mine, but who really cares about age? Look at Alec Petro, the guy is elven years older than me, and I'm frickin' OLD. That guy is a freakin' machine.
Jeff Whittingham took the win which is actually better than me winning because I like Jeff more than I like myself. Seriously though, this is like New England mountain biking's Tour De France and Jeff is like Lance. He chose his battle and he won it. Congratulations buddy.
Immediately after the race, I ask myself "Why do I do this?". After one night's sleep I start planning for next year. Michael J. Silverman puts an addicting drug in the post-race tuna salad, it makes you crave Vermont 50's fortnightly!