From: Sean Rhea
Subject: Sterling Race Report
Date: May 14, 2006 1:04:37 PM EDT
To: MIT Cycling Team

It's week two of my peak. It's also Mother's Day weekend, so there are no races on Sunday, leaving the Sterling Road Race on Saturday as my one upgrade opportunity.

It's also raining like an Old Testament God is angry. Everyone is saying that John Naegle and I are crazy for even going to the race, but we're hungry for the points.

The course is an 8-mile rolling loop, finishing on a three-stage hill very much like the one that broke me at Jiminy Peak only a week ago. It's a little shorter, but my memory of that race has me a little worried. On the other hand, John and I think today might be a good day for breakaways. The rain and cold will sap the peleton's will to chase, and the curvy course will help a break get out of sight.

John's race is first, and a break does escape for a fair amount of time, but is eventually pulled in. The finish proves decisive, and John does well, placing 9th.

As we line up for my race, the announcer spots me and says into the microphone, "And no matter what happens, don't let the guy from California win." Asshole.

We start slowly. Very slowly, even considering that we're doing 40 miles. A break goes off with two NEBC riders and a third from another team. It's early in the race, so I watch it go, thinking that with two from the same team, it will quickly be pulled back in by the other teams. Apparently I'm mistaken, however, as the break quickly drifts out of sight. This is quite dangerous. Not being able to see the break makes chasing it hard; there's no rabbit, so to speak. I'm amazed at the reluctance of the other teams to chase.

Finally, I decide it must be a good day for breakaways and attack. I get 100 meters on the peleton easily, then one other rider joins me. We take pulls for around half a lap, getting within sight of the three ahead of us, before the pack starts chasing in earnest. They catch us by the next time up the finishing hill, and amazingly, they sit up right afterwards. Somehow, I'm worth chasing down, but the guys up the road are not. I curse the announcer for having put a target on my back.

Lucky for all of us, the break explodes shortly thereafter, with both NEBC riders coming back, one due to a flat and one who sat up. This event motivates the rest of their team, and they chase down the remaining rider over the next lap.

And then the rain really picks up as the temperature drops ten degrees. I start to shake from the cold and am really starting to worry, but everyone else is shaking, too, so I put it out of my mind and start thinking about the finish. They say that Samurai used to imagine themselves dying horribly painful deaths, so that when the moment of their actual death confronted them, they could face it without fear. I find visualizing the cruxes of races has a similar effect; it helps to imaging the pain and how you will push through it before actually having to do so.

The finishing hill curves ninety degrees to the right after the second rise, and the outside of the turn is far less steep than the inside, so I want to be on the left side of the pack as we approach it. I think I also need to jump harder than I did at Jiminy, in order to shake the cold from my legs early in the climb. For the remainder of the last lap, I visualize myself fighting for position on the left side, jumping hard, and pushing through the pain.

When the finish comes, I execute my positioning plans well, ending up around ninth wheel coming into the second rise. Two NEBC riders jump hard up the right side and the sprint is on. I gun it for all I'm worth, passing riders one by one as we climb. A group of four has pulled a large gap, but everyone is fading so I keep hammering. It's looking like I may get fifth, but at the last moment a single rider comes around me, relegating me to sixth. I cross the line so spent that a race official has to give me a push to keep me clear of the riders behind me.

With the sprint finished, the shaking starts again, and the five-minute downhill ride to the parking lot only makes it worse. By the time I arrive at the car, I'm starting to really worry about hypothermia. I quickly dry off and change, but it's not until I've downed a 16-ounce cup of hot coffee that the shaking finally stops. I love New England.

On the drive back I reflect on my finish: it's not the 4th place I needed to upgrade to Cat 3, but it is worth 1 point, bringing my total to 18 of 20 and earning me $35 in prize money. I'm also quite happy with the final climb, as I think I pushed through the pain a lot better than at Jiminy (where I fell from fifth to twenty-second in the last 50 meters).

I have one more week left in this peak, and the Sunapee and North Stonington Road Races are next weekend. With a little luck, I may still upgrade to Cat 3 before the end of May.

Anecdote: Pierre, my ride to Jiminy Peak, continued his string of bad luck, flatting both his front and rear tires during the race and crossing the line on a brand-new set of Zipp 404s from neutral support. Sadly, he had to give them back afterwards.


Boredom is always counterrevolutionary.

The second rise of the finishing hill. I have never been so cold in a bike race.