Race Report from Johan:
Day 1: Time trial
Last Thursday, Jason and I travelled to Windham, NY for the Catskills stage race. My personal goal was to try to get a good GC via the time trial and defend it in the subsequent sta
We drove the TT course by car and on the road bike to see if there was anything special. There wasn’t. Straight course starting with a slight downhill, a 180-degree turn and back up again. After a brief warm-up routine (with 90°F, it was hot as hell anyway), I was ready to test the long-sleeve aero suit that Jeff had kindly loaned to me.
There was a strong headwind on the downhill section, which made it almost impossible to keep 30 mph. I was fighting with some voices in my head to keep going, but I reached the halfway turn rather quickly and by this time I had already passed 2 guys starting in front of me. Just after the turn I caught the 3rd guy, but from there on everything started to hurt. It was warm and the rear wind did not prove to be a big relief on the uphill stretches. I was struggling and forcing myself not to switch to lower gearing. I passed another guy. Where was the 5km sign? Did I miss it; would the next indicator be the 2 km sign? No there it was, still 5km to go. Keep going Homp, keep going, keep going. Finally, the outskirts of the village; sip some Gatorade and hammer those legs for 2 more km you sissy. By this time there were multiple voices in my head and I lost track of all the BS that came to mind. The 5th guy I had passed managed to pass me at the finish. I had nothing left.
I barely remembered to go back to the car and I fell on the ground when I got there. I tried to talk to Jason, but I could not separate English and Dutch in one sentence anymore. After Jason had left (I managed to pin his number on), I had to throw up for about 15 minutes while experiencing “black snow”. I had never dug this deep in a time trial, so if anyone beat me, he was just the better cyclist.
After half an hour of recovery (still black snow), I went to the finish to see how Jason was doing. Although the speaker mentioned “The Iceberg” crossing the finish, Jason was disappointed by his performance (Icebergs don’t do well in 90°F). Looking at the posted results disappointed me too. I was 0.5 seconds short of first place…
Day 2: The devil is waiting
While driving the course the night before, Jason and I had discussed some tactics that could help me beat those pesky little climbers. According to Jason, I should pressure those guys by maintaining tempo whenever we were not climbing.
I did not really think it would work, but what the hell. Right from the start, I was at the front of the pack. After some up and down stretches, I managed to stay with the group on the first KOM climb, which was very encouraging. Maybe these tactics made some sense!?! Thus, I went back to the front to continue my routine to string out the peloton. By the time we approached the 2nd KOM climb, I must have been on the front of the pack for at least 75% of the time and I was worried this would have been too much. No time to think about this, because there it was: Devil’s Kitchen. Possibly one of the worst climbs I have ever seen and we had to do it with 90°F. As expected, the pack exploded on this climb. This also happened to me at Hilltowns, and from that race I knew that I would stand a chance if I kept the same strong pace without accelerating. The kind of climbing style Jan Ullrich used to have. As with Hilltowns, I was in the back of the peloton before I knew it, and the official race car passed me. However, this was a 5km climb with averages approaching 17%, so I would have time to get back into position. This climb was incredible, I had to fight not to stop moving, but the further I got, the more guys I passed. Within the last 2 km to the top, more and more guys were standing next to their bike, being completely out of gas! At this moment, I saw the Canadian in the yellow jersey and I was gaining on him quickly. I will not forget the mental boost I got when I passed him! At the top, I found myself within a group of good climbers that could not be far away from the leading group. These guys meant business! The last 5 miles were brutally fast! With 5 guys doing serious turns, I barely managed to stay with them. Although 2 guys broke away with a couple of miles to go, I managed to finish within 1 minute of the race leaders. Again, I was completely fatigued and I had to lie down for some 20 minutes, before I felt strong enough to walk to the car (20 feet away) without cramping up. However, I felt very proud of myself making it up that climb and staying in front of my 0.5-second nemesis. Was it enough? YES IT WAS! I managed to get the yellow jersey! Not after the TT, but after the first stage! I just could not believe it. Unfortunately, The Iceberg had melted. His legs did not allow him to cross the finish before the time limit.
Day 3: Tactics
As we did before, we had driven the course on the night before the race. This time the intention was to maintain the yellow jersey. However, we both agreed that the same aggressive tactics should apply. After being staged as the race leader, we went off for another brutal 60+ miles. I intended to force a breakaway within the first 10 miles, because the terrain was mainly downhill until 20 miles. With these plans and being on the front again, I was very much surprised by a strong attack after just 2 miles of racing. Five guys took off, including Moritz Steiner, who was within 30 seconds in the GC. This guy had won Battenkill and I could not let him go. It took me miles of very, very strong pulls to get them back and we weren’t even 15 miles out. These guys were doing something I had not anticipated after the slow start the day before. A mile went by and again there were 3 guys attacking hard. They were screwing me up completely! Or were they? All of a sudden it had become a very hard race and even though I had intended this, I seemed to be the biggest victim. Again I found myself doing a lot of work to get these guys back, this time with some more help from others, including a guy that was helping out his teammate like an ox. He did a strong pull, went back in the pack to get some air and then did it again. If only I had a teammate like that. These efforts paid off, so the complete pack managed to start the first KOM at 30 miles of racing. Yet, it also started raining.
Even though this climb was less steep, I got dropped. But I was not alone. Some serious GC guys were with me and with the 5 of us we started doing turns to get back to the pack. By now it was pouring rain and I was completely demoralized. There was no way 5 guys (including the race leader) would get back to the pack. I had lost the jersey for sure and I was only still pulling to reach the feed zone fast. Here, I would get off my bike, eat crap from Barella and drive home. When we hit the feed zone, I saw Jason holding a water bottle and a bag. I had no clue what was in that bag, but the sight of him being there to help me out made it impossible for me to stop. I grabbed the bottle and we continued the head-over-heads. We took a left to a main road and there appeared to be a group in front of us. Were these the masters? There was no way in hell we could have made it back to the group?!? But we did! We passed the cars and all of a sudden, I was back in the race for the GC! Happy like a child, I immediately got back to the front while making a “pie-de-lie-delie” sound like a Tour de France car. The look on some of those faces was priceless! Yet, the second and biggest climb of the day was approaching and I knew I had to give it more than everything once more. My legs told me this was impossible, so I was about to get dropped again. However, instead of getting dropped, I dropped. After a loud bang I could not maintain pressure on my wheel and I fell down thinking I broke my chain. I got up and before I knew it there was a mechanic helping me figure out what happened. It was Barella! He had followed the race after the feed zone. When on top of this, I heard the “Rocky” theme coming from the speakers in the car behind me, I had to laugh! This was crazy! But I would finish the job! On the top of the climb, I heard I had lost 7 minutes to the first guys and I finally finished the race 10 minutes behind the leaders. I ended up being 30th overall, but who cares. It was fantastic! We had so much fun! It was totally worth it. I hope that next time, we can start with more Threshers, so we will be a force to be reckoned with!