The Michael Schott Circuit Race, a.k.a. Marblehead, is the traditional kickoff to the New England racing season. Despite having to scrape the frost off of my windshield before leaving home, by race time the conditions were great for racing: brisk but tolerable, with very little wind, particularly for Marblehead, where the headwinds and crosswinds can be brutal. Although the weeks leading into the race weren’t ideal training weeks for me, I was optimistic after last year’s Marblehead disappointment, where I bailed after getting dropped on lap 8. But this years lack of winter weather, along with a series of good, long, hard rides with the ad-hoc crew, allowed me to come into April a whole lot fitter and lighter, and although I hadn’t done a substantial amount of interval work, I hoped to be able to at least hang around for the bunch sprint and maybe snag a top 10-15 finish.
I met Oscar and Will in the parking lot, and we took a few warmup laps around the course. For those who aren’t familiar with the race, it’s 11 laps of a 2.2 mile circuit that features a small, not-too-steep climb up the backstretch of the course, then drops back down to sea level through an S curve. A short bit later there’s a hairpin curve (always a joy in a cat 4/5 race), and then a few hundred yards before a little punchy hill. Once you crest this hill, it’s a short downhill sprint to the finish. To win at Marblehead, you need to be positioned well going into this hill on the last lap and make it over the top with speed. And with 3 laps to go, I felt like this was a real possibility for me this year. But luck wasn’t on my side, and crash on the hill in front of me with just over 2 laps to go left me watching, untangling my bike from another rider’s spokes and desperately trying to get my chain back on as the field rode away, never to be seen by me again.
Though disappointed in the end, I was generally happy with how things went. I did what I wanted to do strategy-wise. Some pre-race research made me aware that a triathlete / time trial specialist, Dean Phillips, was in our field. Dean’s just started doing bike races, and had won his 2 starts as a cat 5. Oh, he also climbed Mt. Washington in 1:07 las year – as a clydesdale. He was clearly the guy to watch, and was easy to find in his FitWerx kit. We rolled out in the usual cat 4 manner, slow for the first few laps, with a minor crash in the hairpin within the first 3 laps or so; fortunately, our field was taking such poor lines through the corner that we were only going 14 mph or so, so it was easy to avoid. Will was doing a good job of holding his position about 1/3 of the way back in the field. As far as I could see from my place about 2/3 of the way back, nothing too exciting was happening up front. A few riders got maybe 100 yards or so off the front on about lap 4 or 5, and then I noticed the FitWerx jersey moving up on the ouside of the field. I slid behind him and follwed him to the front, where he rode a relatively controlled pace down the S curve and into the hairpin turn. As we turned the sharp corner by the neck, Dean accelerated hard and started to bear down quickly on the break. I had his wheel on the flat, but he gapped me by just a bit by the top of the hill, but it was enough to shed me once he crested and got into TT position. I doubt I could’ve hung on for long anyway. As I watched him ride off alone, I knew the race for first place was decided. After briefly considering joining the few others other guys who were desperately trying to chase, I opted to sit up and slide back into the field, which really didn’t put up a very organized chase, despite the fact that a few teams were pretty well represented. I figured I’d recover, then move up with 3 or 4 to go and try to do something in the field sprint.
However, my race effectively ended at the end of lap 9. I had just moved up next to Will, with maybe 15-20 riders in front of us, and I was liking how things were shaping up. I was taking the inside line (near the curb) up the hill, when there was a stumble a few riders ahead of me. With nowhere to go, I ended up tangled up with the rider in front of me, with maybe 4 or 5 of us ending up on the ground. Me and my bike are fine – that was the slowest crash I’ve ever been involved in. I was pretty bummed about it’s impact, though. So I ended up soloing the last 2 laps. Will ended up finishing 16th, and I’d like to think that I could’ve been there with him at the end.
So with a better more 5-minute fitness I might’ve been able to hang with the winner’s attack long enough for him to consider keeping me around so that he could take an occasional breather, which might’ve gotten me a second place finish in the end. But that’s probably a fantasy; a guy who holds the record at the Charlie Baker Time Trial has no need for my help. But it was worth a shot.
Wells Ave. is up next for me, with Sterling on the horizon.