Purgatory Road Race

Kyle Welch – Mens Cat4 35+ 1ST

Raced Purgatory today in the Cat 4 35+ wave. Weatherwise, pretty much a complete 180 from last weekend’s chilly washout @Lake Auburn. This was my first race as a Cat 4, and I was pretty nervous heading in, as while I felt I’d be OK from a “pedaling hard” perspective, the list of things I ought to know but don’t is still pretty long. I lined up about 5th row back for the 2 mile neutral start, and we were off on our 4 lap journey.

The roads were pretty tight, so there was not much moving up/down during the first part of the lap until we reached the screaming downhill. People were pretty tightly bunched, and at one point the rider 2 or 3 up from me braked pretty hard, not a good thing @45 mph. By the time the accordian got to me, it was full on panic braking. I felt my wheels slide a bit but came out of it OK. Apparently, my terrified squeal conveyed the fact that I was slowing to the people behind as everyone else came out of it OK too.

After the descent, there is ~5 miles of dum-dee-dumming along until you get to the “finish climb”, which is a set of 3 steps (total of .5 miles) up to the final 1/4 mile flat to the finish. Everyone rode pretty steady up the climb and we pretty much all came over the top together. The 2nd lap was equally uneventful although the descent was a lot more spread out, which was nice. Heading up the finish climb for the 2nd time, I moved up to the front by not slowing down as much as almost everyone else seemed to, and when I got to the top, there were 3 of us with a bit of a gap. With 22 miles still to go, and the entire pack ~30 yds back, I was not super keen to try and ride off the front, but the other 2 guys sort of meandered ahead. A guy caught up at that point and got pretty excited about catching the 2 guys in front “We’ve got to catch those guys! We’ve got to pull them back!” and started yelling directions at everyone but I was pretty content to let them have a go at it for a while off the front.

We rode this way for a while, with the 2 off the front by about 50 yds until we got to a ~2 minute climb, and 3 other guys took off from the front to bridge up. 5 people off the front was a tad alarming, so when the guy in front of me jumped I went with him. The 2 leaders sat up a bit, and the 7 of us off the front all came together as we crested the climb. All I was thinking of was “darn…20 miles is a long way to the finish.” There was a lot of instructions on proper rotating paceline technique thrown around, but there seemed to be a decent range of strength and some of the dudes were jackhammering their pulls so we were pretty disorganized. Fortunately, the screaming descent came up and I think only being 7 of us let us gain some ground. We settled in a bit after that and had a decent rhythm going. I felt pretty strong, and noticed that if I pulled on the ups I was gassing some of the guys which ended up F’ing up the paceline. I figured it would be better to keep everyone together, and we all took the “finish climb” at the end of the 3rd lap at a relatively civilized pace. (Looking at my power files, my output on the .5 mile climb was 373 for lap 1, then 381, and lap 3 was 332, and 424 for the final time up.) We’d been told at the base of the climb that we had :30 seconds on the field. Yikes…not that much with 11 miles to go!

It’s an interesting dynamic on the break…you are trying to go as fast as you can as a group while doing as little as possible as an individual, or at least to not do more than anyone else. One guy in the break became our drill sargeant, and was giving us regular pep-talks such as “Men, I’ll take 7th…that’s a good finish…but if we get caught, we’re dead men…and it’s going to be a long drive home.” Thus inspired, we worked pretty well on the flats and the downs with everyone doing a fair share, and it was with great pleasure that we were informed with about 3 miles to go that we had increased our lead to 1:30. Worst case scenario was finishing 7th…the drive home was potentially looking shorter.

At this point, the pace let up considerably, and I was thinking that the guy to watch was the Alpine Clinic guy Pierre who had led us up the final climb on lap 3. We turned onto the climb and instead of Pierre, a guy from Green Mountain whaled off the front. He pretty quickly got out to a ~30 yard lead, but I knew I was going pretty hard and had the feeling he might have been a bit exuberant in his early pace setting. At this point, the other 5 in our group were a ways back, so for a second I was thinking “OK, second is pretty good, and I can cruise it in from here.” but then gave myself an invective laden rebuke for letting my inner slacker even have a say…I was not going to come away from this race thinking maybe I could have gone a little harder. I got up out of the saddle and stopped thinking about how much farther we had to climb or how many watts I was putting out and just focused on the GM guy’s rear wheel. I clicked into a harder gear and slowly started to reel him back in. There were a few spectators on this part of the course, and they gave me a pretty good boost with comments like “You got that guy…you want to win this thing or not? Go dude..Go!” I saw the guy in front look back and knew he must be at full throttle, but I continued to close the gap. The more you gain, the more fired up you get, and by half way up the final steep pitch I managed to overtake him. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t able to grab my wheel for the flat approach to the finish, so went extra crazy and got a decent gap as I came over the top and got back up to speed. I looked back and saw that he was sitting up and got to enjoy the final 200m in for the win. Woo-Ha! Any race that ends with a smooch from a podium girl is a keeper for sure!

I thought this was a great course and very well organized. Great to see so many NEBC’ers out there!

Jerry Babcock – Mens Cat 5 – 7TH

This past Sunday, I raced the Purgatory Road Race located in Sutton, MA in the Cat 5 field. Weather was incredible, sunny with very little wind. As I was gearing up and pinning my number on my jersey I met a fellow NEBC rider named Kyle Welch. Kyle and I had a very friendly chat and he told me that he just moved up to a category 4. When I asked what made him move up to a “4” he told me he finished third in his last couple of races and felt that he was ready. As you can see by his result, he finished first in the cat 4 field and he was more than ready. Great job Kyle!
The entire NEBC Cat 5 team lead by a very vocal and assertive Doug Aker lined up in the very front of the race. Up front we had Arnost Lobel, Doug Aker, Patrick Carr, myself and Fred Marvel. We had a great time joking around and getting our team organized up front. I am looking forward to seeing a picture of all of us as there was a professional photographer taking many shots. If any of you find a link please forward it to me.

The neutral start proved to be a “very challenging” 12 MPH pace for two miles. I thought we were going backwards as we started so slow. A few of the riders in the back where upset and thought it was too slow but we of course we could not pass the pace car.

After the pace car pulled away, our first lap was incredibly fast. I was expecting a slower first lap but a guy in blue from BRC (I think) had the bit between the teeth and kept pushing the pace. Arnost Lobel was riding strong and we took turns pulling the pack around the first lap. When we got to the bottom of the first climb I was feeling beat, but I managed to make my way to the top 12 or 15 guys. All 12-15 of us crested the hill together and the race basically stayed that way for the remaining two laps.

At some point during the race Arnost and a rider from Jackrabbit cycling got into a shoving match. I was proud of Arnost as he showed all of us behind how to use your elbows and stay upright when a rider tries to invade your space. The rider from Jackrabbit ended up hitting Arnost’s rear wheel and almost went down. It caused quite a stir in the remaining group but fortunately everyone stayed up right. Watching the action from the rear I could not help but think of bump training we did last year during the NEBC clinic in Devens. That practice paid dividends for Arnost and all of us behind him. Ways to go Arnost as you are proving to be a very scrappy racer.

The second lap was uneventful other then the fact that I was suffering the whole way. The climb to the finish just about did me in. I hung in there and amazingly started to recover on the third and final lap. I felt fairly strong going into the final climb. My position in the bunch of 12 or so was perfect. I was sitting comfortably on the third wheel going into the first turn. Then at the base of the climb the fireworks started. The eventual leader in a non branded red cotton t-shirt shot out off the back of the group and quickly passed us all like we were standing still. I thought to myself that there is no way he can maintain that pace, but he surprised us all by climbing out of the saddle all the way to the top. I gave it everything I had on that climb but I could not stay with the top riders in the bunch. I think of myself as an “OK” climber but just could not match their acceleration up the steep pitches of the climb.

Not ready to give up, I made the summit and chased down a guy in a white jersey right before the line. I think he was surprised to see me pass him the way I did as he had 10-15 seconds on me after the climb. This was my best finish in an official road race and I could not be happier.

The race itself was well organized and I thought all the volunteers did a terrific job. I would like to give my sincere gratitude to all of the road marshals on the course as they did a terrific job holding back traffic.

What I learned from this race and others is that you have to stay with-in the first 10-15 positions in the race if you want to give yourself a chance. It is too easy for a group to get away if you are sitting in the rear of the group. Finally, I will be adding uphill sprint workouts to my training routine in hopes of staying with the leaders next time.


Arnost Lobel – Mens Cat 5

Believe me when I say it was not easy writing this report. I thought about it the entire time on my way back home from Sutton today and a few hours after I got home. I even contemplated not writing a report this time at all, but then I figured that would not help anyone.

OK, here I come: I pulled out of the Purgatory race after making it through just the first lap! I tried that one lap, but realized that, indeed, I was not myself today, and I gave it up. I continued about a mile after crossing the finish line, making sure I did not accidentally block anyone behind me, turned around and slowly returned to the finish where I announced my bailing out and gave the officials my bib number.

I thought that the fact itself of giving up was hard, but compared to what I feel now it was not that bad, actually. It only took a few pretty bad swear words before I made my decision. The feeling of shame and guilt started to kick in after an hour or so, and it looks like it’s gonna stay with me for a while.

I have had rather bad allergy season this year; worse than last year, and much worse that any year ago. I am now on pills constantly. Those and a nasal spray seem to keep the worse symptoms at bay most of the time. In fact, I started feeling rather well around May/June, so I dropped the spray (I hate medication!) It was okay, until this Tuesday. I realized the season was not over yet (if it ever would be for me). I took it really easy with the training and got back on the nasal drops too. It did not help much. Saturday morning I felt I was still rather weak, almost feverish. That’s the problem with these allergies – it does not make me feel like I want to die right there, it just makes me not wanting to do anything, and even if I do just that – nothing – my heart rate is constantly too high and I feel fatigued.

It was still the case this morning too. I decided to drive to Sutton anyway (since we had such a pleasant start time – 11:05) and give it a try. I warmed up; just 5 miles or so, but my HR was already at 175. I know that it was partly because of the adrenalin, but not that much. I really did not want to start; once I saw all the NEBC jerseys around, I changed my mind. At least I can give a try, I thought, maybe there is more adrenaline than I know.

The fact that NEBC Cat5 men line up at the front of every start this season is old news. There was Doug, Jerry, Patrick, Fred and I, if I got the names right. Doug, the captain made sure we all started from the front and that we kept at the front throughout the neutral 2 miles. My HR was about 150, which is not what is should have been, but it was not all that bad, yet, so I kept my fingers crossed.

At the actual start, we gunned it again, as it has been the common practice with Cat5 races this year. Jerry kept the tempo, with me behind him and a guy in blue. The effort was perfectly fine with my legs, but my HR almost instantly jumped to 180, and I was not sure how long I could keep it going. I hoped I could calm down on the long downhill, but it did not happen, so I just kept going waiting until I break, eventually. The downhill was not as fast as I expected it to be, which was perfectly fine by me. I could have ridden it at least 5 mph faster if I really needed it to, so I knew there was a potential reserve there should I make to the last lap.

Soon it was obvious that the top group today would be only 15 riders or so strong. Fortunately, Jerry and one more NEBC rider, besides me, were quick enough to be in that group (well, for the time being, in my case). The blue rider still rode aggressively, and so did 2 members of BikeBarn (I had my eyes on them since Sterling). Also my old friend, the Zipp guy was there, as he is always at the front. A really strong, quick and smart biker. And he called me “chief” 🙂 I hope he’ll joins us at NEBC.

A rider from Jackrabbit felt overly anxious and almost caused a crash on the long flat section. First he tried to bully me out of the line, but I elbowed him out. Not aggressively or anything, but I made it firm that I wanted to be just where I was. He then dropped a few wheels back, and after a while he tried something again. I did not see it, but I felt someone touching my rear wheel rather hard for a few seconds and heard someone else yelling. It looked like Mr. rabbit wanted to weave through a few guys, but did not really know how to do it safely. He passed me all right, but another guy went quickly after him for a quick discussion, as it looked.

My legs were still perfectly OK, but I felt I did not have much more in me. My HR had not dropped under 180 for a while, and I know my limits. I made it up the finish hill, still with the front group, but once I was up there, my HR just shy of 190, I knew I was cooked. I let a gap open, three other guys with me. I continued for a while still; I dropped those three and gave it another shot. I was gaining on the group again and It looked like I would have made it, but – it is hard to explain – I did not wanted to. I slowed down, let the three behind me to catch me an pass me, than I let a few more to pass me before I turned and rode back as you already know.

I stayed at the finish cheering for our girls and guys. As I expected, the top Cat5 group stayed only 10 to 15 strong. In the second lap, Jerry and another one from NEBC was still there. Jerry made it with them all the way to the end, finishing about 5 to 7th place. I congratulated him and we rode back together to the parking lot.

Well, that’s it – you can start throwing stones now 🙂 But it would not make me feel worse anyway.

My season plan was to make Purgatory the last race of my Spring cycle. I wanted to take the next week completely off, following by at least a month of slower but longer rides before I crank the intensity again. Now, though, with Purgatory turning out the way it did, I must do one more, if it was just for making me feel better about myself. So, just minutes ago, I signed up for Fitchburg’s Longsjo, both the hill climb and the crit (and I loathe town crits! 🙂 See you there, Jerry, and others.


Arnošt Löbel

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