This report will be written from my point of view. Should any of the other team members wish to comment with their experience, please feel free to do so.
A few weeks back, Thomas Houghton proposed that we as a team should go and participate in the NYC Metro Showdown Circuit race. We were able to get Mike Merlo, Nicos Luciano, John Young, Percy Zahl, Viateur (Shane) Pilon, and Patrick Walter to commit to the race. Unfortunately, Mike was diagnosed with mononucleosis about a week before the event, which knocked him out of the action.
The team had a meeting the Tuesday before the event with our mentor, Chris Joinnides, to discuss the event, and help us come up with a strategy, in the hopes for a good team showing.
On Saturday morning, after a bit of confusion, most of us meet up at the Park and Ride at Commack road and the LIE in order to carpool to the event. It took about a bit over an hour to get to the venue, but by nine in the morning we were all convened in the parking lot. Chris arrived and set up a tent with trainers for us to warm up on. He also helped us get our bikes in order and ready while providing some last minute guidance. The field for our race had swelled to just under sixty riders so it was going to be an interesting race.
We were the team that was fielding the most amount of riders, so we had the potential to have a good race. Forty minutes before the start, we all got a chance to ride the course for a reconnaissance lap. Even though we had rode the course a few weeks prior, it was good to get back on course to get another look at the condition the roads we would be racing on. I must say they did clean up the branches and twigs and filled a few of the egregious potholes on the straight after the finish. But that section was still going to be rough.
Ten minutes before the start we were all congregated and ready at the start. We were going to have a neutral rollout controlled by the pace car past the hairpin left of the starting area which would lead us onto the main course. We were told to observe the double yellow line as there would be oncoming traffic, as the road would not be closed. This, I felt was, going to create a tight field for most of the course. Two thirds of the race was going to take place on a stretch of pavement a tad wider than a car, and trying to fit sixty races in there was going to be an interesting challenge to say the least.
Race off, and due to the tightness of the course, I struggled to get up into the top five to ten, where I was supposed to be with Pat. Our job was to help martial the front, and ensure no rider or group of riders could get off the front. I found some space on the climb, but once we hit the descent, I was able to pass buckets of racers by stretching the double yellow line rule. Other riders were slipping over the line, and so did I.
On the first lap, we had our first incident. For what I can ascertain, the pace car came upon some vehicles on course, and came to a complete stop. We were on the flat stretch approaching the finish line and the whole group was packing some decent speed. As the riders up front were trying to slow down, we had to scatter on each side of the cars ahead. I was on Pat’s wheel when he almost crashed out between the curb and the bike killer water drains on the side of the road. For some miracle he was able to survive that section. Being close to his wheel I was able to keep a bit to the right and get past that section without too much white knuckles.
Past the finish line, going into lap two, we had the toll booth to contend with. The road there narrows down and splits to go past the booth. If you were placed further back in the field the squeeze and slowdown was very much nerve wracking.
After the first lap, things started to settle in. After my two laps at the supposed front, Tom and Shane came up towards the front. Percy was always a good pillar in the top third. I also made sure to keep in the top third of the field. Our goal was to protect Nicos and ensure that he did zero work. We needed him in a good position at the front at the end of the race so he could get a strong finish.
A few of my incidences that took place during the race.
At one point, while moving up on the left, I had a woman racer who wanted to move up come out from my right without looking over to her left shoulder. In doing so, she clipped my front wheel with her rear, causing my front bars to jerk back and forth. In the past I might have crashed because of that, but this time it didn’t seem to phase me and I just moved onto her wheel.
In the opening laps, I wasn’t sure how many times I’d be able to go up the climb, but as the race wore on, I found myself getting better and almost feeling stronger each time going up, even as my legs started to burn. Many of us noticed that the guys up front would charge up at the bottom and then not have the ability to push over to top, causing some pretty bad slowdowns.
It was very annoying to have to back off, and then push hard to pick the pace back up. In one incident just over the crest, on a short decent before another climb the riders accelerated, I grabbed a promising wheel and then on the short rise they practically scrubbed off all their speed, I had to grab a good amount of brakes causing me to lock up my brakes generating a nice skid.
We also found annoying that many riders on the climbs would get out of saddle and rock their bikes a lot. But in a tight race like that, that felt dangerous to be around those guys. Going up, I ensured that I’d stay as smooth as possible.
If I recall, on the last time up the hill, I was eager to get in the top group, I squeezed in between two riders. There was a tiny bit of space, but I moved in anyway. The guy on my left apparently wasn’t too comfortable in tight situations and started to wobble into me. I kept my line as he mumbled something to of the effect that he wasn’t trying to take me out, but I shrugged and moved up.
And finally in one last event of note is that I ended up rubbing handlebars with some other racer, and again, I just shrugged it off and kept going.
Back to the race, with about two laps to go, it was clear to me that no one was going to get off the front, thus this race was going to come down to a field sprint. On the last lap, as we approached the end of the first big climb, Nicos tried to get off the front hoping to drag a few riders with him. Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be a good move so late in the race. In the end, he was back in the pack.
Coming down the hill which would lead us onto the straight bit which would bring us into the finish, I knew I had to fly down the hill to keep up with the front of the race. Tom had been doing a lot of work on the front to keep the team presence. Coming down the hill, I lost sight of Patrick, Shane, and Percy. Tom was a few riders ahead of me. I had a good idea where Nicos was located as I had been keeping an eye on him during the final lap. Nicos, like myself, was located towards the left side of the pack.
So, once we were at the bottom of the hill, with less than 800 meters to go from the finish, the guys upfront started to ramp up the pace and the front of the race started to break apart. At that point I made some nanosecond decisions which when something like this:
Tom is blown, he’s done.
There is an opening to the left of Tom, I need to dive in that hole and gun it.
I hope Nicos is on my wheel.
With that, I dropped my chin down towards my stem, while keeping my eyes up in the hopes to achieve as much aero position as I could. Simultaneously I mashed on my pedals as hard as I could while slamming the chain down to the smallest cog I could turn over without bogging down, and rocketed forward as fast as I could command my legs. I must say, I now love my sprinter shifters in my Di2 setup.
I started to experience time dilation. Everything hurt and the clock was seconds felt like an eternity. I really don’t know how long I was pushing, but suddenly, as I was about to blow, I see Nicos come around me and take off hard. In that instant, the feeling of accomplishment was almost overwhelming. I have no words to describe how it felt. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy the moment for more than a few split seconds. Having performed my task for Nicos, I still wanted to achieve a decent finish. Looking down the road, the finish looked so agonizing far away. I downshifted a cog or two, did my best to keep my legs spinning as close to 160 rpms as I could, until I could cross that line.
Nicos was able to secure an eighth place finish, I crossed the line in sixteenth. Just past the finish line. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Patrick off to the the far right of the road. He managed to bag a twelfth place finish. The rest of the guys finished further further back.
In conclusion, here are a few of my finishing thoughts. As a team, getting three riders in the top twenty in our first race together was a great accomplishment. Our plans during the race came together reasonably well. I know I need to work on moving up. I guess I wasn’t prepared for a very tight road, which created fewer opportunities for me. It’s also a skill I’m still working on to improve, although I think I have gained some more confidence after this race.
Chris talked about it in his little recap, and I feel the same. If we had been able to get better organized in the last half of the last lap, we would have had enough firepower to get an EECT train going to give our team a much stronger finish, possibly a win.
Pondering things over in the last twenty four hours, I think if Pat could have been more centrally placed in the group in the last 800 meters, there would have been a greater chance of him joining up in my leadout.
Nonetheless, having teammates such as Percy, Tom, Pat, and Shane rotating around in the top third of the field for duration of the race helped give us a referencing point when we would drop further back for whatever reason, weather it was for recovery, or just being on the wrong wheel as the pack shifted.
I was also glad that John was able to stick to the race until the last lap. Great experience for him.
In the end, hopefully as the season progresses, we will become more and more comfortable with each other, we will improve, and mature, and then results will follow.
To close out this long report, I’d like to thank my teammates on an awesome experience:
Tom, Pat, Shane, and Percy you guys were the workhorse for EECT and you all did a great job keeping things in check up at the front.
John, I’m thrilled that you joined us. I’m and glad that you were able to get the experience and keep up with us young whipper snappers.
Nicos, it was a pleasure to lead you out, and as I mentioned, it was such an awesome feeling to see you take off from behind my wheel and get a good strong finish.
Last but not least, Chris, thank for your support, being there, and being a guide for us.