Shimano NEPCX Series Finals, Warwick RI
I haven’t always had the best track record with the race at Goddard Park in Warwick Rhode Island. Traditionally this weekend has played host to the Verge Series Finals, and then the Shimano Series Finals after that. More than once I have been on the cusp of winning the series overall only to have my hopes dashed by mediocre performances on this challenging, but extremely fast, course. This year though, I had already locked up the Verge Series the weekend prior in Sterling MA, and I wasn’t really a factor of contention in the Shimano Series overall, so the pressure was off…at least as much as it can be at a UCI race deep into a hard cross season.
The field was a who’s who of New England riders and also included a healthy dose of Canada’s best as well, all hot on form seeking their nations selection for the Worlds team. The course, a technical mix of extremely rooted sections, beach runs, and windy open sections was in the perfect shape, having received just enough rain to settle the ordinarily loose dirt, and give you just that perfect amount of “tack” to corner in. I chose to run my brand-new Challenge Fango Team Edition tires for that perfect mix of aggressive grip and fairly low rolling resistance. I felt good, the legs were fresh and my hot laps left me feeling like I had the course more dialed than in years past.
I got off to a decent start, managing to slot into about 5th wheel after the first few turns. We were ripping through the woods led by a surging Jeremy Durrin and then Nick Keough. Soon though, after the long beach run, Durrin took one of the looser turns a little too hot and caused a pile-up that took down or held up a number of the main contenders. Luckily I was able to sneak past and bridge up to the attacking Nick Keough with only Dan Timmerman on my wheel. The three of us quickly developed a decent gap over the chasers behind, and I took to the front eager to drive the pace up and a wedge of time in-between us, and those who were behind.
Now, it might have been my first tactical error to drive the pace so much, but sometimes you are faced with a moment of opportunity and you just have to make the snap decision in the heat of the moment. I liked my odds against the other two I was with, and did not fancy letting a bunch of fast riders and more importantly, really fast sprinters, catch back on. So, I kept the pace high as much as possible. The few times I did peel off, I was frustrated by the drop in pace from those I was with. I think I wore my intentions on my sleeve a little too much and Timmerman and Keough realized that helping me drive it at the same pace might not be in their best interest. So, ultimately, a concerted chase by an on fire Shawn Milne and Mike Garrigan saw the gap close back up to us. Not ideal. I drifted towards the back of the group looking for a little recovery and to strategize where I could try and make a move. Unfortunately, this was tactical mistake # 2 and while I was busy tail-gunning the group, Shawn Milne drove off the front with no response from those in front of me. I knew the move was going, but the serpentine nature of the course, much of which has only one half-way decent line through the roots and sand, made moving to the front of the group a painfully slow and energy sapping proposition. By the time I got there Milne had opened up his gap to almost 15 seconds. I put the gas on, throwing my chips all in as I pushed the pace and took as many risks as I thought I could to try and close the gap. Slowly I whittled it down to just about 8 seconds, but with no help from the rest of the group, all I had managed to do was shed Keough. When we hit the sand the last time it was clear we weren’t going to bring him back and my mind went to plan “B” which was to win the group I was with. Only I made tactical mistake 3 of the day, and tried to take the inside line of the 180 degree turn onto the finish straight. I got pinched in the turn and had to hit a big-old root bundle which in my desperate attempt to get power to the ground, I slid out on and had to dab a foot down. My sprint was over before it ever started. So I went from really feeling like I was going to have a redemptive ride in Warwick to shaking my head and wondering where it all went wrong. Some day racing can be that way, and while I won’t lie and say I haven’t been second guessing myself these past couple of days, at least I know I put everything I had out there in the attempt. Sometimes that’s all you can do.
For as great as I felt on day one at Warwick, Sunday I felt terrible. My legs were flat and the effort I had put in the day before had taken a bit of a toll on me. The course was an even tighter one than the day prior and now featured two sand runs a lap. I warmed up and still felt like I had the course pretty dialed, but was unsure how my body would hold up under pressure.
Naturally, on the day I felt the worst, we proceeded to have one of the fastest races of the season. It was literally a pace that you were sure we couldn’t sustain for more than half a lap, only we just kept going that fast all race. From the get-go we were strung out single file and all it took was a small bobble on my part to slip back almost to 20th. Sigh. I began making my way forward, one rider at a time until I had latched onto the back of the huge lead group that had formed. At the front, rider after rider just drilled the pace like it was the last lap, and even on the pavement sections there was never a moment where the bunch slowed enough to make moving up easy.
I was in a world of hurt, and my goal became to try and get one position a lap back. I slowly made my way to about 7th, trading blows with a resurgent Dan Timmerman- each of us trying to get just one spot further up. I have never sprinted the running sections of a race quite like that before, and that wasn’t even for the last lap. Things began to come unhinged with two laps to go as Derrick St John finally got off the front only to have his pace matched and exceeded by Shawn Milne. The group began to fracture and suddenly I was dangling in no man’s land as the group disintegrated. Mike Garrigan flatted with a just a few sections left to the race, Timmerman had attacked going into the sand and gotten a small gap, and I was left closing the space between me and Durrin. I caught him a few turns before the finish, the mistake of my blown finish yesterday plenty fresh even in my cross-eyed state. This time though, I didn’t hesitate and took the inside line at full-gas even though it looked like I might get pinched again. I made space for myself and hit the pavement right on Durrins wheel for the downhill sprint finish. Now, those that know me know that I’m not what you would call…a sprinter. But right then, I had a pure triumph of mind over body and straight-up desire to win. I sprinted, shifted and sprinted again, coming hard all the way to the line where I managed to pip Durrin by about half a wheel for third place. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but sometimes you take what you can get. On a day where I felt caught between a rock and hard-place all day, I felt pretty good about hanging tough for a podium finish. One day though, I will manage to put everything together at this iconic venue.