A field was assembling underneath the overpass in Fort Lee. I gave Crihs my twelve bucks and made the rounds, saying some hellos to riders who I haven't seen in a while, and scoping out the field. Lots of road bikes. Lots of people I don't know. A bundle of track bikes. I had no sense how this race would unfold. I did have a plan - and a teammate - but by the time the race was starting my plan had changed to "ride until you're warm again, then reassess." Fortyfive minutes standing around in very damp, thin clothing had left me shivering. As we pulled away on the rolling start, William reached over from his trackbike to give me a goodluck handshake, but I shook my head, saying, "I'm keeping both my hands on the bars until my body stops twitching."
In a few minutes, we turned on to 9W and the race was on in earnest. Attacks were quickly launched by kids on track bikes - did they think they could just ride the legs off of everyone else? I moved toward the front of the field, squinting my eyes to avoid the grit and splatter from the roostertails coming off of rear wheels, and keeping an eye on the attacks. The pace would surge and calm, but no attacks stuck. My secret teammate Alex took a nice flier at 32mph near the Greenbrook turnoff and I jumped to grab him, but the pack wouldn't let it get anywhere - it was our turn to see whether or not we could ride away from everyone else. It was like a Cat 5 race, everybody nervously keeping an eye on everybody, nobody really letting anybody get anywhere.
No worries - the terrain would take care of the pack and I resolved to sit six to eight wheels back, sucking wheel, taking it easy, and waiting for the rolling hills. That is, until I saw the support car pulled over and Crihs hanging out the window with the camera. Then I launched an attack. It went nowhere but I went to the front and pulled at 27 for a bit before drifting backwards into Prentiss's big and tall slipstream.
Finally we got into some quick terrain. Izumi, on his track bike, stepped it up leading into the downhill approach to the State Line. I grabbed his wheel. At the line there would be a sprint for a prime; I know the terrain well, but didn't remember where exactly the line was. I tried to keep my head up and grab wheels - it looked like there were a few subtle leadouts happening and I grabbed the fast wheels as the pace picked up to - oh. My computer conked out in the rain and the wet. Again. I looked up and looked around for the line - ah! There it is, at the crest of that rise, and put my head back down to Alex's wheel and - oh. Neil and Eric, two powerful guys with strong road racing history, had already jumped. So much for that prime. I rolled through the line third and got into a tuck for the descent. The road is wide and the turns gentle so I coaxed the bike into the mid40s with the wind strong in my ears; then the couple on the tandem went flying by, the stoker with her head pressed into the small of the captain's back. Dave Trimble came riding up, reaching deep into the drops, yelling "Go go go go!" As Phil Leggitt would say, the elastic had snapped - most of the field had been left behind. The pace stayed high and we fell into a paceline - seven of us, plus the couple on the tandem, driving hard toward Piermont.
I expected to go through Tallman State Park - Prentiss and Al turned in but Dave, Dan, and the others kept going straight. Knowing that one of my goals in the race was to mark the two of them, I stayed with them. Would Tallman's narrow roads and steep descent be slower than this other way around? I didn't know. We descended into Piermont, Dave almost getting right-hooked by a car that didn't realize that a race was coming up behind it. We turned toward the pier and saw Prentiss and Al with a good minute on us. That answers the Tallman question.
We hit the flagpole, collected the info we needed (the last word on the plaque, and the year) and turned, fast. I went to the front and took a long pull up the bumpy road. Toward the end of the pier we started to see racers on their way out - we had a good lead. With five of us working together we'd catch Prentiss and Al, and it would be anyone's race.
Or would it? The climb through Tallman and the fairly brief respite before the climb up to State Line changed that. Dan and Neil left the three of us in Tallman; by the time we got to State Line, they had good time up to the top of the hill as Prentiss, Al, Eric and myself fell into a paceline to see if we could catch them. But we couldn't even see them.
Prentiss would move to the front and pound away in a huge gear; we sheltered Eric for a while as he gamely clung on. Al would spring to the front for strong pulls and I'd move up, too, carefully counting my strokes before moving over. It was starting to dry out. I felt warmed up. We were really cooking it; glances at my speedometer were only occasionally helpful, as it went in and out as it dried out and got wet again. We were steadily at and above 25 mph, and spending good time up around 28. Where were Dan and Neil?
The race finished at a bar in Lower Manhattan, which meant crossing the GWB and entering a traffic free-for-all for another nine miles. Alex and I looked at each other - when you enter traffic and enter alleycat mode, you don't have teammates anymore. It just doesn't work like that. We took the smart route south and east; Prentiss turned off to go through Central Park - bad idea. Eric clung gamely on as we tore down 5th Avenue. It started to rain again, torrentially. I smiled through Alex's wheelgrit in my face and thought, what a good way to end a good race! We traded pulls and split around taxis; I sought buses or minivans to grab quick accelerating skitches to no avail. 5th Ave got a lot less clean once we were clear of the park, and Eric dropped back several blocks as Alex and I were engaged in no holds barred traffic attacks - who can take the light fastest? If you can get through a light a second faster you can get to the next one two seconds faster and have a chance to increase your lead. But by 14th St we were still together, and Eric had caught back on. Okay, he wasn't just some roadie we could catch in traffic. A red light at 2nd Avenue gave us pause but we plowed through a good sized gap while Eric turned south. A good idea?
There was Dan, cruising casually ahead of us. Did he think he'd just slide on in for the win? I put my finger to my lips, cautioning Alex to be quiet until we flew by him - that was when we saw he had a flat.
Alex and I turned on to Avenue B wishing each other luck in the sprint, hollering at jaywalkers, and tearing down... only to find Eric turning the corner of 10th Street ahead of us, taking Second Place as he got to Neil - First Place - waiting on the sidewalk. I hopped off my bike and tagged Neil a few seconds before Alex.
Dan rolled in a few minutes later - he'd ridden the flat since he was in the 100s. Dave rolled in, not feeling so fine, followed by Prentiss and William, who took first track bike and 7th overall.
Evan rolled in in the mid-teens, and I was pleased as punch to see him finish his first race. He must have been on his own for most of the race - once the field shattered there were few opportunities for people to work together.
When's the next one?