Hellbender – Newburg, MO
This year the state RR moved to the Hellbender course near Rolla. This is a nice road race course – longish at 70 miles (two laps on a 35-m loop) and a good deal of climbing (3500′ total), mostly concentrated on one several-mile stretch on the backside. I did this race a couple years ago and found it to my liking, but that was as a Cat4 – this year I figured the 3s would be a tougher crowd, and with it being a state championship now all the strong would be there. I had briefly considered signing up in the Masters 50+, but still smarting from my experiment with that at Hillsboro I decided to just take my lumps in the 3s.
I almost titled this post “I went on a group ride…and a race broke out” The first 5 miles were as tame as I’ve ever seen in any road race. It was nice – I got the chance to shoot the breeze with anybody nearby who would listen. Dan B. made a cameo appearance. Chris had a cool new frame – but dang, Chris – at least put new tires on a new frame! Bob and Wes were taking a day off from dominating the MTB scene – they chastized me for not showing up to any of their Thursday Marquette rides. I have to admit chasing those rabbits up Melrose and Doberman probably would’ve been good training for this race. James V and I co-lamented the special challenge these bigs hills present to guys our size, but he wasn’t fooling me! Further up the hill I asked Shawn if he had recovered from yesterday’s TT, but he was fidgeting all over his bike waiting for the action to start. I was getting tired of it, too but knew eventually someone would get fed up and fire the first shot – no need for me to do it. Or course, everybody was using the horse eye on Shawn and Nolan, but it was the DRJ boys who were the first to say enough is enough – after we got up top of the first climb they moved up front and upped the anty. Not that it put anybody in real difficulty, but at least we could start stretching the legs. We continued like this for awhile and made the final descent before the big climb.
Everybody, it seemed, was waiting to see what happened the first time up the big climb, and that’s when things really started happening. About half the field got away, but they didn’t work too well on top and a small group of us got back on using quick, rotating pulls. Going into the 2nd lap, the leaders again tried to push the pace on the smaller climb – it was just hard enough to drop another chunk of the field, but I got help from Andy and Barry and we managed to keep ourselves attached. Once on top Shawn went off and Greg jumped up to him, but nobody reacted. They got out of sight while Shawn’s friend Matt moderated the tempo on front. I figured Mesa should chase if they were supporting Nolan – even though he had only one teammate, or Gateway since they had good numbers that could support a strong Alan. Eventually Nolan did start chasing, and with others also getting involved Shawn and Greg were brought back in view within a couple miles. Nolan’s teammate Mike hadn’t helped at all to that point and, in a puzzling display of incomprehensible Mesa team strategy, launched an attack right as Nolan was reeling them in – going downhill! I bet Nolan was thinking WTF?! Anyway, Gateway then started flexing their muscles with a series of attacks over the next several miles. Since only Nolan or Shawn would chase, everyone just marked their wheels and followed when they went.
I figured the 2nd time up the big climb would be do or die, so I prepared myself to giving it everything. By that time we were down to about half the field, but I was feeling better than I did earlier (these old bones just need time to loosen up). I did my best to stay with the leaders as they surged up the climb, and for a while as guys dropped off left and right I thought I might do it. But about halfway up the old heart finally jumped into my throat and I had to watch a group of ~12 ride away. Damn! As I approached the top I could see the group splitting even further, and a couple guys off the back served as rabbits for me. I knew I would recover quickly on top and thought if I could catch them we might have a shot at reintegrating – anything can happen in a small-group sprint! For a while I made progress on them, but after we turned on Hwy J I couldn’t close the gap any further. There was a group of 4 that had been chasing me during this time, so I decided to ease up and wait for them – no sense in killing myself during the final 5 miles. They bridged up just before the big descent, and as we approached the final turn we settled on our finish order in gentlemanly fashion and rolled across the line. Another day of anonymity!