By Michael Burris, Burris Logistics-Fit Werx Team Director:
The weather in New England has been ridiculously good lately. An entire week in the 80s is unheard of for this time of year. This has offered an incredible opportunity for the normally “basement bound” to log some serious training time outdoors. As as a result, bike racers in New England are chomping at the bit to show off their form to the competition. Early season races are selling out like never before.
This excitement was very evident at the first of 3 Trooper Brinkerhoff/Johnny Cake Lane series races this weekend in Coxsackie, NY. The organizers decided to bump the field limits to 95 and both the A and the B fields sold out. This made me a little nervous as I was registered in the A field. I knew the race would be fast, but now it would be dangerous as well. Ninety-five guys cruising at an average of 26 mph through tight roads with tight turns is a recipe for disaster. We would do 9 laps of 6 miles each for a total distance of 54 miles.
We lined up at the start. The nervous energy radiated through the field. The race organizer reflected on the death of a rider in a race the week before and then led us in a moment of silence. I stopped thinking about how I would get in a break or position myself for the sprint finish and instead began thinking about how I would make it to the finish line in one piece. I was a bundle of nerves to say the least.
The race started fast and got faster. Many breaks tried to get established, but the field continued to chase them down. This created a tremendous yo-yoing effect at the back half of the peloton. Looking at my power file at the end of the race, it was nothing but spike after spike of efforts way above my threshold.
The race started to settle down with about 12 miles left in the 54-mile race. I started to feel comfortable riding in a massive peloton again and it seemed other riders started to relax as well. As we arrived at the start-finish line to begin the final lap, things apparently got too relaxed. Riders in the front of the peloton slowed down sending riders behind them fumbling for their brakes. Some could not slow down in time. Just like that, about ten riders hit the deck, with 1 or 2 really hurting themselves. The group split. With the pangs of agony echoing behind me I followed the front group as they sped away. I caught back on and took a deep breath of relief. One more lap to go.
The last lap was pretty mellow. A few riders did get off the front and establish about a 10 second gap. The rest of us geared up for a big group sprint as we crossed the 1 KM to go sign. Just as I thought I was out of the woods, the motorcycle pacer came around us and slammed on his breaks right in front of me. I swerved successfully to avoid him, went down in to a ditch and came out just in time to catch the tail end of the group. As we approached the finish at top speed we noticed the race organizers frantically flagging us down. The ambulance from the crash on the previous lap was blocking the finish line. We hit the brakes without incident and soft pedaled in.
Some of the riders gathered at the finish line trying to figure out what the heck just happened. After about 15 minutes, the organizers decided to send our group out for another lap so we could finish the race. At this point I was done and just happy to be in one piece. I found teammate Christian Verry at the finish and noticed that he had gone down in the crash. He was okay, but he broke his saddle off the rails that attach to the seat post. I made some joke about him having buns of steel and then we decided to ride back to the car.
Two of our other teammates, Philip Beliveau and Stephen Taylor raced in the B field. They told similar stories of nervous energy, “twitchy riding,” and close calls. We had a few laughs, loaded up, and made the trip home. It is always a good experience to race and it is an excellent form of training. However, I’m not sure I will be doing the other two races in this series. I never thought I would ever say this but, “I need a course with some hills to break up the field a bit.”