I have a hard time turning down a big bike race in a downtown setting, especially if it’s in my own backyard…even if I’m woefully underprepared. So, when I signed up for the Mayor’s Cup Boston a few weeks back, I knew I’d have my hands full. The race is the final event of the National Criterium Calendar and it attracted top professionals from the United States to a 0.7-mile course around Government Center for an hour of fun and misery.
I would start the race still uncertain of my fitness, weighed down my a cold and a difficult week at work, hoping just to get to the finish.
I tend to arrive early to races like this so I can extra time getting nervous about it, but not this one. I got there just in time, pulled out my stationary trainer and warmed up by the tailgate of my car in a parking garage that was on the race course. I was listening to playlist purpose built for the day:
Queen – Bicycle Race
Coldplay – Speed of Sound
Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid
The Primitives – Crash
Cake – The Distance
Beck – Loser
* The full playlist can be found here: Mayor’s Cup 2012
“Loser” is an old song that we used to listen to a lot travelling between races. I had one teammate who would continuously repeat, “Things are gonna change, I can feel it.” They never did, though.
With the music cranked up, I could barely hear the announcer calling the women’s race while I worked myself into a sweat. I had been fighting a cold all week and it was finally letting up but I still felt heavy and congested. I stuffed cotton balls with eucalyptus oil up my nose to open up my breathing. I would have looked pretty strange like that in the garage, but I wasn’t alone.
As race time approached, I packed up the car and headed out to recon the course. It was the first day of autumn and it felt like it. A cold wind was coming off the water and blowing across the course. I was getting chilled riding laps but knew I would warm up once the race started.
I had my goals for the day. 1. Finish the race without getting dropped or, worse, pulled. 2. Get into some action at the front of the race. 3. Place in paying positions. The first goal was absurd enough giving the limited training and racing I’ve done this year. Beyond that, they were stretch goals. That said, the real purpose of doing the race was to enjoy the experience.
It stated to get real as the called riders to the line: several multiple National Champions (Frank and Mark McCormack), Liquigas-Cannondale rider and Giro d’Italia competitor (Ted King), and local hero Adam Myerson. I started to feel out-of-place, an imposter.
The race went off and there was an attack immediately. Within 3 laps, a breakaway had been established which helped me because it meant the pace was steady as the peloton fed them line. I spent the first part of the race trying to stay out of trouble, getting a feel for the course and its more technical sections.
In the second corner — high-speed exit from the slight downhill — I quickly found a good line that preserved my speed AND avoided the manhole covers, but nobody else seemed to choose it so it made it risky to take it.
The third corner — a sweeping, off-camber, acute-angle uphill – almost always saw the pack bunch up, wheels overlap and guys get pushed against the barriers. I found another good line there, tight to the inside, that I could hit and move up very easily. But I didn’t always have the balls to go for it because all it would take was one rider to drop in and my race would be over.
By halfway, I was feeling good, confident that I would make it to the finish. The crowds were building up. Coming through the start-finish, the din of cowbells was becoming deafening. I started to work my way up to the front. The break was still clear with a lead up to 30 seconds and it looked like they were gone for good. I made it into the top 20 when the pace started to pick up. With 15 laps to go, we were pulling the break back, and the speed reached a new level.
The pace was so high now that all I could do was hold my position and hope not to get gapped. The pack had strung out, only 3-4 riders at the widest, and it seemed a whole lot smaller all of a sudden. As the laps ticked down, it became clear that the break would be captured.
I was on the rivet, at the back end of the field. It was starting to splinter. I kept thinking I was safe as long as I stayed close to Frank but that wasn’t the case, as we were both hanging near the back. And I was starting to get tired.
With 3 to go, the racer in front of me couldn’t hold the pace. As I came around him to close the gap, my calves started to cramp. Still, I maintained contact. A handful of laps but it was going to be misery. With the bell lap, the speed surged one final time and I could no longer hang on as my calves gave up. I rode the final lap in sight of the pack, but well out of contention for the sprint.
I crossed the line alone.
For me, this race was a victory. At 41 years old, I am still able to line up with professional cyclists, still able to hold my own, still able to enjoy the spectacle of cheering crowds, finally able to enjoy finishing a race without having a result. I was able to bring back my race fitness in less than 6 weeks — and to do so with only two days a week on the bike.
And lastly, to be able to ride in the City of Boston, in front of friends and family, to ride for myself against my own demons, to ride in the memory of others — that makes it all the more satisfying.
Full results can be found here