Bethel Spring Series: Cat 4 Race
Sunday March 02, 2014
by: Dominic Stobart
Going down the back straight on the final lap, the pack was all strung out into one long line. Sitting about five wheels back I was in a great position.
I was in with a chance and I knew it.
But getting there hadn't been easy.
The day was bitterly cold. Certainly no more that 34 degrees. The initial challenge was deciding what to wear.
Bib shorts, tights, wool socks, wind proof overshoes all seemed essential. The upper garments were more probelmatic.
Initially I started off with a Twin Six base layer (which I love), the BKB thermal long sleeve jersey, arm warmers and a 'Metal' team thermal vest.
Even with all that I felt very cold as I pedaled up to registration, so when I got back to the car I added a Twin Six wind proof gilet and that seemed to make things ok.
A few minutes into my warm up it was clear that I was over dressed. If I were to race like this I would over heat in a matter of laps.
Several costume changes later I settled on the Twin Six Grand Prix short sleeve jersey, arm warmers and the Metal vest. Now I was worried I'd be too cold. It was only a few minutes before the race was due to start and now some snowflakes had even started to fall.
Riding to the start I definitely felt a little chilly but a few laps in I would realize that I had made the right decision – better to be cold and warm up than overheat mid way through the race.
It pays to have a wide selection of gear on hand come race day.
The course at Bethel is a .8 mile loop ridden clockwise. The start line is just below the crest of a short steep hill. About 100 feet after the start line the course takes a 90 degree right turn and drops to a fast descent that levels to a flattish section that bears right until it reaches the bottom of the hill that tops out at the start finish line.
It's not technical but the hill and the descent create a pronounced accordion effect that can open gaps and spark opportunities for sudden breaks.
I had raced at Bethel once before, last year as a Cat 5. On that occasion a small group of riders attacked at the top of the hill with four laps to go and were never caught. I finished fifth, leading the bunch home.
This time my strategy was to sit in at the back until 8 laps to go and then start moving to the front with the aim of being in the first 10-15 riders as the lap board started counting down.
That was the plan anyway.
It was the first race of the season and from the get go the pack was squirrelly as all hell.
Four laps in just as the bunch crested the hill and made the right turn my race nearly came to an abrupt end. Perhaps a wheel touched. Maybe there was ice on the course. There was the sudden sound of a rubber skidding on tarmac. Up ahead I saw a rear wheel go sideways and a rider in yellow struggle to maintain control of his machine. Brakes squealed. Warnings were shouted. How the rider stayed up right I don't know.
Staying back I had given myself enough time and enough room to adjust and avoid riding into the rear wheel of the rider in front of me.
After that he pack held together pretty well until eight laps to go when the commissar rang the bell for a prime lap and things got really strung out.
There were several local teams who were well represented in the race. Tarmac / Iron Bridge who are based around Yorktown and have a strong squad, Pawling Cycle & Sport had several riders in the race, Breakaway couriers had at least four riders and so did the local team, Bethel, who rode in bright yellow jerseys.
Any of those teams could have sprung an attack and I fully expected one of them to make some kind of move, perhaps launch an rider and then block the bunch from reeling him in. If an attack came it would be vital to get into it straight away as chasing down a break would mean burning too many matches and almost certainly put me out of contention for the finish.
I was never really in with a chance for the prime but figured that it would be worth moving up the field to cover an attack.
As the pack reached the foot of the hill I gave an extra effort and gained about ten places.
Just as I hit the top of the hill the move came. A big rider from the Sherpa / Team Mossman squad put in a burst and the chasing pack erupted. Gears shifting frantically, riders out of the saddle and on the hoods – it was total chaos.
At that moment a rider from the Tarmac squad moved right across my line and nearly took me out. I shouted, swerved, and took the inside line round the right hander. It was the exact same spot where the rider in yellow had nearly fallen earlier. It was another lucky escape.
When I regained my composure I found that I was in an excellent position.
At the pointy end of the race I was about five riders off the front with two laps to go.
The run in to the finish at bethel is an uphill 's' bend. A slow right hander, that starts to climb, straightens, gets steeper and then bears left. At the steepest part just before the finish the gradient hits about 16%.
It's short though - maybe 100 yards. Certainly short enough for most riders to start the hill in the big ring and then change down about three quarters of the away up.
My preference was to hit the hill at a fast cadence in the small ring and then shift down at the back as the hill got steeper.
As we hit the hit the hill I upped my cadence, move out of the line and went past the leading riders. The last ten yards took an age. My legs just wouldn’t go any faster. On my right I saw the big rider in orange from Ironbridge / Tarmac go past me. Then another rider in blue and by the time we hit the line I slipped to fourth.
I’d certainly have taken fourth place at the start but somehow I felt that having got myself into into such a good position for the final sprint I should have done better. That aside it felt great to see Twin Six near the top of the results board.
[race photos by Steve Kang]