By: Jared Skolnick
This photo sort of sums up the weekend for me:
It was the Killington Stage Race (KSR,) I finished (like the sign says,) and there was always someone in front of me (and rarely anyone behind me.) But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Even non-cycling fans know something about the Tour de France – the most famous stage race on the planet. They may not know that it’s 21-days of racing (plus two “rest” days) and covers around 3,500km. But most people at least know that it is multiple days of long distance riding. And even the common folk understand – it is a brutal and challenging feat of endurance.
KSR is a 3-day stage race covering about 220km, which is a distance that riders of the Tour will do in a single day! Yet, for us amateurs, this is still a brutal and challenging feat of endurance. No one from our team had ever done a multiple-day race before, and I was the only one to have tried his hand in a Time Trial (with poor results) as well. Let’s dive in.
Stage 1: 60km Circuit Race
A circuit race takes place on a road route generally in the range of 5km-30km with riders doing multiple laps. For KSR, it’s a 30km route and we did two laps. (Side note – “2 laps” hardly feels like a repetitive circuit – shorter routes with more laps are commonplace.)
Race organizers described the course as “the flattest course we could find in this area” and, honestly, it wasn’t too bad in terms of hills. BUT, the one notable climb lasts over 8km and gives racing teams an of opportunity to shake off the dead weight at the back of the pack. I fell squarely into that category. On the first lap, the group was ascending at an average of 35kph and I felt OK in the group for about 2/3 of the climb. But with a small pitch to about 7% and the pack accelerating, I found myself off the back with too much of the climb remaining for me to realistically reconnect. So less than 20km into a 60km race, I found myself off the back and riding alone for the rest of the race. Nothing new for me, but I was hoping to survive at least the first lap. Oh well! I eventually crossed the line dead last (although 2 riders Did Not Finish [DNF]) only to find that two of my teammates were also shelled out the back and they weren’t all that far ahead of me.
Stage 2: 124km Road Race
The second stage resembles a Tour de France stage both in distance and in profile.
With a climb early on to separate the contenders, or at least weaken the already weak, I was a little concerned. “All I need to do is hang on during that little climb and I’ll be fine for nearly half the course!” Yeah, well, that little climb was still about 10km in length and had one pitch steep enough to separate the bunch. After the controlled start, no one took charge in accelerating until that first climb, and I was definitely happy for the chance to warm the legs before the “easy” climb of the day. (Side Note: “easy” in race parlance is “difficult” for Jared, and “difficult” is “damn near impossible” – so this was going to be a long day!) I was holding on to the bunch pretty well up the first climb, even through the steeper pitch! But, suddenly, not far from the top of the hill, the pack surged and I couldn’t match them.
Less than 1km later, I rounded the turn that begins a 20km stretch almost entirely downhill. I’m a solid descender – I’ll work and get back to the group! No such luck. I did grab onto another rider who got dropped and we worked together, pretty darn well, too; but not well enough to catch up. The Strava Flyby shows that we pretty much kept pace, but couldn’t make up any ground.
Oh well, I expected to ride most of this race solo, and from the base of the intermediate climb, I was on my own. The intermediate climb was comparable to Bear Mountain locally, and that’s nothing compared to the final climb in store on this course. Incidentally, I reached the top of this climb right as the Women’s P/1/2/3 arrived, so I sort of contested the intermediate KOM with them!
For the next hour or so, all I did was pace myself for the final 10km of the course – which has a brutal profile. In the first 3km of the finish there’s a 350m climb that averages about 10%, then it gradually keeps going up with one 18% pitch near the finish. I made the left turn into this climb and it really looked like a wall in front of me – I’d never done a climb like this in racing conditions (although I really only “raced” the first hour) but I was mentally ready for it.
“Mind Over Body” is exceptionally true in bike racing – I’m really proud of my effort on this finishing KOM. I passed several riders who were either stopped, walking, or about to fall over with exhaustion. I never stopped, I never put a foot down, and I reached the KOM as the Men’s P/1/2 came through, again “contesting” the KOM with a superior group.
From the KOM point there’s still another 100m or so, and still one really hard pitch. I set my mind to the finish line, mashed my pedals, and kept moving forward, often with surges I didn’t know I had in me. I practically sprinted through the 18% pitch (if one can “sprint” at about 10kph!) And I kept focused on the finish line as I pushed forward, pedaling hard until I fully crossed the line. I hardly even noticed Mike and Susanna cheering me on until I saw this photo later on:
Stage 3: 17km Time Trial
Oh, the Time Trial, or TT in racing parlance; just the rider, the bike, the elements, and the clock. Sure, you pass other riders (or get passed) but that’s inconsequential to your individual results. There’s no peloton, no team tactics, no drafting, and no rider interaction. Your biggest challenge is inside your own head.
If I’m any kind of specialist, it’s likely to be the TT. I’ve got a strong engine and the idea of grinding it out at maximum power, consistently, for 30-60 minutes, is actually kind of appealing to me. After all, when I get dropped in other races, I often have to simulate a TT to at least finish respectfully, so I’m well practiced!
The caveat in this TT is that it’s entirely uphill. Only a 1%-3% grade most of the time, but that’s still gravity that is acting against me. And, oh, right, there’s that one pitch at the end that is short, but steep enough to deliver a knockout punch if you aren’t able to push through it quickly.
I pushed out from the standing start, got into the drops, put my head down, and pushed. And pushed, And pushed. The incline wasn’t too much of a bother – once up to speed, maintaining it on its own is the real challenge. I don’t have a power meter, so I could only use average speed and heart rate as my guide. I was at or just above LTHR the entire ride, so I was in the right zone. And my average speed of about 34kph was higher than my goal of 32kph, so I was happy. However, in retrospect, I could have gone faster. After I pushed hard and fast through the one challenging pitch, I saw my pace was ahead of goal, so I don’t think I sprinted the last 1.5km hard enough.
I did sprint hard when I saw the 100m sign, and finished pretty spent. However, if you can still sprint at 100m, you definitely left some time on the course. Oh well, live and learn! The other thing I learned at the end of this stage? Vermont grass is very soft – I’m still clipped in here:
I’m not ready to compete in stage races. But, then again, I’m not racing for results – I’m racing for fitness, friendship, and shared experiences. KSR delivered on those goals and far exceeded my expectations. The race was very well organized and attended. The town was beautiful and welcoming. And the GFNY Racing team had a blast.
I slept 11-hours on Monday night after we returned home, but wasn’t that the point? We came, we saw, we raced, we were spent. I’d love to do it again! (I am crazy, right?!?)