Ken Greim - GSMR Race Report

 

This year's most detailed race report goes to Ken Greim - giving us play by play for all four stages in this year's Green Mountain Stage Race! 

"tldr: 27th in the TT, 10th in the circuit, 7th in the RR, mid-pack 24th in the crit. 7th GC. Be patient and do as little as possible when you can get away with it, so that you can be aggressive when it really matters. Taking smart chances creates opportunities and results. Eat and drink as much as you can even if you're not pedaling at the start of a 100 mile RR.

Stage 1 – The TT

On paper, this should be a good TT for me. The first half is solidly uphill, and while the net downhill second half doesn’t really suit my weight (or lack thereof), I’m generally pretty aero when TTing and am comfortable holding the “invisible aerobars” position at race speed.

Previous results have suggested otherwise though: an 18th place in the 4/5 two years ago and an 18th in the 3s last year. I’ve never had a good reason for my mediocre performances, I’ve just never had it on the day.

I was hoping to change that this year, finally. I thought that with a good ride I could nab 15th or so, maybe 10th if I had a killer day. I had the TT helmet, TT suit and shoe covers all ready to go (but I never did get around to putting that disc cover on…).

I started the TT well, keeping the power up on the initial steep climb (gotta maximize whatever w/kg benefit I have) but not completely over-extending myself too early. As I neared the top of the climb, I had faded and was below my target avg. power but my legs and lungs did not feel good. I transitioned to focusing on staying aero at the expense of targeting power as the downhill began, but in hindsight I think I mentally checked out too much and let myself lose some motivation. The downhill was ripping fast, which I realized a little bit at the time but didn’t fully comprehend.

As I came through the line, I saw 15:04 on my Garmin – over a minute faster than last year. For a moment I thought I magically might have pulled off a decent result (so aero!), but then reality set in when I thought about my performance and the tailwind (which smacks you as a headwind when you ride the course in reverse back to the start). The results sheet confirmed this – 27th out of 53, 1:12 off the winner and 25 seconds off 10th place.

Looking at my data post-TT was a little demoralizing. I did 10% more power for the same time at the indoor TT in February. I did the same power for more than twice as long up a climb in CA during the winter training trip, and during the Giro del Cielo TT. Hell, I ended up doing the same power for the same time up App Gap at the end of the 103 mile RR two days later.

I still don’t like this TT even though I should.

Stage 2 – The “Circuit Race”

2 laps of a 37 mile course, which I guess qualifies this as a circuit race. I was just happy it wasn’t the 112 miles (2 x 56 mile loop) the 2s had to do last year.

The plan for this stage was to conserve as much energy as possible, given that this was going to be the longest distance I’d ever raced, and the day before a substantially longer and harder RR. The circuit profile had a decent sized bump with KOM points, and I wanted to make sure there was no chance I’d get dropped on that.

Race goes off and I immediately slide to the back, keeping good company with Mike Morse, Shaffer and Robbie Raymond of Minuteman. Mike got a yellow line warning at mile 2 for touching the rightmost line of a double yellow (even written up in the communique) when we were going 18 mph. That set the tone for the rest of the weekend…they were extremely annoying about the yellow line (e.g., honking at the pack when people went over the line to avoid someone who dropped their chain or went down…I guess they’d prefer that we just run the guy over).

Some attacks go off early (I saw Hoel Wiesner from Community go) but I’m content to sit at the back and force myself to eat and drink even though I’m barely pedaling. I’m sure there were some counters and mixing up front, but I can’t remember how the break of the day was formed because I was sitting at the back letting the field pull me along. Seriously – I averaged 154W and 25 mph for the first hour until we hit the base of the KOM.

So that KOM that I was possibly worried about…well at race pace in a field with drafting, it wasn’t much of a KOM. The only pitches that felt hard couldn’t have lasted more than 90 seconds. I don’t think a single person came unhitched going over it.

Somewhere in the few miles between the end of the descent and the finish of lap 1, we find out that the break has over 2 minutes. I’ve also figured out by this point Will Crabtree from Community must be in the break, since I don’t see him in the pack. Luckily, the largest team in the race (Techy Kids, from Ontario) realizes this too. Their GC guy was 2nd in the TT and they know Will is an overall GC threat, so they go to the front and start working hard, with a few other guys intermittently pitching in. I’m still sitting at the back hanging out – did 200W for ~40 min at 27 mph on a false flat portion of the course.

Techy Kids brings the break back to maybe 20 seconds, then shuts the engines down. One or two guys jump to bridge, and I see them make it, but I’m not worried because I know that now that it’s in sight, it’s only a matter of time before a few more people will jump and string along the entire field.

We’re all back together heading into the 2nd time up the KOM when an incredibly stupid crash occurs. Someone hit the yellow line rumble strip, overreacted, and hit the guy who was overlapping his rear wheel, which sent him careening across the road. I was in the middle of the pack at this point, but lucky enough to be far enough back that I could swerve left to avoid the mess. The comm car probably honked at us for having the audacity to go over the line to avoid a crash.

I jumped hard to make sure I could get to the lead group. It’s cat 2 – I expected some ruthlessness. But the group pretty much self-neutralized amid conversations of “let’s get home safe.” I guess everybody forgot that for the most part we know how to ride bikes and that the previous 65 miles were fine. We didn’t have to go full gas, but slowing down to 18 seemed a little much.

We rolled up and down the KOM very leisurely, with everybody preparing for a bunch sprint. I asked Matt if he wanted to sprint, but he was content with saving everything for the RR. I moved up toward the front to position myself for a sprint, but I don’t know who I’m kidding. Enough doubt about my ability to sprint and willingness to bang bars with a mostly fresh field meant that when there was a little bit of a lull, and a gap to shoot through the middle of the front of the pack, I jumped as hard as I could.

5 miles to go still. Shit, that was stupid. I look back after 30 seconds and see a TBD guy (Erwin Kersten) getting to my wheel. Great, at least we have 2. We spend a minute or two rotating full gas when I look back again and see another bridging group, containing Robbie Raymond, Al Grabau, Erik Markewich (Community) and 2 others I can’t remember. Oh hell yeah, we have 7 now, Community is probably the 2nd strongest team and they’re represented, and Techy Kids is fried from chasing for half the day. This might actually work!

A 7 man break with 4 miles to go is a blessing and curse. Everybody sees 7, thinks about the horsepower, thinks we’re gonna make it and starts preparing for how they’ll get top 3. Everybody except Erik was pulling through (he was skipping every other), but it just wasn’t hard enough. I wanted to make it work and multiple times I’d pull through when others were being too tentative to keep the pace high; I was still confident that I could do better than 7th if we made it to the line. If we only had 4 with full commitment, I think we would’ve had a better chance.

Ultimately, we got caught with ~2k to go – I looked back and saw Mike completing the bridge with the field in close pursuit. I was able to ride a breakmate’s last ditch effort to stay away to hold decent position leading in to the final 1k. I still felt ok and wanted a decent result.

I sat on the left side waiting for 500m to swing out when we got the full road. Mike was doing the same thing and I wanted to get on his wheel, but someone got there first, people in front were bumping, and I decided that I didn’t want to die before the RR. I had a marginally decent seated sprint on Robbie’s wheel that somehow nabbed me 10th.

Overall, I was happy with how the race shook out. I saved energy most of the day and then was aggressive when it mattered and could’ve worked.

Stage 3 – The Road Race

103 miles with 3 of the 6 gaps – Rochester, Middlebury and the finish on top of App. My previous experiences with this stage have been bad (crashed and limped to the finish 2 years ago, hypothermic last year), so it’s fair to say that I was scared shitless of this stage in a tougher category with the bonus loop that added Rochester gap and 40 miles.

I slept terribly the night before. I think I subconsciously put some pressure on myself to perform, even though I told myself all week that I just wanted to have a fun GMSR weekend and not implode.

A 15 minute delay due to a downed tree on course gave me enough time to re-consider my decision to start with only 2 bottles – I was supposed to get a feed on Middlebury gap – so I went to the car and got a 3rd. I started the race with at least 800 calories of food in my pockets, 2 bottles of heavy carb mix, and 1 bottle of water.

We start the neutral downhill rollout and Matt is taken out by someone who went into the gravel shoulder and overreacted back into the pack. Great. Luckily he’s fine and the bike seems to be working ok.

Once again I assumed my position at the back with Mike, Matt, Robbie and one of the Techy Kids riders who seems a little fried from the chasing yesterday. My plan was to do as little as possible while staying with the main group over Rochester and Middlebury. I thought there was a 50% chance I’d get dropped over Rochester but catch back on, and a 75% chance I’d get fully detached over Middlebury.

At mile 5, I again see Hoel Wiesner take off solo, this time in the green jersey. I tell Mike, who is in 2nd place. He has a moment of hesitation but then decides he needs to go to try to win the day’s only sprint points at mile 21. I continue sitting at the back, barely pedaling, and forcing myself to eat and drink even though I have to pee and there are over 90 miles left.

Rochester gap was tough, with the steepest section coming at the beginning. I was holding my position fairly forward, but also wondering how much longer I could do this. Luckily, there’s a little flat section in the middle that softened the blows, and we took the 2nd half of the climb at a slightly easier pace.

The descent scared the shit out of me for the first few minutes. I’m not at Senta-level fearlessness, but I usually don’t get that intimidated. I hit 56 mph amid some soft bends and the sounds and smells of carbon rim braking. I was happy for that to end.

The mostly flat section between Rochester and Middlebury was much of the same – sitting at the back and eating. I saw some moves start to go, and moved up to the front to help either chase (or in one instance, bridge with Geno) when they started to get big, but mostly I wanted to continue to conserve before Middlebury. I knew that a group of at least 5 had gotten away, but for the most part I didn’t have a great handle on the race situation.

Matt flatted a few miles before the left turn to start Middlebury, but luckily he was able to chase back on with the caravan. Unluckily, the wheel change meant he couldn’t access his largest cog.

Ben Ryan attacked at the base of Middlebury and Erik Markewich (Community) followed. At this point I was near the front, but decided to again conserve, knowing that the final 3 km of the climb are tough. As they flew away, I did inject some pace on the steeper bits to try to keep the pace honest.

The top of the climb was hard enough that I had to watch Geno and 1 other guy get over the top together, but I still managed to stay in the top 10 wheels or so. The downhill chase was poorly executed. Yes, I know it’s fancy to sit on your top tube and descend, but sometimes you have to actually pedal when it flattens out, because Geno is sure as hell pedaling. People yelled at Matt when he came flying by because they thought he was going too fast for the chase, meanwhile Geno disappeared.

I missed my feed at Middlebury because someone came to nearly complete stop in front of my feeder and I don’t want to stop because Geno is riding away from us like a man possessed. Thank god I started with 3 bottles.

At some point near the bottom of the descent, around mile 80, we pass Mike. Holy hell. I hadn’t seen Mike since mile 5 but I assumed he slipped backwards through the pack on Rochester, since he previously said that his plan if he got the intermediate sprint was to come back and then probably get dropped on the climbs. 80 miles out front didn’t seem like ideal crit preparation, but huge props. At this point we’re still going pretty hard and Mike wasn’t able to catch on.

Around mile 85, the pace is on and off, and I find myself at the front following a few moves. The field gives a little gap to me, Robbie and the yellow jersey. Robbie asks me if I want to go, which I take to mean START HAMMERING RIGHT NOW. If there’s one thing I know about Robbie, it’s that he’s willing to pull to his death and that we work well together – we were the late break at Quabbin that got us both onto the podium.

The other good thing about the situation is that the yellow jersey is an 185 lb watt monster. His pulls were phenomenal. I had to skip a few pulls because I was cracking just hanging on.

A 4th guy managed to join us and we rotate for close to 10 minutes until we can see a group ahead. The gap narrows significantly on a decently steep short pitch and I take the opportunity to jump fairly hard to try to get across (maximizing that w/kg advantage).

At this point we have to be at least 10-12 in the group, and I know there are still more up ahead. Half of the group is unwilling to pedal unless coaxed, but to his credit, Erik from Community is still pulling even though Will Crabtree is up the road. I kept myself near the front taking turns because I didn’t want to waste the bridge effort.

The Notch Rd KOM is short and very steep. There was general agreement that we would keep it together, but still I kept the pace honest and was feeling good. Hunter Pronovost attacked in the last 50m to get like 8th over the KOM for 0 points. Nice.

On to Baby Gap. There was no agreement the keep things civil, but it seemed like everybody was waiting for App. This was the easiest climb for me, but I looked back and noticed that we had shelled a few guys, including Robbie. I grabbed a neutral water handup and downed it as quickly as I could. Hunter Pronovost again attacked in the last 50m to get 0 KOM points.

We hit the bottom of App with at least 8 guys. Geno and one of the guys who bridged with me immediately attacked and started riding away. It was still too far for me and I was afraid of imploding; I was going to let others set the pace until it felt too slow, then take over.

When that happened, only the yellow jersey seemed to be able to hang with me. Ben Ryan, Erik Markewich and some skinny kid from Team California started fading. Hot damn, I’m putting pressure on some strong dudes. Also, why is this 185 lb guy still climbing with me?

I kept it measured as we climbed, just riding off of feel. In the last 2 km, I start to see some people from our field that were up the road – in total I ended up catching 4. The yellow jersey distanced me a little bit in the last km, and I thought I’d make it up when the climb got sickeningly steep in the last 200m, but that guy was killer strong.

In total, I ended up finishing 4th out of our group that hit App Gap together, but made up for that by passing 4 of the 7 in group 1, for 7th place on the stage and a bump up to 7th GC. Geno put nearly 2 minutes into me on the climb and almost caught Crabtree at the line…I bet Erik regrets pulling in our group now.

Matt attacked out of the field to ride the last 10 miles solo and come close to catching the remnants of our group.

Stage 4 -The Crit

The famed downtown Burlington crit. My only goal today was to hold 7th place on GC, as I was over a minute down on 6th and a little over 30 seconds up on 8th. So the plan was to #1) Not get dropped; #2) Not crash so badly that I can’t finish; #3) Not crash after free laps are over.

Then I saw Jamie get taken out by an erratic sprinter after the line in her race, destroying her brand new front wheel (4 days of racing on it, c’mon!), so I had to add #4) Not crash after the sprint. Luckily Jamie was 100% fine other than minor road rash, and somehow her new bike looks pristine other than the utterly destroyed wheel.

I didn’t have to worry about the fight for staging, as I knew I’d get a front row callup for being top 10 on GC. It’s the small things in life that are nice.

If you haven’t done the GMSR crit, the neutral start for half a lap is a full-on race. I got a good clip-in (#speedplay) and was able to hit the first corner in the first few wheels, although not as hard as Geno who railed it and nearly overtook the pace car.

My mind clearly wasn’t ready for technical crit racing (it’s been a while), as I bled spots throughout the first lap. I settled toward the back, moving up occasionally and getting passed occasionally. I don’t think I ever saw the front of the race. I wasn’t struggling at all physically but I was content with holding position and honestly didn’t want to risk much. I knew that 8th place on GC wasn’t in a break, so I sat back.

At some point Geno Villafano got off the front alone – I believe he led Mike out for a points sprint so that he could use Mike as a launchpad for his break. He came into the day as 4th on GC, and was on a mission to move up. 1st and 3rd on GC were both tailgunning the crit to survive and their teams (Techy Kids and Community) were nowhere to be seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sadder defense of the jersey.

I saw 8th place GC get away with maybe 2 laps to go, and I was buried. Shit. At that point I had to hope the field would chase enough to keep the gap minimal – I could afford to lose a few seconds to his break + the time bonus for his podium. I tried to move up but couldn’t find the space.

Geno completely his solo lapping of the field with 1 to go. It was legendary. He ended up taking 1st GC by a few seconds.

I rolled in with the main group, just 8 seconds down from the break that took 2nd and 3rd, which meant I managed to hold on to 7th GC by a little over 10 seconds. I avoided a near collision at the line when someone sprinting with his head down for 22nd fucking place nearly smashed into a guy who had sat up. I rounded corner 1 and saw 3 guys on the ground by the barriers. God dammit. At least I managed to avoid the post-race crashes.

In hindsight, I wish I raced the crit more aggressively. It seems stupid to waste that crit just rolling around the back never trying that hard, but ultimately I met my objectives, so I can’t be too unhappy."

 

 

Image by Angelica Dixon