Purgatory Road Race 2016

On a particularly raw cold January day, I set out for a long day of base miles leaving from my brother's house in Southbridge Massachusetts. Completely by chance, I found myself in Sutton MA, at the base of Lackey Hill. Purgatory Road Race's defining feature. After several ascents up the menace, my chance recon would have to end. Daylight was precious, and I still had a few more hours to log. That wasn't the only long day spent thinking about Purgatory. I can point to several days in my training log where it was my sole motivator for finishing all five hours, rather than cutting home early at 4:38. As a first year rider on Green Line Velo, I saw everyone's enormous sense of pride stemming from the event, and I began to feel it too. Deservedly so, Purgatory has earned the repeated honor, of being the Massachusetts State Road Race Championship.

Fast forward 5 months, and powerless to do anything more about it, June 12th was here. Purgatory Road Race. A good chunk of the previous 48 hours leading to, was spent staring blankly ahead, running condensed scenarios of the race over and over. I loosely resembled an inefficient WOPR computer, playing Global Thermonuclear War with Mathew Broderick. My fellow WarGames fans will appreciate the reference. I highly suggest the film, 10 out of 10. Anyway, back to, I resolved myself to a few basic guidelines. First, I would not attack from the gun. Certain death. I would be vaporized instantaneously. Second, If I was going to win, It would be with a late move. I enjoyed the thought of a cavalier last lap solo ride to victory, and maybe a sprint. However, as they say: "the best laid plans of mice and men", I would have to call an audible after scanning the faces at the pre-race staging. Immediately recognizing riders such as Ben Wolfe, Chad Young, Tim Ahearn, Anthony Clark, Adderlyn Cruz, Dominic Caiazzo and Eric Follen, I knew they would chase, I knew I would have to make a selection, and I knew it would be hard.

The very first ascent up Lackey hill, and I was in the "My arms are hurting zone". With one rider, Brendan Housler up the road holding an impressive 1:50 gap, I pretended not to be worried. Silently thinking to myself "I think crits are my thing..."
By the second lap Ben Wolfe and Chad young assumed position on the front, and set a blistering pace shattering the field into pieces. I dared not look back. We caught Brendan, and when the dust settled there were 10 of us left. "I made the selection", noticing all of the previously mentioned guys were there too. Tough crowd. Preparing for the long haul, I began hydrating and eating. Though not a particularly hot day, I couldn't take any chances, and force fed myself every hour.

Slowly shelling riders from our group of mutants, I counted down the times up Lackey hill. "Just one more time..."
I pleaded with myself, as if my body were an unwilling, stubborn and jaded victim who's "been through this before", and isn't impressed with my assurance that "it will be over soon". However, the negotiations would have to be put on hold as Chad and Dom attacked through the start/finish at bell lap (last lap). The two quickly had a 15 second lead. The rest of us looked at each-other. All of us doing our best Clint Eastwood impression. Hands over our hip, waiting for the other to draw. 20 seconds now. Unwittingly leading the group, My trigger finger twitched. I reached for my gun. Just crazy enough to work. I "cleared leather" and hammered off a few rounds in succession. I was solo, clawing back Chad and Dom. I joined the two by the feed zone and rotated through. The three of us weren't alone long as I looked back, and saw Ben Wolfe coming fast with two more riders. We had gapped Tim Ahearn, and he was working hard chasing us. That would hurt him for the final climb. Making our way toward the final ascent up Lackey Hill, I began to assess the 5 riders in my company. Assigning them values of how tired I thought they were. Their strengths, their weaknesses, how they would try to win the race. I asked myself the same questions, however I knew the answers. Almost like thumbing through a deck of cards, I discarded one after the other, deeming them unplayable. arriving at the "5 minute power card". Go as hard as you can for 5 minutes.

We rolled into the final steep right hand corner past where my mother, and brother had been directing traffic all day. Hearing their final cheers in this finale, I stood up and glanced at Chad young's drivetrain. He was in the big ring. I wouldn't shift either. Anticipating a flurry of attacks from either side of me, I pushed through my pedals. To my surprise, the group began to disappear in my peripherals. Suddenly, it got quiet. A quick glance behind and saw that I had gapped everyone. "It's too soon" I thought in a panic. "It's all I have, it has to work". Gripping my handlebars I searched for any remaining piece of energy to throw into the fire. Fellow Green Line Velo rider AJ Moran had been driving the pace car ahead of us, and he began to shout out the car window. A hand extended, turning into a fist, flailing wildly, beckoning me on. The car horn a metronome to my labored breathing. My legs began to seize from exhaustion. I still had a gap. One more steep rise, and it was a clear 300 meters to the line. I could do this. With Lackey hill behind me, I began to spin my legs up to speed, shifting down several gears. Peering over my shoulder, I could see Chad and Adderlyn gaining on me. I could also see the line. The sound of cowbells, shouts from friends, and the pain in my legs, was drowned out in a surreal moment of bliss as I pointed to the "Green Line Velo" displayed across my chest just before crossing the line.

Bike racing is hard. It can leave us licking our wounds, and contemplating selling our bike to buy a competitive checkers set.
Hours of training spent in discomfort, preparing for one long day of discomfort. Hunting for a good result. Accomplishing something we thought impossible. Always setting new goals, and often so focused on surpassing them, we forget that a few short years ago we were trying to make it over the hill with the local shop ride. I love the long hours. The rides started on a perfect clear bright day, and inevitably when you're furthest from home, thunder in the distance, a flash hail storm, and torrential downpour. Don't flat. Clean your bike, and do it again tomorrow. Purgatory was a great result, and one of my proudest moments. It could have just as easily ended with a different outcome though. With a sport like bike racing, I've learned quickly that we aren't just as good as our last race. We have to always be in check of that. Even when we win. Because we started riding bikes, running, hiking, or playing competitive checkers, whatever we do, as long as we are giving it our best effort; we are all better off. The new relationships made, a commitment toward an unseen future, and the occasional good day, is worth more than we sometimes realize. When the sheen wears off, what I'll remember more than a win, is all the volunteers holding traffic and offering up a quick shout in my direction. AJ sending me more energy than I could muster. Trying to steal a water bottle from my feeder because they didn't see me in the breakaway... And my mother getting to watch me in the finale.

At the end of the day, I'm just a guy who really likes riding his bike, I'll be pedaling it hard, but I won't miss the view, or where it takes me.