A few years ago while on my way to a family camping trip in the Finger Lakes region of New York I happened on a cute little town called Mount Morris. As I was exploring the town I noticed a banner strung up across the main street “The Rock Criterium” it said. Saddly I had missed the event but I vowed to come back and eventually do it.
Fast forward to the present and I had convinced my girlfriend and parents to take our two dogs and go “camping” (RVing) in the Finger Lakes region once more. The camping trip just happened to coincide with this year’s running of The Rock Criterium and Grand Fondo. What a coincidence. Traveling to a race in an RV was a whole new experience. I got to put my feet up and relax the whole ~5 hour drive. This was especially nice as we were delayed leaving and I didn’t have any time to shake my legs out after the long drive. Generally I would really feel that long in a car, especially in my hips, but being able to lie down much of the way negated the negative effects.
Our camp site was about 7 miles North of the start line of the crit. A little short for a good warm up. I planned to leave an hour before my race, pick up my numbers and ride around for 20-30 minutes then catch the end of the Cat 4/5 race to get an idea of the course. I’m glad I gave myself the extra time because I had underestimated how much we had climbed up to our campsite. The entire 7 mile ride to the start line was a down hill and a relatively steep one at that. It was slightly chilly too so I arrived in town with a bad case of the shivers.
Arriving in town picked up my numbers and got a nice warm up in. The roads around Mt. Morris are pristine and there was a big should no matter which direction I went. After warming up I went and recon’ed the course while the 4/5s were riding (being very careful not to assume their lines were the correct ones). The course had 8 corners and was relatively technical. It started on an uphill, wide street, turned right followed by a quick left/right “S” turn and a steep downhill. It quickly climbed back up with a short power climb followed by a right hander and a gradual downhill. Next was “corner 5” which we were warned about multiple times. Apparently it had taken a few to the hospital. Corner 5 was on a downhill so speed was a bit of an issue, the main issue though was that it was slightly off camber and went from a wide road to a narrow road and there was a good size pothole right at the apex. Again we had another steep downhill followed by a power climb. Lastly was a left/right/right combo all very wide, the last turn putting us on the start/finish straight which was an uphill drag.
During my warmup on course I somehow dropped my chain inside of my chain catcher. This really sucked. I was able to wrangle it free but almost missed the start of my race! I had to queue up way back in the field so I picked a side and gunned it right off the start. Mostly aided by my Speedplay pedals which are so easy to clip into I went from last to the front of the group in 20 meters. Two riders went off the front right away and I jumped with them. I didn’t anticipate the move going but I knew I would be more comfortable figuring out the corners in smaller group. We were brought back after a couple laps but I could tell the group was already hurting. I decided to put in a hard effort and see what happened. As the riders in front of me pulled off I got ready to go deep. I came to the front right at one of the short hard climbs and hammer it. I gauged my output to an effort I knew I could hold for 3-4 minutes but would put a lot of hurt on everybody (including me). This was really effective on such a technical course and it stretched the field out substantially. RIght after my hard effort there was a bit of lull which I appreciated as I knew being on the front had likely hurt me more than many. After a few minutes of easier riding two riders jumped off the front. I knew the field was hurting so I let them get a bit of a gap then jumped hard. Nobody came with. The three of us worked well together and built a gap.
Due to the technicality of the course it was difficult to asses the size of the gap. After each turn at the front I tried to look back and see where the group was but with all the corners I could only confirm that we had 5-10 seconds but no more. Seeing my parents and girlfriend on the back half of the course, I yelled to them for a time check. This was the coolest part of my day. My parents have been to 3-bike races in their life but immediately knew what I was asking for. Knowing it was too late to start counting my Dad ran the next block over to catch us on the front straight. He was able to take a time mark, asses the gap and run back over to catch us a few minutes later as we came through the back end of the course. My Mom thoughtfully signaled “Two-Three” 23-seconds with 4 laps to go. I’m pretty sure nobody else in the group caught this. I yelled to the group that we only had 10-seconds and that they need to pull hard. They each dutifully stepped up their pulls.
Coming into the final laps I knew it would be tough for me to do any better than 3rd. I had probably worked too hard establishing the gap and I was regretting my early effort at the front. Both the riders had a size advantage on me. In hindsight with it being an uphill finish, I might have not been as outgunned in a three up sprint as I thought. Regardless I thought my best option would be to attack on the steepest part of the course and try to hold the gap to the finish. I was hoping I would be able to do this from two aps out so coming into the hill I went all out. I got a good gap but overcooked corner five and almost crashed. I had to scrub some speed to stop from slamming into the curb. The other two caught me soon after. I figured that since it worked with two laps left I could likely pull it off on the final lap so as we came around to the steep hill again I skipped my pull, took a deep breath and went all out. The other two were onto me and closed the gap almost immediately. Worse yet they counter attacked and dropped me like a stone! I was stuck settling for 3rd.