As a group of athletes (Aetna-Expo Wheelmen) who have raced all over the county, participated in many events across many disciplines of cycling and promoted our own events, we can surely appreciate what goes into keeping an event alive and providing us with races to attend. Aetna provided us with an opportunity to help sponsor a local event as a grass-roots type of investment. The opportunity to help sponsor the Tokeneke Classic Road Race was a perfect match. We set out to help promote the event and generate some excitement in the cycling community. This years event would also see host to both the CT State & New England Regional Road Racing Championship. As sponsors & VIPs to the event it was important to be great ambassador's and assist the group leading the promotion efforts as well as do our best in the race. Typically we have not been geared towards road racing, we have been more focused on Crit. At least not very hilly road races. Sure, we've had our share of decent results, like the time Todd Bowden pulled on the Climbers Jersey at Killington Stage Race, but they are rare.
This year has been a bit different and as a team we've won 2 hilly road races and placed on the podium and top 10's in others. Maybe we're getting better at the hills, more versatile racers or we are racing better together - most likely a combination of these. With Tokeneke being Jeremy's "A" race of the year, our Title sponsorship, having it part of the NEBRA Trophy Series and the fact that I've never finished well (if finishing at all) at this race were all motivating factors for me to be as prepared as possible. Throughout the summer we've all been putting in our time on the bike to be ready for the race and we'd need it on this race day...
Temps for the week have been in the mid 90's and with very high humidity the heat index was around 105. Sunday's race, starting mid-day @ 12:30 would be no exception. The promoter rolled out the red carpet for us and gave us a prime location to setup the Aetna-Expo compound. Since we'd at the race most of the day, we brought 2 tents, lots of chairs, some tunes, coolers filled with ice and plenty of water! Once we had everything setup, we did what we always do, hang out and chat as we pass the time - dispelling any bits of nervous energy.
With the sun high in the sky, we put on our kits, numbered up and began to roll to the start line - our goal, stay as a group as much as we can and ride our best. We'd cover 67 miles, 6,000' of climbing in 3:15 - to help us through the day, I enlisted the help of my son Taylor who'd agreed to water hand-ups for all 5 of us in the feedzone; and we surely needed it.
The race rolled, slowly than normal, through neutral start, then the signal was given to race - but the pace did not change... it was clear, we'd be racing against the heat as much as each other and the tactic was clear, easy start. I get impatient myself and decided to just up the pace a bit, surprisingly, to me, not a single person followed, not even the slightest attempt. I just kept rolling and soon found myself out of site of the pack. I was given a time gap of 45 seconds about 30 minutes into the race. as I climbed the long hill on back side of the course the group was in site and i soft pedaled till I was back in the pack. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The 3 laps of the course would ultimately take it's toll through rider attrition on the hills. After the final climb up route 20 on lap one, we were down to about 20 racers and for our team it was now just Todd and I. A small group of 5 put in an attack most of us could not or didn't want to attempt to cover - these were the 'real' climbers as I like to call them, and rode away. Meanwhile our group continued to race with small attempts to test each other on the climbs occasionally.
On the final lap, we took stock of the situation. 7 riders up the road, 10 of us in the group and a full lap to go. Todd knew this race was important for me to get as high a placing as I could for the NEBRA points - more so with both my key rival's up the road in the break. He rolled up next to me and said he was going to put pressure on the rest of the group as long as he could handle to help give me the best change I had to finish out of our group. He set about doing that and did in with panache' He drove the pace for almost and entire lap, delivering me as fresh as I could be to the final decent, then the final 2.7 mile climb. I felt pressure not to blow this after all the work Todd just did for me, he basically sacrificed his chances to place well so that I could, I couldn't disappoint here. I was able to break free of the group on the decent and put in a long hard effort to stay away and claim 8th place in the race as well as 2nd for CT State Road Race Championship; neither of which I ever imagined nor could have been accomplished on this day without my teammates incredible help!
As I reflect on the day, the fun with the team, the race atmosphere, the times with our friends, I realize just how great this sport is, just how much you can give of yourself to help others and how fortunate I (we all) am to have a small role in it.
Congrats to all those who challenged themselves to do this race, regardless of the outcome - they are all champions!