nick-most-agressive

Nick Sondej’s Report from Stevens

Stevens Duck Country ’14 was my first ever bike racing weekend that didn’t also involve a swim and a run (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what I’ve been doing previously).  Cycling is my favorite part of that three-stage-sport-that-must-not-be-named so I was pretty pumped to race the weekend.
I came into the weekend feeling pretty strong – I’d taken it a bit easier on the bike the past week in anticipation of racing and Kendall and I (the Men’s Intro TTT team for the weekend) had run some pretty solid TTT practice runs on Friday.  We managed to get to our hotel in NJ at a decent time and were able to get a decent night’s sleep on Friday night, although I was a tad restless and had kept playing scenarios for the road race through my head during the day and as I was trying to fall asleep.
Saturday morning we woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast from the hotel – which was extremely key, I felt well-fueled throughout both races – and headed out to the course.  I immediately discovered that all the wonderful prep work I had done the night before filling out the ECCC season waiver packet was doing an extremely useful job sitting on a desk back in the hotel so that added a bit of stress once we got to the race area as Kendall and I were scheduled to race the intro TTT first thing in the morning.  Nevertheless, managed to get everything squared away, and Kendall and I got the blood flowing with a nice quick TTT pre-ride with the men’s A team.
Kendall and I started out the TTT a bit too fast and had to drop the pace a bit after cresting the first hill climb.  I was feeling really strong still and took some long pulls through some of the harder parts of the course.  Great communication ensured we were pushing the pace as much as possible but without very many gaps.  We pushed hard through the last 1km climb and finished strong down the finish line straightaway.  As the only team in the entire TTT in the men’s intro division, we of course came through with a crushing TTT victory in our field of one.
The men’s intro RR started about an hour after our TTT ended.  I was totally refreshed by that point, having eaten some of a cliff bar.  The intro road race included one easy coached lap of the TTT course, where pacelining, attacking and other basic race concepts were safely introduced, and then one lap of the course at race pace.  I enjoyed meeting some of the other guys on the first lap, but was a bit concerned about safely drafting many of the riders at race pace due to some sinusoidal line holding and the prevalence of potholes.  When the race lap started, I took third wheel off the line and held it through the first couple turns and uphill.  I jumped to second wheel when an opening arose and kept aero behind the leader as the first downhill began.  An attack from behind occurred soon after and I hopped on, taking the rest of the first downhill in stride.  At the next hill the breakaway group that we created began to disintegrate and I broke away, gapping the group.  At this point my legs were beginning to feel a bit tired from attacking on the hills and with more than half the race left, I dropped the pace a bit to recover.  A rider from the New School caught me and we spent the next two miles trading pulls to keep away from what was left of the breakaway group from earlier.  As we approached the main climb however, he pulled ahead, my legs beginning to really feel the burn.  The leader probably would have really pulled away and took the win (he looked really strong going through the climb) but an unfortunate chain snap pulled him out halfway up the hill and the lead fell back to me.  After I crested the hill with ~1.5miles to go, I picked up the cadence again.  I wasn’t sure how far back the rest of the group was but I knew my legs were feeling pretty beat up and I wanted to push my lead while they were still on the climb.  The last mile of the course was a tricky downhill with an uphill 1km climb to the finish but I pushed through and sprinted to the end taking first – great way to end the first day of racing!
The rest of the day was spent cheering on the team – there were some really awesome efforts and finishes in both the men’s and women’s C races and of course the A/B showcased some incredibly powerful racing talent.  After a great dinner at Ruby “Steaks and Endless Salad Buffet” Tuesday we turned in for the night.
Sunday’s race was a 1.5mi circuit race.  I upgraded to men’s D2 in the morning, so we were the first race to go off.  After a couple pre-ride laps (and some initially slowly responsive legs) it was clear that the big downhill into a tight righthand turn near the finish line was very muddy and gravelly and was not very stable.  It was going to be a choke point in the race, although it wasn’t likely to see many attacks – the road narrowed and with the conditions it was not worth the risk.  The corner was bad enough that there was a 30 minute delay as the race hosts cleaned the corner as best they could.  Additionally the first lap was neutral to hopefully minimize crashes.  The race got off to a good start with some jockeying for position on the neutral lap that caught me off guard initially.  Coming into the second lap the sprint bell was rung and the pace spiked as a group attacked on the hill.  I was slow to respond and attempted to jump on but their speed and my less than energetic legs meant I broke away from the main pack but was stuck in a kind of no-man’s land behind the breakaway group.  Fortunately one of the Tufts’ guys caught up to me and we traded pulls for the next couple laps hoping to catch back up to the breakaway.  By the fourth or so lap, I was really feeling Saturday’s races and I dropped back at the beginning of the sixth and final lap, pulling two other guys up the hill.  I realized that unless they broke away on the top of the hill that I would maintain the lead going through the downhill and into the final sprint since passing wasn’t realistic through the narrow and sketchy corner section that had delayed the race start earlier.  Coming through the final corner I came out of the saddle and put everything I had into sprinting, attempting to stave off the inevitable attack the two guys on my wheel would make.  I managed to hold off one, but was outsprinted by another, for a solid 10th place finish and the conclusion to an awesome race weekend.
A couple conclusions – I need to ride longer with more bursty hill intervals, the men’s Ds are the right category (for now!) and I’m hooked on bike racing!
Also, “Your back wheel’s going forwards!” still works as well on really intelligent 20-somethings as it did when I was a kid.
Keep the wheels rollin,
-Nick