Tour of the Dragons 2012

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of racing the Tour of the Dragons - a challenging 2 day, 3 stage race held in the Green Mountains of Vermont - with teammates Dave Casale, Nick Roeder, Alan Fody, Keith Hatton, and Jeff Moore.  Coming into the race I had good memories of success as a Cat 3 with Tommy Schubert in 2011, and was looking forward to the challenge of stepping up to the Pro/1/2 race this year.  At 65 guys, the field was relatively small but stacked with strong New England riders and entire elite teams such as Bikereg-Cannondale, CCB Racing, Metlife, Stan’s NoTubes / AXA Equitable, Aetna Cycling Team, and J.A.M. Fund. The first stage was a hilly 10.7 mile individual time trial held just outside of Bennington on Saturday morning.  The course is very atypical, with substantial climbing (350 foot elevation gain between start and finish), steep hills and descents, and a few sharp corners.  Luckily, I had good recollection of the course from last year, which surely helped my pacing.  I started off fast, since most of the elevation gain was in the first few miles, and caught my 30 second man in the first three miles.  By the five mile mark, I had caught a total of three riders, so I knew that I was riding to a good time.  At five and a half miles, I was caught by my thirty second man, local Philly rider and current elite road race national champion Max Korus (Kenda /Five-Hour Energy Pro Cycling p/b Geargrinder).  Once Max passed me, I tried to use him as a motivational carrot and was able to keep him within a 100 yards or so until about the eight or nine mile mark, when he started to pull away from me on the long flat and slight downhill section to the finish as I tired.  My final time was 26:43, which was good enough for 27th place, a good result for me and certainly better than when I dropped my chain last year! The stage was won by Tim Mitchell (CCB Racing), who rode an incredibly fast time of 23:40, beating second place by almost a full minute.A few hours after the time trial and it was already time for a 45 lap criterium in downtown Bennington.  The course was less than one thousand meters in length with four corners and a slight uphill finishing stretch.  Before the actual race had even started, I made the rookie mistake of taking part in the optional lap before staging for the riders to check out the course and get a feel for the corners.   Last year in the Cat 3 race, almost the entire field took part in this preliminary lap.  This year in the Pro/1/2 race, 80% of the field just staked out the start line so they could get the best possible position during staging.  Due to this, I ended up with poor starting position near the back of the field, which would undoubtedly make for a tough crit.  From the gun, the crit was fast and hectic as per the usual.  With the pace hitting 31 mph on the finishing straight, it was difficult to move up.  As riders fatigued, the rear of the field began to disintegrate in front of me, and before I knew it I had gone from being in the pack to being in a chase group without ever actually dropping off the pack myself.  On such a short course, I knew my group would have to be pulled and placed eventually, but I kept chasing since I was racing for time and for pride.  When the announcer told our group “one lap to go!” since we were about to be pulled, riders who had been hitchhiking in our chase group came up to get in position for the sprint.  I came out of the final corner near the front of the 16 man group on Dave’s wheel, and he and I were able to sprint for 4th and 3rd place, respectively, out of our “gruppetto” with Nick only a few places behind.  The criterium was not a highlight of the race for any of us, as we were capable of doing much better, but with a 98 mile road race on tap the next morning, there was neither time nor reason to mope.  In the Cat 3 criterium, Keith did much better: he rode in good position near the front, avoided a nasty crash that prompted the officials to stop and then restart the race, and sprinted to a nice 5th place finish.The road race began in the picturesque town of Manchester, but quickly got down to business with two big climbs in quick succession, the first one entirely on a dirt road, beginning at the 12 mile mark.  These climbs may have been over 75 miles from the finish, but with a field this strong, we still climbed them at a pace fast enough to stratify the peloton.  I made it over the first climb in good shape, slightly behind the lead group but ahead of most of the field and in the company of strong riders.  As I expected, the field regrouped to some degree on the descent and it was mostly back together for the next big climb, which began immediately after the descent.  At first we climbed along at a slight grade with most people’s legs still tired from the previous climb.  After a mile or two, the climb became much steeper for the final kilometer or so, and the field exploded.  I rode at a steady pace, fast enough to pass people but not killing myself.  I was pleasantly shocked to pass some riders from highly reputed teams that were clearly laboring, and I came over the summit near Max and a few strong riders from CCB Racing.  By the bottom of the long 55 mph descent we had caught the small lead group and shortly later most of the peloton caught up to us.The rest of the race consisted of two large laps with three substantial climbs per lap and two trips through the feed zone.  The field would split up each climb, and almost every time I would crest the top 15 or 20 seconds behind the small lead group, but ahead of most of the field and in the company of a few strong riders like Max who would chase back on.   By the 80th mile of hard racing, as the lead group was single file at 25+ mph, I was starting to run out of gas, and I was dropped at mile 84, on the last steep climb of the race.   I joined a few other dropped riders and we worked together as we rode to the finish, where I was able to out sprint them for 18th place (4th Cat 2).  In the long uphill sprint, I sprinted all the way to the line (thanks Alan Fody for shouting encouragement) and put four seconds into my companions.  It turned out that this four second gap actually moved me up a place on G.C., also to 18th, since one of the guys I was sprinting against, Eric Follen (Maine Coast Cycling) had been leading me by two seconds after the TT and crit.  The difficulty of the road race is evident by the rate of attrition – 41 finishers out of 63 starters – but our whole team toughed it out and completed the race.  Throughout the weekend it was nice to catch up with the team for the first time of the season, and I’m already looking forward to our next big race.Submitted by Matt Waller