Hell of Hunterdon, an 80 mile road "race" that covers 20+ gravel dirt roads, was held on March 25, 2011. Four Bulldog racers, Ted Haack, Ryan Heerschap, Keith Licata, and Brian Lariviere, the author, all took to the line on that chilly morning, for what would be a good ride. We anxiously awaited the start as we shivered and questioned our choice of clothing. Although it certainly warmed up a little bit, the tops of our water bottles were still freezing 2 hours in!
Before long, we were off. We made sure to keep ourselves safe and near the front and ensure that we hit the first dirt/gravel section no more than two rows back. . Ted did a ton of work in the beginning keeping the pace steady and discouraging any attacks. All was well for Ted, up until his puncture on the second, burly dirt section...bummer!
After that, Ryan and I kept a strong Bulldog presence at the front, sticking our noses in the wind but not over exerting ourselves. I wasn't feeling awesome, but kept feeling better as the day went on.
The group kept getting whittled down, and it was great to see Keith bridge back up at the aid station, mile 36. The lead group of 20-25, out of the original 100+, began moving along pretty well over the next dirt section.
After that, a dude from Breakaway bikes rolled off the front and I bridged up to him. He said "do you want to go a little bit and see if we can get these guys to chase?" Sounded like a good idea, so we traded pulls and got the group to kick it up a notch. We were reeled in but the tempo went up, which was good.
Shortly after, this little guy who supposedly has been in one or more of the real classics, rolled off the front. I bridged to him and said "do you want to make a go for it?" He said, "no, too early." We rode tempo until we were reeled back in, and I had a good idea of where he thought it was going to "go."
Shortly after that exchange, we were just cruising along an innocuous road and then we took a right and BAM! In your face climb. I had remembered this from last year and the pre-ride, and was glad that I threw the 27 tooth on the night before. The group instantly went down to 12 or so. Over the top I kept looking back hoping to see Ryan and Keith, but we were on our own. I settled in, didn't do any work for a while, but then began to get to the front again.
At one point I was just riding a little above tempo and I looked back and had a 50 yard gap. So I put my head down and pedaled at just below threshold hoping someone would bridge. Sure enough, Larry Towner from Liberty came up and we worked together for a minute or two, but the group decided that they didn't want us to get too far and brought us back. Fun trying, at least.
So now we had 10, and over the last few dirt climbs I went to the front and rode steady-hard, and we dropped two more. The 8 of us kind of had a silent gentleman's agreement that we would stick together. We had a nice rotating paceline going 25+ down Route 29, and then rode steady and smooth on the final dirt sections. The last dirt descent was indeed a bit silly, but the big hole was gone, at least.
As we rolled into town, we started to chill out and cool it down, and this one Pure Energy (sponsor shop) dude rolls off the front. I said to the guy next to me, "Is he serious?" Then the P.E. rider got caught at a light, was track standing and I thought he was going to run it, but it turned green and he drilled it again just as we were about 20 feet from him. At that point someone said, "well now we just have to catch him!". Three of us did and we crossed the "line" together.
I was happy and fortunate to have a good day on the bike. My Kenda 26c Kwick Roller Sport weighing in at 345 +- 20 grams (according to Kenda) were awesome and definitely gave me more confidence on the dirt sections. I was still cautious, but it was good to err on the side of beefier. It was also good to know that all of us were riding mostly with guys who are training for Battenkill and have probably been doing much higher intensity rides than any of us this early in the season.
The pizza was awesome, and the 8 pack of River Horse that I took home will taste great at a later date.
Certainly one for the 2012 calendar!