Written by Steve Bryant Sunday, 07 July 2019 00:00
A new race on a 2.2 mile closed course on a Saturday! That’s all I saw when I read about the Palmer Cycling Grand Prix held at the Palmer Motorsports Park in Palmer, Massachusetts. Had I read closer, with less excitement, I would have known that I was in for a real treat!
I woke up at a fairly convenient time of 6:30 for my 3:20 drive to Palmer, MA. Luckily Al from Atwood Racing Services had put the Cat 4 race at 11:40 so there was ample time to travel. It was a long ride, but living in Maine, that’s what you have to do if you want to race. All the while traveling I had a voice in my head telling me there was going to be a lot of climbing. I kept reminding myself that there was only 200 feet of elevation change. I never did the math to start to see that it would be multiplied over 9 laps and 50 minutes. There was no denying the terrain as I pulled off the highway and entered the town of Palmer. It was about 5 miles of winding, undulating roads between the highway and the motorsports park. Well, it was a long drive so better just make the best of it!
I lined up with 31 of my closest Cat 4 friends for the day and looked out to the first climb. It began within the first 400 meters! I had some nervous chit-chat about the climbs being short power climbs to the rider next to me. He looked at me funny and said, “Not really, No.” Luckily, race announcements started and the whistle was blown before I could think too much more about it.
The course is 2.2 miles with 8 or 9 true turns and about 200 feet of climbing per lap. There are 4 climbs of 5 to 6% with the first climb, right at the start, being almost 0.5 mile long. As I was reflecting with a former national champ and teammate of mine that has raced for well over 40 years, he just called the course “Brutal”.
I started mid-pack and began a steady climb. Within 2 minutes, I saw the follow car and decided I wasn’t going to get passed. I worked back to the group that had begun to test each other and did my best to find good positioning. Through the descents, I felt comfortable though they were a bit more intense than I was used to as a Crit racer. I gritted my teeth for the final climb and dangled 50 feet off the back of the group. The descent to the finish line allowed me to catch back on right about the time that the climbing began again. This time an attack occurred and the pack shattered before you could say, “It’s only lap 2!”
I came up to another rider that quickly told me he was happy to ride easy until the pack caught up. I told him I was going to push comfortably along just having a moderate hard workout since I hadn’t signed up for the 3/4 race like many of the other riders had. We worked for most of the course together. We got passed by the lead “group” by lap 6 and then rode with the main “pack” that was totally spread out through the next 2 laps. The lead group only had 6 guys together at the finish with only 4 that had a chance at winning. I wound up finishing a lap down but ahead of 6 other riders, 5 of which DNF’d. The best thing about the day was that I kind of enjoyed the course even though I typically hate climbing. I hope to get better at climbing, but don’t think I’ll ever be able to win at a course like Palmer. That said, it was a super fun course that was well supported. All in all, it was a unique racing experience that I would certainly recommend. I’d love to see the team try Palmer next year. Many thanks to our sponsors including Bikeman for helping make these adventures happen!
Steve Bryant, Tall Sock Racing Powered by Bikeman.com
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