Category 5 Winner – Chris Leong

The race begins slowly. The first five miles are essentially a neutral start until we take a sharp left turn onto a side road where a rider’s tire immediately pops. It is a subtle reminder of the obstacles ahead. My NYVelocity teammate, Daniel Bersohn, and I stay at the front in anticipation of the infamous Juniper Swamp Road. When we finally arrive around mile 10 it is painfully obvious. The climb looks like a wall of gravel. I stay in the saddle for most of the ascent to maintain traction on my rear wheel, and I manage to make it over the hill with the front group of 15 riders. It is the first selection of the day.

Over the next 20 miles the break whittles down to eight riders, most of who are from New England or Upstate teams. We ride in a single pace line over a long stretch of paved road with some small hills in between. Everyone takes turns rotating at the front to keep the pace high and we build a solid lead off of the main group. There is very little strategy at play as most riders are simply trying to hang on and stay in the breakaway. Just before the feed zone, around mile 40, we lose three more riders on a long paved climb. Minutes later, we pass through the feed zone and where riders fill up on bottles of flat coke and energy bars. I am a little envious, but I try to put those thoughts aside as I grab one of my bottles that are still about half full.

The race shakes up at the next hill. We hit a fast downhill stretch of gravel road and I start to feel fatigue setting in. My bike drifts beneath me, but I manage to maintain control and find a good line. Our group, which is now down to three, gets strung out. It comes back together just as we near the end of the section. For a moment it looks like we have all made it through unscathed, but as we round a turn back onto the pavement I notice that one of the riders Bill Kenney of has a flat.

With just two riders left and twelve miles to go we hit a series of steep dirt rollers. I think of terrain in the Monte Paschi Eroica near Sienna, Italy. Brandon Taylor, an unattached rider from Albany, stays on my wheel through this section. We take turns drafting off one another when it levels out, but after a couple miles I take one long pull and find myself several bike lengths ahead. I have serious reservations about going out alone from here, but I decide to take my chances and attack off the front.

I ride solo for the last ten miles without many complex thoughts in my head except for the repetitious sound of ‘Panic’ by The Smiths in my head. I arrive at the base of the final climb with some energy left, and I go as hard as I can up the winding gravel road. I crest the hill after a short section of rough gravel nearly takes me out again, and I proceed to check my computer every fifteen seconds for the remainder of the course counting down to the digits ‘6’ and ‘2’. Approaching the final stretch in Cambridge the street is wide open and no one is in sight behind me. I vaguely hear the announcer call my name as I cross the finish line alone.
I gather myself at the finish line and wait for the other riders. About half hour later I look up to see my teammate David Anthony scream across the line in first with Mitch Jacaruso behind him. A great day of riding in Upstate New York!