The Green Mountain Stage Race, or GMSR, is the queen of the North East race calendar. It’s the event everyone looks forward to the most, and will keep talking about all through the next year. It’s four tough days of racing up and down and around some of Vermont’s most iconic climbs, and it’s strangely become a key milestone in my life. Year three was no different.
On the bike, this season has been a wash. I haven’t found the time or motivation to train, I’ve struggled with willingness to take risks on downhills, corners, and pack positioning. And more simply, it’s just not been fun. But I signed up, spurred by the desire for a last hurrah before I retire from competitive cycling… or at least before I get slow and category 2 fields become too difficult for me to hang on. More importantly, I signed up to hang out with my friends in a big rented chalet on the side of the mountain.
Definitely signed up for the friends. The biking was secondary. It’s always been secondary. It’s why I’ve fallen out of love with the sport over my two years in Albany. My friends aren’t here. They’re still back in North Carolina, hammering away on the P ride every Saturday. Or they’re in Boston, dodging potholes to get to scones on 5am morning rides before the streets fill up with urban traffic. Yea, I have a small community of bike friends here in Albany - and I value them dearly - it’s just not the same. The camaraderie isn’t there and it’s slowly soured me on the sport.
Thankfully, there’s Vermont. And in Vermont, there are plenty of bike friends. In the Community Bike Racing house, we ate, we laughed, and we carefully plotted out our race tactics. We took turns cooking healthy meals and I annoyed everyone by taking a million photos. We had some hard hitting conversations, intercut with many light hearted immature jokes. And then we raced our bikes: an individual time trial, a 111 mile flat circuit race, a 90 mile mountainous queen stage, and a rainy, slippery downtown Burlington crit.
The racing was, as expected, a write off for me. My time trial, usually my strongest discipline, was pathetic. The circuit race saw a break gain 8 minutes on the field, never to be seen again. I pulled out of the queen stage after getting to the top of Middlebury Gap and rode back to the start solo. I never made it to the crit. I realized about 30 miles into day 3 that this wasn’t fun, it wasn’t worth it, and it wasn’t what I wanted to do right now. So I turned around and rode my own pace back to the car, lost in thoughts about what comes next.
I don’t know what comes next. A year ago, I hit my lifetime best fitness and motivation. I came to GMSR 2018 and raced my heart out, competed for a green jersey, and thought maybe I had what it takes to reach cat 1 and top amateur level. I was with the love of my life. I was moving to California. I was so sure, confident, and hopeful. And then winter happened, my first heartbreaks, first Catherine, then cycling. The path, so clearly visible in my mind in Summer 2018, suddenly disappeared.
I’ve been trying to find my bearings ever since, and at the top of Middlebury, I think I found them. I felt some measure of peace when I made that U-turn. I didn’t have to keep going towards the next climb, or the next after that, so focused on the road ahead that you don’t have time to look around and enjoy the scenery, the present. I don’t know what comes next , but there’s no point in stressing. If I want to ride my bike, I will. If I don’t, I won’t feel guilty. There’s no point. Life should be fun.