Ben Pagano – Singlespeed Open: 2nd Place
After what seemed like a pretty hard week of training, I decided to go and do the EFTA race called the Pinnacle up in Newport, NH. The Pinnacle is one of the most challenging courses we get to race on here in New England. It starts with a double track climb that quickly transitions to a gnarly singletrack switch-backy climb that goes on for what seems like a couple of miles. We had a pretty thin field in the singlespeed category with only 5 taking the line, but it was a pretty fast crew. Two of my good buddies, Alexis Arapoff and Keith Reynolds both of Bikeman, were the guys to beat.
The field was rounded out by another Bikeman guy and a Mason racing guy both looking lean and mean. Due to a multitude of other events on the same day, the Pinnacle didn’t get the attendance I have seen in the past. It honestly is one of the hardest but most fun courses we have. From the gun Keith took the hole shot with me sitting second wheel, Alexis on my tail. He was drilling it up the first climb..mashing a huge gear. I had chosen to run a fairly light 32×20 and I was even having trouble turning that as the pitch went up. Halfway up the first climb Keith’s pace was already taking its toll. We had lost 2 riders and it was a train of Keith, Alexis, and I. Keith bobbled on a rock wall and I came through with Alexis on my wheel. As we climbed the final pitch Keith dropped away leaving the 2 of us. I muttered something to Alexis about not thinking I could finish, and he said he was feeling awful too…20 seconds later he attacked the final rise in order to get to the technical descent first. This was the first of a few tactical errors I made on the day.
He is a better technical rider and bike driver than me and he was also climbing well. Not good. I saw the gap go out to 5 seconds..then 10…30 seconds and I stopped counting. No longer seeing the red of his Bikeman jersey flitting in and out among the trees. Ride your own race I thought and I got down to the business of recovering and taking on fluids. I backed my pace off on the start of the 2nd lap, there was a long way to go and I needed to regroup. Halfway up the climb at the water tower, the 30-39 expert leaders came through…Ben Sawyer, Carl Devincent, and Colin Reuter. As Carl came through he said “Hey Ben! How’s it going?” I think I grunted something about asking me again when this was over. I stayed on their pace for a long while, funny how the singlespeed makes you climb faster than a geared rider might normally. I lost those guys on the fast descent.
Starting lap 3 I was feeling much better. I picked up the leader of the elite women and she graciously let me pass. Just up over the first rise I saw Alexis again…looking back…no doubt he could hear the creaking of my eccentric bottom bracket as I layed down monster watts to keep the gear turning. I got closer. In the switchbacks now I could see him above…I yelled out “I’m coming for you!!!” and he sighed an unintelligible response. I made contact near the top of the climb, he was struggling now…I came along side and played the only card I had left. I attacked the hill, just as he had done to me on lap one. I needed to lead into the descent. It was my only chance. I got a gap and started down. Attacking every undulation. We came back together in the most technical section, I could hear him back there…but I kept the pressure on. No bobbles now…a pedal strike would spell disaster. For a couple of (close to) middle aged men, we took a lot of chances ripping down the mountain. I couldn’t shake him, anywhere I thought he might pass I cranked up the pace. Down on the double track I was spinning away..him glued to me. Down the finishing chute I lost him in my periphery…he took a different line..35mph down into the tape line..leaning the bike…10 yards from the finish I see a form..a bike and rider…black against the afternoon sun. It’s him and he’s too far back. I sit up…ready to post up. A breeze and a rustle on my left side…a flash of black and red of the Bikeman kit. It’s him. Diving inside on my left, took it from me at the line. What a race.