Race for the Brown Birk

The last Tuesday Night Race of the year ends with the triumphant prize of signing your name on either a Pink Slipper (A’s), Brown Birk (B’s), or the Silver Slipper (C’s). These are all shoes found on the side of the road, a few decades ago, that are now part of Ithaca tradition. I had been racing with the B’s ever since my first race where I easily won with the C’s and realized that I wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected considering this was all new to me.

The race started from the Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve. The route was declared, the A’s rolled out, and it was time for me to ride. The pace wasn’t anything special here, until we turned onto Ringwood where I tried to tempo myself for a steady climb. This is typically a road we slowly ride up before starting the hilly route races, so riding it 5mph faster was a new experience. We then turned onto Midline, where I expected the pace to jump since it’s relatively flat. But nothing happened. A paceline formed, and I swung through a few times only to soft pedal through the left lane and parts of the right. After the recent incidents caused by this group not making aggressive moves, I knew it was time to try something. I’m scared of breaking away because I still don’t know exactly where each turn is.

Coming up the right lane, I went faster to jump off the front. I was cautious not to start a solo sprint. I was looking for a few others to join me so that we could leave the passive racers behind and work together in a smaller line. Especially with some iffy turns where there’s traffic, it’s much faster if you aren’t stuck in a long line. Unfortunately only one other tried to join me on the breakaway. I wasn’t willing to keep pushing it, so I moved off and rolled back into the pack. A few rotations more and still no moves.

Approaching Rt 79, every tends to slow down if there’s no chase, because of the right angle turn onto a major road. This was my chance to make a move. I was near the front and started going faster when Juan came up and said “Let’s Go!” There we were, on the smooth newly-paved Rt 79 with a good gap behind us. I was worried that with only two we had little chance, but I had to take the opportunity. We rotated a few times, and eventually one other joined us. This is good because we had more people to share the work, yet bad because it meant we weren’t too far ahead. The pace was beyond my ability though, and without being able to pull enough we got reeled in by the pack we tried so hard to leave.

I was passed by most of the group, trying to figure out if I was spent or still capable of more. Juan says to me, “I just committed suicide” since we had both used a lot of energy only to end up in the same place as the group. I shouldn’t have let so many pass me here and just held on as best I could. The pace of the group was reasonable, and I held on during the incline well. I realized that somehow my legs were still inspired, so I started to pass several riders at my ideal tempo for this type of hill. We yo-yo’d a bit and finally I made a big effort to get ahead of them to discourage them from catching up. It’s rough when you get passed on a hill by someone that makes it look easy, so I tried my best to be that person this time, since I was so often in the other position. It worked perfectly.

Now I could only see a few other riders ahead of me, although quite far ahead. I tried to keep my pace slightly higher than ever, and was catching up slowly. I knew there were a few hills left, so I tried to find the right pace to catch up without getting to them too soon either. I paused for a few strokes and prepared for one final push to get to the front. I passed these two riders at a considerable speed and didn’t look back. Either they are sprinting to keep on my wheel, or letting me go. Nearing the top of a roller I looked back to see they weren’t right behind me. Could I really be in front?!

There was now only one rider in front of me, although quite a ways up. I wasn’t sure if he was an A or a B rider though. By this point I was fairly spent and conceded that catching Max would be impossible given the remaining distance. My focus here was to keep enough of a gap in front of those other two behind me. I looked back a few times and all was good. I even upped the pace a few times knowing that they were likely trying to catch me now that I wasn’t increasing the gap. On the final hill, I stopped looking back and just pedaled waiting to see the A’s at the top. I was the second B rider on top of the hill when an oncoming car came up, slightly out of their lane because they moved away from the A’s on the side of the road. At this point I was done racing and just rolled along when the two other riders tried to sprint past to catch me before the sign. So I may have finished somewhere in 2nd-4th because I wasn’t going to push it with a car right there. I’m calling it 2nd though.

This was by far my best performance in a TNR. It’s hard to believe that I not only tried to make breaks for the first time, but had a moderately successful one for a few miles AND was able to still keep up on the next hill and still manage to get ahead of most everyone. I think next year with a little more confidence of the routes and early-year miles again, I should be able to place more, and possibly will try to hang with the A’s… possibly.

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