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Papillon: The Joe Papp Diary 2004

Joe Papp is a UCI Elite rider with the UPMC cycling team. He was a double stage winner at the 2003 Vuelta a Cuba (UCI 2.5) and in 2002 won the GS Mengoni Grand Prix, the BMC NYC Cycling Classic for elite amateur men and a stage at Superweek, among other events. Joe's writing is good enough to make boring races intriguing and intriguing races captivating.

Green Mountain Stage Race, Vermont, USA, September 3-6, 2004

Monday, September 6, 2004 - GMSR Stage 3 - Criterium

Checked out of the White Horse Inn (thanks Dave!) to head north to Burlington for the last stage of the race, a criterium that starts in the late afternoon. Before pulling out of the parking lot, I saw a hapless Justin Spinelli staring forlornly at his very fast-looking 2001 BMW coupe. He'd apparently locked the keys in the trunk, a difficult problem to solve on Labor Day in the mountains of Vermont. He had four hours until the start of the criterium, but I never saw him there. Justin, if you're reading this, send me an email and let me know if the tow truck guy broke your window or not.

Joe Papp chasing
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Despite not scoring any sprint points yesterday, I was still leading the competition before the start of today's stage. The course was about 1km around with six turns and a short climb to the line out of the last turn - just the type of circuit to favour a breakaway. And with the GC points between McCormack and Dionne close, the four intermediate sprints would be hotly contested.

Eneas was frustrated from yesterday and looking for some salvation today, and I just wanted one more good workout and maybe another good stage result before starting to rest a bit to peak for Univest. The plan was simple: warm-up properly for once (unlike last week at Chris Thater), start at the front, stay at the front until the first sprint, attack and go in the breakaway. For me at least, the plan was going to perfection as I warmed-up with Stig and congratulated him on dropping me yesterday after he set tempo on the climb while I sat in all day, got a great start in the race, nabbed Mark's wheel at the front and had a relatively comfortable first few trips around the course thanks to the two Louis Garneau riders who started the first lap as if it was their last. Colombian Lisban Quintero, who rides for one of America's Cycling Team's affiliated clubs, NECSA/Cuevas, did me a favour when he let me sneak in front of him in turn four after I'd lost a few places thanks to a bobbled approach to the corner, but other than that, it was smooth sailing up until the first sprint.

Obviously playing the role of good teammate, one of the Colavita riders helped open a gap for McCormack and Dionne as they were jamming down the hill into the last turn for the sprint. I was taken wide through the turn and lost Mark's wheel, and despite making a huge effort up the hill, I was still a few meters off the back of Dionne when they crossed the line. I swear to god that McCormack looked back at me and smiled, because in a flash he and Dionne were attacking past the cafés and restaurants that lined the road between turns one and two, this time with Aaron Olson doing the safe, legal, morally-acceptable and yet nonetheless incredibly frustrating job of flicking everyone else by easing up in the turn.

It's truly amazing how a little gap of four or five seconds might as well be measured in minutes when you're riding at 100%, trying to bridge, without a watt or a heartbeat held in reserve. I was maxed for the next half lap, but couldn't get on. I swung off to see Todd Herriott on my wheel, a pattern that emerged for the rest of the race. With little organization in the chase, we couldn't bring back the break, despite the fact that at one point the gap was down to seven seconds. All the more frustrating was the fact that twice - once after only a few laps, and once later in the race - two small groups bridged.

I wasn't holding anything back, however, and while Eneas and I might have played it a bit better tactically, getting at least one of us up the road, my recovery from yesterday delighted me. Eneas did win the crowd prime for the field, which meant that over four days my share of the cash would be enough to pay my entry fee and meals. Woohoo! The GMSR isn't the richest race in the country, but it's been well-organized, with challenging courses, beautiful scenery and good competition, and I'm looking forward to next year's edition.

In the closing laps I started to come unglued, as the massive amount of work I'd done up until then caught up with me in the form of depleted muscle and liver glycogen stores. Still wanting to be in a position to do a good sprint, if for no other reason that to try to max out my power, I turned on the autopilot for the last lap and moved up from mid-point in the field into the top-12 by the last turn. As soon as I had my bike upright after leaning hard into the curve, I uncorked a massive effort and passed seven guys by the line for 5th in the sprint, 13th on the day and 15th in the final overall. My personal battle won, I shook hands with my colleagues and wished guys like Todd, Stig and Svatek good luck in San Francisco. Eneas and I counted the cash, then he and Nancy split for Connecticut while I drove west into the sunset and headed for New York.


Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five

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