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A nutty Green Mountain Stage Race

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By Peter Oliver

Sometimes, the craziest things happen in bike racing. For this year's edition of the Green Mountain Stage Race, the craziness began well before the first racer left the start line of the individual time trial on Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. in Warren village, heading up Brook Road to East Warren Road.

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First came the surprise condemnation of the Route 2 bridge in Middlesex early in the summer, bringing on the search for a new course for Saturday's circuit race. That eventually led to a substitute: a 29-mile loop in the Huntington area. Problems solved, or seemingly so, until a mid-August deluge whacked Route 125 over Middlebury Gap, traditionally part of Sunday's road-race course.

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The good folks at VTrans told race director Gary Kessler that Route 125 might be re-opened by race time but was unlikely to be race-ready, and that a Plan B should be in the works. Making a course change with two weeks to go is the sort of emergency that can drive a race director nuts. But Kessler quickly managed to get the logistics and permitting in place to re-route the Sunday race over Brandon Gap. A bit longer -- a 75-miler rather than the usual 65-mile course -- but, phew!, at least there would be a race.

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So when racing began in Friday's time trial -- a new event for this year, replacing the mass-start stage up App Gap -- the madcap scrambling to get the event underway seemed put to bed. Blessedly, Friday's race went off without a hitch, with former Canadian road champ Andrew Randell posting a blazing 13 minutes, 36 seconds over the 5.7-mile course. Katheryn Curi, the 2005 U.S. road champion, was fastest among the women, in a time of 15:27.But with Saturday's stage came another unexpected dilemma. Despite cloudlessly gorgeous weather, a road submerged in water again became problematical. How ironically wacky was that? A water-main break in Hinesburg, just a couple of miles after the start, caused Hinesburg emergency officials to consider closing Route 116 to plug the leak and prevent severe road damage. But praise the heroes of Hinesburg -- appreciating the age-old mandate that the show must go on, they shut off the water and stationed personnel near the site for traffic control, to assure that the race could pass through safely. The result: only a 10-minute delay in the racing.


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And as it turned out, much of the racing was pretty darned good. In another case of the race going, both figuratively and literally, to places it has never gone before, perhaps the best ride of the weekend came unexpectedly in the novice women's field.  Evelyn Stevens, a 25-year-old first-year racer from New York City, won the opening time trial and then spent most of Saturday's race in a solo breakaway before being caught in a sprint finish.


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But it was Stevens' effort on Sunday that was just crazy good. She again rode away alone from the field, pedaling so fast that she managed to catch the elite women's field, which started five minutes ahead of her. Katheryn Curi, who would go on to secure the overall victory, admitted that the elite women's pace was "painfully slow," but still, what Stevens achieved is just not supposed to happen.

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Meanwhile, the elite men were racing at a pace that was positively nutty. Bruno Langlois of Quebec won the sprint finish on Saturday's stage in a race that featured an average speed exceeding 27 miles an hour. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was Eneas Freyre's winning time of 3:10.55 for Sunday's 75-mile race that included two gap climbs. At an average speed of more than 23.5 mph, that's some mighty speedy riding on hilly terrain.Coming to Monday's criterium in the streets of Burlington, Randell still held the lead he'd established after Friday's win, but it was a meager three seconds over Freyre and six seconds over fellow Canadian Francois Parisien. But Parisien made the most of time bonuses available in Monday's intermediate sprints, picking up 12 seconds on Randell to secure the overall victory.

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If craziness was the theme of this year's GMSR, it took a particularly harsh turn in its effect on local riders. Riding in the elite men's field, Waitsfield's Charles McCarthy put himself in a great position for a top finish by coming in seventh in Friday's time trial, just 15 seconds behind Randell. In Saturday's race, unfortunately, he was among several riders docked 30 seconds for crossing over the yellow centerline on Route 116. Many riders were guilty, but only those whose numbers officials were able to catch were penalized, McCarthy among them.

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Questionable officiating, though, wasn't the Waitsfield whiz's problem Sunday. Reaching the top of Brandon Gap among the top 10 riders, McCarthy had to stop for what Tour de France TV commentators like calling a "natural break." When he remounted, the field was far ahead, and despite rushing down Brandon Gap in excess of 50 mph, he was unable to catch on in the brutal headwinds on Route 7 north of Brandon. He finished far back, executing a neat wheelie over the finish line.GMVS coach Jim Komarmi also had his troubles Sunday. Riding in the men's Category 3 field, Komarmi had a rider tumble in front of him on Route 116 south of Bristol. Unable to avoid the fallen rider, Komarmi went down, too, smacking his right shoulder hard. Barely able to hold his handlebars, he still rode to the finish, heading off to the doctor to be checked for a possible busted shoulder.

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There was no break, but the pain was still there in Burlington the next day, where he was undecided about going on with the race. He took a pre-race test ride, finally deciding to continue racing. What the heck? On a course with almost all left-hand turns, he figured that if he went down in another crash, it wouldn't be on his right shoulder. He managed to finish in the pack in 42nd place.Starting a bike race with a severely damaged shoulder? Sounds crazy. But to anyone who knows the tough-as-nails Komarmi, it might have been one of the few things that made total sense in an otherwise out-of-the-box GMSR.

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