By Nate | September 27, 2007
I’m driving into work on Spear Street. It’s a beautiful summer morning. I’m listening to the radio announcer when I catch a glimpse of something in my passenger-side mirror.
It’s this low, lime green object speeding along the shoulder. It looks somehow familiar, but it shouldn’t be going so…fast. Before I realize it, the object has just passed my car, and I experience this moment of calm, certain clarity.
Jason Baer is going to beat me to work. On his bike.
All right, so this hasn’t happened to me yet. I won’t be surprised when it does, though, because Jason Baer is a certified, hard-core, mega-competitive, bury-me-on-my-two-wheeler professional bicycle racer.
That is to say, during the not-so-snowy months here in Vermont, if he’s not in the office managing the Media Analysis and Forecasting team, Jason is on his Raleigh road bike, racing or training 15-20 hours a week for the Kenda/Raleigh Cycling Team.
If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s a list of some of Jason’s racing accomplishments to date (courtesy of the Kenda/Raleigh site):
- 3rd Hudson Valley Race Weekend (2004)
- 4th SMCC Road Race (2002)
- 5th Hills of Somerset County Road Race (2006)
- 5th Cox Charities Cycling Classic (2002)
- 6th Balloon Festival Classic
- 7th Battenkill-Roubaix (2005)
- 7th Montreal-Quebec (2006)
- 3rd Amateur Tour de Toona (2006)
- 12th USA Cycling Elite National Championships (2006)
I recently sat down to talk with Jason about his experience in the recent Green Mountain Stage Race held over Labor Day weekend. GMSR is a big deal, running over four days and hundreds of miles.
So the Green Mountain Stage Race, is this the biggest ride of the year for you, the biggest race?
No, I race about 50 days a year or so. There’s different calibers of race. I do some NRC races (National Racing Calendar), and those are with all the pros in the entire country. Basically, everybody who’s a pro that’s not in the Tour de France.
There’s only one or two US teams that are racing in Europe, but the other ten pro teams are doing the National Racing Calendar circuit, and we do about six of those races a year. From a day race to a week-long stage race. That season’s over now.
How many times have you done the Green Mountain Stage Race?
I’ve done it every year. It’s been six years.
How did you do?
I did decent. I finished 51st, which isn’t great. Last year I was 11th, my best result so far.
I rolled the dice this year to see if I could get a good result, and I went into a risky move (bike racing’s very strategic). I’d gone into an early breakaway in the long road stage. I had a game plan for what I wanted to do, because I knew I wasn’t climbing well enough to go with the best riders up some of the big climbs…so I wanted to be ahead of them –attack early and be ahead of them– so when they started racing, when the “fireworks” went off further down in the race, I’d already be up the road, and they would catch me.
I do well at the end of a race, when people start getting tired; I have good endurance. So I can do well if the hard racing is done earlier, and I’m not there, I’m up the road, and then they catch me, and I’m on more equal terms.
But it didn’t pan out. I was up the road for a while –for about 50 miles, actually–, and then going over Middlebury Gap, that’s when I was figuring they were going to start racing hard, so I was waiting for them and waiting for them, and then all of a sudden, the whole pack was coming up. So they really didn’t start racing until, basically, the last climb, and then I got a flat tire. So it was hard work. <Laughs>
How many miles total for the GMSR?
I think it’s about 300 miles total racing over 4 days. It’s 4 different stages. It starts out on Friday evening with a mass start prologue. We start in Waitsfield, in Kenyon’s Field, and it’s a short race. It goes from Kenyon’s field to the top of Ap Gap. So that’s about 30 minutes, and it’s an all-out effort.
[The GMSR] is a points race, so all the stages have points associated with them, and it’s weighted to different stages. So the 1st stage is the short, intro day. Everybody gets there, kind of the warm-up, get a feel what’s going on. It’s only worth, like, a quarter of the other days’ points.
That’s a hard day for me, ’cause that’s all-out power for a short distance. I’m good at longer distances; the harder the race, the better.
That was the 1st day. That’s only about an 8 mile race. The 2nd day is the circuit race around the Moretown / Waterbury area, and that’s a 75-mile race.
Then, right by Moretown on RT 100B, it’s usually a fast sprint finish, kind-of a flatter course that kinda stays together. Sometimes it’s strategic to get a group off the front.
That brings up a good point: You’re not just racing for yourself, you’re with other people on your team.
Yup, there’s a team of eight of us that I race with the whole year. So yes, it’s very strategic, racing-wise. We have two GC riders (“general classification“) to get the overall results, so they may be going easier…like on the circuit race day…they wanted to get the most points each day, or maybe on the key day, to get the best results overall. We have two of those riders trying to get, overall, the best results.
So then we have other guys helping those people. Maybe one or two people are resting, like, if there’s a hard surge in the race, and our GC rider misses the break, [the other rider’s] doing the work to help him bridge up to that move or, if he’s further back in the pack, to move him back up. So our GC rider is resting, and maybe we have one or two riders helping him out.
But then we have on the long 75-mile circuit race day, it’s [both] easy and it’s not easy, because there’s people doing different things. Like, for a GC rider, it’s easy because he doesn’t have to do any work, and he can sit in the pack. Sitting in the pack, you save about 20% of your energy, compared to racing in the front, ’cause you’re attacking and trying to get away and move and you’re breaking the wind. And it’s very strategic because you have different teams being aggressive to try and get a breakaway, getaway.
So we had other key riders following them and trying to stick in the moves. So I was in a couple of those moves for a couple of times. And the key to that is, you get a breakaway off the front of 5 or 6 riders, and the team that didn’t have guys in the breakaway, they’re the ones having to do the work, the chase. So it’s even easier for a GC rider to sit in and just to follow along.
We’re kind-of the guinea pigs, up in front, out in front, having the field try to chase us down.
But you’re not a GC rider?
No, I wasn’t this year. I knew I wasn’t climbing well enough.
So that’s what I did on the circuit race day. Then on the road race day, it was the same thing: I wasn’t one of our GC riders to be able to stay with the top riders when the key riders were racing hard, because I knew I would get dropped in the climb. So I was the guinea-pigging guy up ahead of the race, attack and break away so I could get over the first climbs.
So then, when the racing did start –when the key riders did start racing hard–, I might have already been up the road so that my teammate, he would have been able to follow those moves, but he would have been able to get up to me, and I would have been there for support for him and be able to race hard up there, when he gets there.
So how did the team do, when all was said and done?
Our GC rider finished 5th overall, which is very good. He was in third, going into the last day, which was the Criterion in downtown Burlington, and in six laps to go, there was a break that got off the front, and some of those key riders got some points on him, because it was a points race. So all those people got the same amount of points, and there was a gap to the next group in the field.
So it was one of those races that was a really hard race, and all the sudden there was a split in the field, and their key riders got up the road. It was just hard enough that we couldn’t get organized in the front to help chase it down, and it was pretty close to the end of the race, so it was rough, we lost a few places.
* * * * *
I asked Jason whether being professional means “making money”. Indeed it does, though it ain’t a killing. “We split the prize money,” Jason said, “but the rest, it’s basically a break-even for me.” Most of the money goes to the team, reimbursing expenses.
I was also interested to know what Jason’s parents thought of the racing. He said, “They love coming to the races.” Apparently Jason’s dad often drives in the caravan, communicating with him via two-way radio to tell him what’s going on in the race, what to look out for ahead.
And has Jason ever given thought to leaving the Bear Crew to be a full-time racer? “During grad school I raced full-time for two summers, trying to do that for my full-time career.” And…? “I knew I wasn’t good enough to make a salary. There’s a difference between being a professional and being a ‘bike bum’.”
But Jason won’t stop. “It’s a big commitment, a lot of time, but it’s what I love doing, it’s part of what I do. The equipment, the team support, I’m so lucky to have all that!”
And Vermont Teddy Bear is lucky to have Jason as part of our team! We say Be Bear, but Be Baer works, too.