By Dennis Pedersen
I'd never entered this road race in Yolo (about 20 miles northwest of Sacramento), but after several teammates talked about it last year I decided to go this time.
Many joked that this race should be called "Dunnigan Winds" because it has no hills but does have strong winds; but that is not accurate. The 42-mile course has about 950 feet of climbing... plus the strong winds. Though none of the rolling hills take much more than a minute or so to climb they have a definite affect on the outcome of the race by tiring out the bigger power riders who might dominate if it truly were pancake-flat. It doesn't have to be l'Alpe d'Huez to make a difference! And the crosswinds make it impossible for the pure sprinters to shelter in wait for a sprint finish.
But a small sprinter like me; now that might be a different story... or so I hoped. My worry was that I would get stuck behind one of the gaps I was certain would form in the pack of riders in the crosswind. Fortunately I'm getting much better at staying near the front of the peloton, thanks to Russ's example and Mark's workout rides.
Russ drove Miles and I (thanks!) from Santa Cruz at 4:30 in the morning (ugh). I didn't sleep well in the 5 hours I got, nor did Russ who had screaming neighbors to contend with. Even so I felt pretty good on our 2.5-hour drive as I ate my race-day breakfast from a tupperware bowl.
We signed in, suited up and had plenty of time to ride over to the finish area; thanks to Jim, John and others we knew it was critical to understand it in detail. I am really, really glad I saw it before racing! After several miles of flat, straight road next to I5 the course turns right onto County Road 96 at about 70 degrees, then the last 400 meters over the freeway overpass and to the finish line. I noted the distinctive low, conical silos there so I could look for them as we approached in the race. So, this was not what I had visualized from the descriptions, but very confidence-inspiring for me.
There were about 50 of us at the start and I was looking forward to racing, but our race was delayed until about 9:40. It was probably about 80 degrees and rose to 95 later. The start was 2 miles of neutral riding behind a motorcycle referee and already the NW crosswind from our right was strong. Then we turned south and enjoyed the tailwind as the race started.
Turning west on Road 19 we started fighting for shelter, crowding the center line; some guys got warnings for crossing it or even sent to the back. Morgan Stanley had 10 riders and they used them to launch repeated viscious attacks; we were "on the rivet" as they say! I was determined to stay forward but still missed it when one of their guys succeeded and also took James Allen (VOS) with him. I did notice that the pace slowed down though as we turned north on Road 90A into the headwind.
Turning west again (over HWY505 on Road 14) we had more crosswind which probably contributed to a crash which happened there. Miles and I barely slipped by the guys sliding on the pavement! Our pace picked up as some guys tried to use that to open a gap; no waiting here unlike the big ProTour races.
Like usual I was worried that the break would survive. When we started heading north again the pace went down which wasn't helping. Then our pace picked up as guys tried to bridge up; Davis riders mostly. There were several shifts in wind direction, and small hills, so we had to remain careful about gaps forming. I was happy to see we were closing in on the break. I was less happy when Miles and I failed to grab a water bottle in the neutral feed zone on Road 85. It was hot and dry. Russ offered me his but my own bottles turned out to be enough.
We caught the break just before the course turned east. That was the sign for VOS to start some impressive attacks in the crosswind and rolling hills on Road 6; mostly by Jon Ornstil and Rick Martyn, even though both had crashed earlier. Keeping up with them really hurt, but every time they let up before my legs did!
I was still up front and getting more optimistic by the minute as the road leveled off and the finish approached. We turned south onto the long, flat stretch back on Road 99W with a strong tailwind. Much to my surprise VOS kept attacking hard. Very hard; we were hitting well over 30MPH. I was on Jan Elsbach's wheel when it was his turn. He smoothly rode off on his own; nobody followed. Now I wonder what would have happened had I tried to go with him.
As others became aware that Jan was increasing his lead they started to try to bridge up. But I don't think anybody thought he could hold on and VOS did a great job of blocking. Then Morgan Stanley tried to chase, Wells Fargo tried some too. Even I took a short pull. Martyn joked that "Darryl Smith thanks you" (implying they would just be helping the big sprinters if Jan was caught). That made me laugh; I had other plans!
Then the pace slowed so much that I literally rolled off the front about a mile out. I could see the conical silos ahead. I sighed and decided to sprint for 2nd place. Then our last turn appeared; I couldn't believe nobody jumped! But then a Wells Fargo guy tried to go and I was able to jump up to him... a leadout! We went into the turn and I instantly jumped past him at 100%; I was treating the top of the overpass as the psuedo finish line and had a big lead. But I had to hold it another 200 meters... but with my lead and the downhill advantage it was enough for 2nd place. Woo-hoo! Russ got 6th while Miles got caught behind a gap.
After collecting my prize T-shirt we stopped for burgers on our long drive home. I felt pretty good! I love winning field sprints! But next time...