By Dennis Pedersen
San Ardo is not a wealthy town. It's only 575 people, many living in beat-up mobile homes with dusty dirt yards, eeking out a living in south Salinas Valley's fields. Last year I double-flatted just a couple of miles into this 63-mile road race. But I did ride the entire course anyway to see if it would suit me, which it mostly does.
The race course starts in town, goes over the Salinas River, then up on Cattleman Road past HWY101 to the west, climbing the gently-rolling "big-ring" hills northward on Paris Valley before re-crossing the river on San Lucas and HWY198, then returning south on Cattleman which is a nearly-flat, wide-open road back into town. The finish, after three 21-mile laps, is a gentle climb (about 1 minute and 20 seconds long, right past the feedzone) back up Cattleman, just past HWY101 and on a side-road to the left.
I feel the final climb is a bit much for me. However, all those "L5" team workouts convinced me that Russ could do really well at San Ardo, and I decided it would be cool to lead him out for the finish. Another advantage to training with your teammates is this knowledge of our relative strengths and weaknesses.
I surprised Russ by taking Nils along for our carpool, so he ended up having to install his bike rack at 5:30AM under our flashlights! Sorry Russ; you were a good sport. At least the drive was only 1:45 long. We had lots of teammates racing but only Russ and I were in the 45+ race.
Our race went off nearly at the scheduled 8:50 which shows Velo Promo is working hard to improve the organization of their races. It was cool and a bit cloudy; nicer than the heat typical there. The pace was fairly easy on the rolling hills and even easier on the return south on Cattleman. I was intent solely on keeping the pack together so Russ could unleash his powerful long sprint at the end. Every time anybody went off the front while I was there I smoothly closed the gap. It actually became boring after a while; everybody just gave up trying. The only excitement was that I lost one of my bottles of sports drink in the bumpy section, but I had a gel for backup. Whew!
On the second lap I grabbed two bottles in the feedzone. All set! And Morgan Stanley started using their large team to force a harder tempo by pulling at the front. It still wasn't nearly as hard as the attacks VOS laid down at Dunnigan Hills. One of them complained that I wasn't pulling; I had been reconsidering my extreme defense anyway and decided the pace was too slow to favor us. There were several powerful sprinters who would be happy with an easy ride to the finish, including a current National Champion! I started taking some pulls.
Lap 3 got more lively, with Cale Reeder, Darryl Smith (both ICCC), Jeff Poulsen (Safeway) and others attacking on Paris Valley's rollers; two guys broke free. They were helped by an 18-wheeler that pulled onto the road between us for about a mile. Weird. Then the Pro/1/2 field passed us, just past the bridge on HWY198, so we were neutralized behind them on Cattleman. Argh. But Russ noticed that our break was drafting the Pros and had their motorcycle referee move them back; after a few minutes we caught them. But then an old truck with what is best described as a gypsy wagon passed us before getting stuck behind the Pros too. Funny.
The wind-up down Cattleman picked up when we passed the Pros (who just sat up "en bloc"), the gypsy wagon and also some women who had been dropped from their race. It got fun again! But a bit confusing.
The obstacles were not gone; as we flew through San Ardo we got stuck behind a van following the lead women's group. But just before we hit the base of the final climb the van pulled off and we had to swarm past the small group of women (excuse us!) and sprint under HWY101 and turn left for the finish. Not ideal!
I had worked really hard to stay up front the whole race and I wasn't going to give up my spot at the very end! I moved forward and was in a perfect position to spot a group that had decided to use the right shoulder, next to the feedzone, to pass the women. Crazy!
I jumped up to the leaders and we flew up the hill. I was third just behind Eric Saltzman (Morgan Stanley) as we approached the last turn. Shin Umeda (Alto Velo), our unintentional lead-out, faded, both of us hit the turn... and Eric just inched ahead of me as my legs started dying from the long sprint. Then I sensed somebody on my right; Russ! Awesome! I didn't even mind that he pipped me; that was my original plan! But 2nd and 3rd place was way more than I expected, especially after I spent so much time up front. Woo-hoo Team Bicycle Trip!
What a race. These last two races have really made my season. And all those workouts will be easier to suffer through!