By Dennis Pedersen
Another gorgeous spring-like day for bike racing in the Sierra foothills. Last week Mike Sudbrink and I had to do the Snelling Road Race alone, since Russ Cadwallader and John Marshall were sick. But this time we had Russ along for company since he was feeling much better. The Tremendous Trio!
I was worried that this gently rolling 24-mile course, which shares some of the Snelling course's roads, would also create frustrating opportunities for breaks to get away from us. But having Russ along gave us some added options, and the wind was lighter too which made it easier for us to stay with the front of the pack. We were pretty hopeful of getting some decent results, in spite of the huge 100-man field stacked with several big teams.
Our well-organized two-lap race started on time for us at about 11:45. Man, it was a jammed course, even though the roads were completely closed off to other traffic in both directions. We got stuck a bit behind, and while Mike and Russ moved up through the massive pack it took me half a lap to cautiously move forward on the bumpy roads... I would rather take a bit of extra time than take extra risks with squirrely riders and potholes. Even so I did end up having to dive for the gravel shoulder once when some guys suddenly swerved.
By the time I got up near the front, east-bound on Turlock Road, I could see that Mike and Russ were doing a good job of staying well-positioned and closing the gaps that formed. In spite of the moderate wind guys were still trying to initiate breakaways, but none stuck.
The very, very bumpy Cox Ferry Road is so narrow that moving forward is even harder there. I remembered that from last year too, and made a mental note to be up front on the second lap. I also tried to memorize the course on Keyes Road where it approaches the finish line by Olsen Road, but it has a lot of similar turns. Oh well, I had to just hope it would click, and rely on the posted "1KM" and "200M" signs.
On the second lap I started moving further forward on Bledsoe Road, and had a good view of Mike breaking a spoke when he, like me, was forced onto the gravel shoulder by errant riders. Sigh, just two of us left! Russ continued to do a great job of controlling the front of the pack while I continued to fight to maintain my position near the front... not easy when everybody else in the huge pack had the same idea, and constant jumps off the front, with much swerving, broke up our rhythm.
When we turned north onto Cox Ferry Road I was in a decent position and used the empty left lane to push myself really hard along the pack to get a good position on this road. I did not want to be fighting for it later on, with just a short distance left to the finish! Consequently I was in a good position when we turned onto smooth Keyes Road again and started to jockey for choice spots for the finishing sprint. I felt good and in control. Bring it on!
I drafted an Alto Velo rider up the right side, on a small hill (which is also the feed zone for Snelling), and kept moving forward with the least amount of effort I could. But better to burn some matches now than be poorly positioned later, so I wasn't afraid to get winded to maintain a spot near the front.
We were really starting to move! I was maybe fifth place and hoping we could keep the huge pack strung out for the finish so as to avoid the mass chaos of a 100-man field sprint. Shudder, I don't want to go there! But the leadout train that was keeping me near, but more importantly below, my limit suddenly slowed after a few turns and that allowed a few guys to swarm us, though I somehow floated off the front briefly, just after the 1KM sign. Darn. But then a rider (I think from Team Bicycles Plus, or maybe Safeway?) tried a flyer on the last hill, and I found myself about 10 feet behind him, working hard to close the gap.
Just as we crested the last short hill a few guys came around me and I spotted the 200M sign and finish line; a slight surprise to me, just like last year! Thank goodness I was still well positioned, except now I was leading guys out: Hunter Ziesing (ZteaM) and Eric Saltzman (Morgan Stanley) to be specific. They did a good job of squeezing me out and forced me back to 7th place, which I held to the line maybe 20 feet behind 1st place Peter Allen (Safeway). Woo-hoo! Wheeze, wheeze, gasp... I was in the points this time! I even won some gas money for Russ, who took 25th.
I did better in our Oscars Party contest which Margaret organized at home while I was goofing off, tying for 1st with my semi-educated guesses on movies I'd never seen, thanks to my excessive cycling training. What a fun day!