Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snelling Road Race, 45+ 1/2/3

By Dennis Pedersen

There was a crash somewhere to my left, the only one in our race, when a guy rode his bicycle off the shoulder of the road. I looked ahead for other problems and instead saw that the winning break of about seven or eight guys had just split off from our front. Every race has it's decisive moment, and that was ours, just minutes after our race had started.

I didn't know that break was the winning move yet, of course, but I knew from prior experience here that it could be. They had chosen well: The south-west corner of the generally flattish course, in the Sierra's gentle foothills, where several short hills and sharp turns opened up opportunities for gaps to form. Several thoughts went through my head:
  • Could I bridge the gap up to them?
  • Which teams were represented in the break?
  • Which other teams would work to catch the break?
  • Would the break work well together?
  • How strong were the guys in the break?
I started to move up, as that would help me answer those questions, but soon came to a stop behind a bunch of guys blocking us at the front of our main group (now a chase group). It looked like Safeway, VOS and Morgan Stanley all had riders in the break and their teammates were working to hold the rest of us back. I didn't know who else, or which riders, were up ahead, but I knew enough to know it didn't look good for Mike Sudbrink and I.

When faced with the decisive moment, decisive action is required. What did I do? I waited. I had lots of reasons: Too early. Too tired. Too slow. Somebody else will take the initiative. But what I should have done was turn myself inside-out to catch that break, consequences be hanged. Waiting just increased the gap.

The next two-plus laps were spent on frustrating attempts to form chase groups, but nothing much materialized. The motorcycle ref called out the time gap: I heard "1:12" and "1:21" at various times. I felt certain we could catch them in this 50-mile race if we tried, but only sporadic pacelines formed. Me, a guy from Davis Bike Club and a guy from Team Bicycles Plus were the only ones to consistently make any effort... and the blockers did their usual good job of disrupting our attempts and sowing the seeds of doubt (their smack-talk just made me laugh though!). And we also had some poorly-timed neutralizations when we got passed by some Pro/1/2 racers, forcing us to ease off for several minutes at a time. At other times we neutralized other racers and one time I was the tip of the arrow as we passed a large group from a different race category.

On the last lap VOS suddenly went from blocking to pushing the pace way up, taking turns really pounding. As if attacking or, more likely, trying to bridge up to the break. Huh? What was up? I wasn't sure, but I had a hunch their man in the break, James Allen, had been dropped or flatted. I went with each attempt and they got shut down pretty well; I knew to mark Jan Elsbach especially, who I know can solo pretty well. At one point I floated off the front and I asked Jon Ornstil, in passing, "what happened, did you lose your man?" but he didn't reply. Instead he had an uncharacteristic look of panic on his face.

We really hammered the last half of the last lap but I didn't think we'd catch the break. I was pretty sure the break still had at least 6 guys in it, and I really didn't want to sprint for 7th place. 7th wouldn't get me anything, no upgrade points, not even a T-shirt. So as we approached the last turn, where I won the field sprint for 6th last time, I just sat up and let the field pass me. No sense in risking a crash. I rolled over the finish line in 33rd, and it turned out VOS only took 9th, so I'm happy I didn't bother.

The result was disappointing, no denying it. I honestly believe this race suits me, and I really hoped for much more. But I love the gorgeous rural course, the spring-time weather was awesome, and it was really neat getting to race with Mike; he's a great guy and a real legend. This was his first race back in a long time and I hope we get to race some more. Russ Cadwallader and John Marshall (our new Nevada teammate) couldn't make it due to illness, but what a team we will make when we all can be there, ready for action. I look forward to that!

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