By Dennis Pedersen
I have definitely had some ups and downs this racing season... but that's pretty typical for most of us. After some decent results earlier, I DNF'd both of my last races (Santa Cruz and Cat's Hill), so anything would be an improvement!
At Panoche, now in its fifth year, I have either crashed, been dropped, or won. Nothing in-between. This year I got dropped again, which is tough as it feels like I'm sliding backwards, even though I am not.
Geoff Drake and John Marshall made sure the pace was super-hard on the ride out on this gorgeous, 27.5-mile section of rural road through the Panoche Valley south of Hollister. It was hard enough that on the last steep pitch I was gapped by about 10 feet from the leaders, but managed to catch back on the descent. But the very short break wasn't enough for me to get my hyperventilating lungs under control, so the following longish climb forced me to let the lead pack disappear around the turns ahead.
I was surprised how close I was behind them as they returned back toward the finish, John in the lead, after the U-turn at the 27.5-mile point. And I managed to find an Alto Velo rider to paceline with. Together we limited our losses for a while, but soon we had to acknowledge that the gap was increasing. We picked up one of his teammates who talked about how hard Geoff and John's attacks had been, which made me happy, sort of. We also passed John who had broken a spoke. But were we ever happy to see the "10K" sign! My left hip was really hurting, and I started to worry it was some nasty repetitive-stress injury.
Then, with about 4K to go, we saw the entire pack halted behind a pickup; it turned out they had to stop the race to allow a helicopter to evacuate a guy who'd broken his leg in a previous group. Bummer. And that made for a weird restart. The USAC officials did an amazing job of keeping us separated so the restart was as fair as possible. Two guys, one was Rick Martyn, got a 15-second lead, then the main leaders, then we chasers 3 minutes back. I could barely pedal at that point so I just rolled in.
But was I impressed to hear that Russ took 3rd, behind winner Larry Nolan (for whom a 4K restart is perfect, seeing as how he is a current Masters World Champion in pursuit!!!) and Eric Saltzman. Wow, way to go Russ! And Geoff managed 8th in spite of the many hard attacks he made.