Russ and I raced at San Ardo last year and took 2nd and 3rd, so we were hoping to do well again. He drove Miles and I down to the poor, tiny town of San Ardo, south of King City near Highway 101 for our 8:50am race start (thanks Russ!). We also had Matt Wocasek so team tactics became possible.
My ideas for this 68-mile bike race did not involve initiating any early breakaways. The beautiful, gently-rolling hills of this rural course, and just 5- to 6-mph winds, discouraged such attacks. I did think that a late break, maybe at the end of the 2nd of our 3 laps, might work for my teammates, but not for a sprinter like me.
After we started our race I thought we were still being held back by the motorcycle referee, but we were just riding really slowly! The prospect of 3 hours of that was intolerable (even though the weather was perfect). We can either accept things as they are, or work to change them. I opted for the latter and moved to the front looking for breaks. At worst I'd allow my teammates to rest up for attacks late in the race, while ensuring that one of us was always present in any early breaks so that we wouldn't get shut out if the break maintained its lead to the finish. At best my chosen break would stay away and I could use my sprint to get Team Bicycle Trip a decent placement in the race.
After one moderate effort, about 1/4 lap into our race, I rolled slowly off the front. I looked to my left and saw Hunter Ziesing (Zteam) doing likewise while everybody else sat up. We looked at each other and soon we'd both taken off and gained a nice lead on the pack. I didn't even realize that at first and thought we were just pushing the pace a bit higher. Soon a few other guys decided we meant business and bridged up to us. The next few minutes we really started working hard, with a few of us taking turns pulling at the front while others just drafted behind us. But when I looked back I couldn't even see the peloton. Yikes, I wasn't sure I wanted to be part of a break with 2.5 laps to go!
There were now about 12 guys in the break (out of a total field of 50), but still only a few of us who were contributing to the high pace. I started doubting our chances against the other 35+ guys but then Cale Reeder (Zteam) made a conspicuous entry into our group wearing his US Championship jersey... that was both good and bad news! I knew he'd work hard for our break, but I also knew he'd do well in the final climb to the finish line. Well, I decided to keep working while also looking to see if we would have a good chance against the peloton behind us. The motorcycle ref told us our lead had dropped to 30, down from 55 seconds earlier. Clearly we had stopped cooperating after Cale joined us!
Cale and Hunter solved our dilemma by using the short climb just after the start/finish area at the beginning of lap 2 to attack our break... first Cale took off while we were panting, then Hunter joined him with an impressive effort! We could see them crest the rolling hills as we sped northward, but soon they had a gap of 20 to 30 seconds! And after a half lap of chasing hard I again sensed a lack of motivation in our break as the two off the front disappeared into the distance. But I was still worried the peloton would catch us since:
- Cale and Hunter would cooperate well and were likely to get 1st and 2nd even if the peloton caught my break.
- I was now the best-placed Bicycle Trip racer and I didn't think that a mass field-sprint would improve our odds at the finish since I would have to sprint against 47 guys instead of just 13 or so.
The next 2 laps were spent trying to get everybody to take turns pulling while looking behind us for the peloton. I never did see them (thanks in part to my teammates who rode at the front of the peloton, discouraging attempts!), but a few guys caught us on the last lap so clearly we couldn't afford to relax. Jess Raphael (Safeway) and Steve Gregorios (Edge), who had been working hard all along, finally got tired of us and each soloed off the front with about 1/4 lap to go. Whenever I tried this I just dragged everybody with me so I held back instead, leading us for long sections into the headwind toward town and the finish because nobody wanted to pull.
As we rode through town I somehow managed to position myself behind Dirk Himley (Zteam)... in second position for a change! We slowly rode over the bridge, then up the hill and under Highway 101. I kept expecting early attacks from behind me, but instead I was the first one to jump, about 30 meters before the left turn onto the finishing straight. I stayed seated but went as hard as I could sustain for the 300-meter sprint, railed the turn, rode my heart out and crossed the line in 5th with a big gap! Woo-hoo! Miles and Matt rode really smart at the finish and attacked the peloton for 16th and 18th.
So, 5th place wasn't what I had hoped for us, after 2 hours and 56 minutes of suffering, but I felt I rode with panache and that is so cool!