By Dennis Pedersen
What better way to celebrate one's 50th birthday than by going to Napa for a bike race! I always wanted to try this technical crit, with its varied turns and a small hill. But in past years I've always been out of town... celebrating my birthday one place or another. This year I put my foot down and made this race the centerpiece of a long weekend of partying!
Margaret and I, plus her sister and five of our friends, made the trek to Napa and really lived it up. On Saturday we had lunch at Brix, wine-tasting at Opus One and Turnbull, and a 7-course "omakase" dinner at famed Iron Chef Morimoto's restaurant. On Sunday I had Nutella and banana crepes at Curbside Cafe before setting off for the race, just south of Napa in a business park.
I assembled my bike and warmed up a little while my cheering section watched the previous race. Then I lined up with my competitors (54 signed up) for our 12:25 start and my first view of the course. We were told we'd race for 45 minutes on the 1-mile course so I set my timer accordingly. My goal was simply to have fun, and basically put on a good show.
The first lap or two weren't too bad, but a few guys did try breaks. I had already moved to the front so I was able to go with them, but nothing came of these breaks. Then Kevin Metcalfe (Team Specialized) did succeed for a while, with me and a guy from ZTeam I think. My awesome cheering section made the race so fun too! We pacelined well for a while but were soon caught when Kevin looked back and saw our lead was too small.
Later on Larry Nolan (also from Team Specialized) took a turn attacking us and once again I was able to follow. We were pacelining along nicely but he also sat up as his teammate Kevin had done.
Kevin went off the front again later and I went after him, again causing him to sit up. I went off the front after we caught Kevin, hoping we could initiate another break, but nobody came with me and I had to sit up and drop back to rest.
At about 10 minutes to go in the race, Larry, and Gregg Betonte (Safeway), went off the front while I was resting from my last effort. Darn. I started moving up though the pace was furious. As we rounded the U-turn at the top of the hill, low on oxygen to the brain, and flew down the hill, a guy in white kit to my right slid out in the hard right turn near the bottom of the hill, taking out at least one other guy (I think from Morgan Stanley) in the process. The Morgan Stanley racer (maybe Stanley Terusaki?) flew over his bars, still clipped into his pedals, and slammed his rear wheel into my back knocking the wind out of me. Then somebody, maybe the same Morgan Stanley racer, landed right in front of me. I had to either hit him, his bike, or the guy to my left. I ran over his carbon-fiber bike, I swear I heard crunching sounds. Yikes, I felt so bad for him, but I had to continue on.
Now our main pack was split in two, with Larry and Gregg still off the front and flying... and me in the second half of the pack. Darn again. I quickly tried to organize a chase but it wasn't gaining very fast so I ended up having to bridge up to the leading group. Whew, made it, but heard that Larry and Greg still had about a 27-second lead. No way could I bridge that, so I again took a few pulls at the front until the gap shrank a bit.
But something else was going on. I heard the announcer say that Larry wasn't cooperating with Gregg, and then Kevin once again attacked out of the pack. Hmmm, I thought Larry could beat almost anybody in a two-up contest like that, but Larry's teammate Kevin's actions made me think they were not so confident against Gregg. I took advantage of that by jumping up to Kevin and soon he and I were pacelining after the two breakaway riders ahead.
Larry and Gregg were slowing down, I could tell, but so was I. Pacelining with a National Champion like Kevin ain't easy and with half a lap to go I told him to go for it while I tried to maintain my pace. My watch said we had time for one more lap, which would have been nice for me, but it was now clear to me that this was actually the last lap. With about 300 meters to go a couple guys bridged up even as I slowed and soon the main pack caught me. But Kevin barely held on and finished third, behind Gregg and Larry (in the photo below you can see how close we were to Gregg and Larry).
When I saw Gregg had won I understood their tactics, and was happy I'd done what I did, even though my 21st place finish doesn't sound impressive. Riding conservatively would probably have netted me a mediocre finish in any case, certainly no win, as the teams wouldn't have let it come down to a mass field sprint. And I certainly accomplished my goal of having fun and putting on a good show! Next year...