Monday, March 7, 2011

Almond Blossoms Road Race, 45+ 1/2/3

By Dennis Pedersen

I've done this race (also called Foothills Road Race, and part of Merco Cycling Classic stage race) two times before. It's always in the same area as Snelling Road Race held the previous weekend. The course is therefore pretty similar: two 24-mile laps through rolling Sierra foothills. In past years Merco always ended with a big sprint, while Snelling Road race, in contrast always finished with a breakaway group winning... would 2011 fit that pattern?

This year the wind at Snelling was just 6-12 mph, and it ended in a field sprint. But Merco had winds of 12-15 mph and it was also a bit damp. Russ, Miles and I carpooled that morning through intermittent showers and drizzle, but I was hopeful it would dry out by our 12:00PM race start.

I presented a plan to them that I came up with. My idea was to assign perhaps two competitors to each of us to follow if they went with a break. I had circled some names on the list of entrants that I felt represented a threat. Seemed a sensible precaution to me in case a strong break got away. But Russ pointed out that we were a small team, while other teams had far more riders entered. Ergo, it made sense for us to sit in, rest and force the larger teams to chase down any breaks.

When we arrived the roads were damp and it was still drizzling a bit. We got our numbers and suited up after much debate about how to dress, as it was damp but not cold. I added knee- and arm-warmers only, and waited in the truck while Russ and Miles rode around a little. I discovered I'd somehow left my sports drink at home. Unlucky! But when we lined up for the start the drizzle pretty much stopped for the remainder of the day. Lucky!

While 100 guys had signed up, only about 56 showed up, because of the weather no doubt. But it really wasn't bad. The roads were starting to dry, though we had to be cautious in the turns. The race started with a few guys attacking from the very beginning, but while some of them held us off for a while none stayed away for long.

At the end of the first lap, I think on the longest climb of the course (about 90 seconds long) on Cox Ferry Road, a few guys attacked hard and opened up a big gap on the rest of us. I didn't get a good look at them and thought it was just two guys. But it turned out it was three, including Cale Reeder (Echelon/Zteam) and Don Langley (Morgan Stanley); both names I'd circled on my list! Cale's teammate even said to Russ "there goes the race," but Russ didn't believe him.

I should have asked who was in the break but still clung to the hope we'd catch them. By not knowing who was in the break I was hamstrung into making poor decisions. I sat in and looked for the unrepresented teams to chase. That turned out to be mostly Davis Bike Club, VOS, Team Bicycles Plus and Wells Fargo. But it took an embarrassingly long time for me to figure out Morgan Stanley was blocking; maybe half a lap! So I started taking a few short pulls to hopefully close in on them. We didn't seem to be making much progress, with the motorcycle ref calling out over a 1-minute gap at times. Later on we closed to within about 25 seconds, but it was clearly too late when we hit Cox Ferry Road again and prepared for the finish without the break even in our view.

I managed to move forward and was behind Russ as we crested the last rise and approached the finish line, but when I tried to come around him the wind held me back... and Stanley Terusaki (Morgan Stanley) even managed to pip me at the line. Russ was strong, and took 5th! I still got 7th place, same as 2010, though perhaps my 4th in the field sprint allows me to believe I did better this year. I even got $15 prize money, which beats winning some T-shirt.

So, in retrospect, I wish we'd used my original plan, but it's always easy to say that with 20-20 hindsight. But I'm proud that the top two finishers were also guys I'd predicted could win. Live and learn. Ciao!

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