The ghost of races past haunted me, with my DNF at last year's Santa Cruz Classic Criterium. But this technical course, with 9 swooping turns up and down Beach Hill, right above The Boardwalk, just minutes from home, is too cool too miss and this was my seventh attempt. So, I signed up for this race in spite of my misgivings and self-doubt.
This year I thought I might be more fit, thanks to reduced "junk miles" and more trainer workouts. Plus the more race-specific benefits from my track-racing sessions. And I was focused on not repeating the mistake that probably cost me the most last year; not staying near the front. Oh, and not having spare wheels ready in case of flat tires. Lessons I keep relearning.
My warmup was to ride with my spare wheels to the startline. Thankfully, Ken Sato was also racing so I wouldn't have to try to go with every break. With family and friends cheering me on I immediately started to move to the front of the pack and stayed there almost the entire race. One trick I use is to watch the guys I know who can win. If they are nearby then I'm good. They were, and some even appeared to be marking me!
At about 10 laps into our 20-lap race (about 18 miles total) Ken bridged up to a solo break and eventually this turned into a 4-man break after some back-and-forth. Our new kit is harder to spot, so I wasn't entirely sure he was up there the whole time. But I never took any pulls that would have endangered Ken's chances out there. He has been riding stronger than I've ever seen and I was confident he could do well.
While other guys worked to catch the breaks I still had to keep moving forward just to maintain my place. Funny how that works. We were strung out in single file at times as they struggled to catch Ken's break, which they did. We averaged about 27 MPH overall, so it was hard, but not as hard as it seemed in past years. I'm still not sure if that is because I'm more fit or because we were in a 45+ age-group race, not a 35+ as before.
With 2 laps remaining moving forward was getting harder but I was still near the front. As we started the last lap one guy was about 30 meters off the front just as I drifted around the pack; I could tell everybody knew we'd catch him and were waiting to see who'd take the first shot at the finishing sprint. I was now leading everybody out which I knew was a mistake. So I rode smoothly down to the hairpin and sat up on the right gutter to await the inevitable attack. It came in the form of a huge red streak, named Larry Nolan, who shot down the hill with guys trying hard to catch his wheel, to no avail. I latched on and managed to maintain my position well. But I was so afraid of blowing up (thanks to that darn ghost of races past!) that I probably held back too much after the last turn, so I was able to pass a few guys on Main Street, pipping one at the finish line. Woo-hoo! I finished about 12th place.
I felt I rode very smart and benefitted from Ken's efforts in the breaks. But on that last lap I probably could have either launched an attack before Larry's, though I'm not convinced it would have worked well, or maybe just worked a little harder to move up even before the last climb up Main Street. It's hard to say how different my results would have been.
Afterward some of us were interviewed by a Santa Cruz Sentinel reporter and they printed a neat story. Thanks go to Margaret, for her awesome photography, and all the teammates, friends and family who cheered us on!