Monday, February 6, 2012

Cherry Pie Criterium, 45+ 1/2/3, Napa, 2/5/2012

By Dennis Pedersen

This race ended up pretty much the same for me as it did last year; chasing down breaks that got shut down, then watching the winning break recede into the distance. That isn't to say I didn't have fun, I sure did, but the race also demonstrated why having teammates in a race is so much better than racing solo.

I really love technical criteriums, and the finish on this 1-mile course is slightly uphill, with about 20-30 seconds of climbing, while the rest of the course is flat. Perfect for me! The problem is that we make that climb about 18 times, and the many turns (about 9 turns, including a hard U-turn at the top of the climb) open up gaps in the pack of riders, so we end up working pretty hard before we start the last climb. And these courses often encourage guys to breakaway off the front, rather than drafting and resting for the final sprint. That happened last year, when a two-man break got away and they took 1st and 2nd.

Margaret and I drove up on Saturday and had a nice dinner before hitting the hay at the official race hotel, Meritage Resort at Napa—a very nice place that we'd definitely recommend. It was so nice being able to visit their brunch buffet and suit up in our hotel room (by the way, the new Voler skinsuits have an awesome fit). The hotel was right on the course, so we just walked to the start line. It was a bit of a shocker to write "51" as my race age at registration though!

Me at the front, trying to form a break out of the U-turn.
The weather was a perfect 64 degrees as our 50-man field lined up for the start. I spotted the usual Championship stripes on the sleeves of many guys, but was also happy to see my friends Rob and Chris, from LGBRC, lined up after a long break from racing. Our race was to be 40 minutes.

I moved forward after the first lap to look for breaks. My hope was that I'd be able to join in with a few others from the bigger teams and stay away from the main pack so I could just sprint from a small group and have a good chance at a podium finish. One break formed before I could catch them, so I helped pull at the front a bit. After they got caught I tried to encourage more breaks, but nobody took the "bait." The best chance I had was when Hunter Ziesing (Echelon) and Max Mack (Health is Wealth) plus a guy from team Gnarlube (I think) took off and I bridged up to them before the gap got too big. But Hunter kept looking over his shoulder and soon sat up. I kept pulling for a bit, hoping somebody would join me, but without success.

The break descending as we start the climb.
After resting from one of my many attempts at forming or joining breaks I saw that guys from Team Specialized and Gnarlube were blocking. Clearly a break had formed while I was gasping for air and soon enough I could spot a 3-man break as they descended after the U-turn at the top of the hill. Darn, just what I had feared. I was able to partially ID them, thanks in part to the announcer (none other than Bruce Hildebrand), as Craig Roemer, "Jens" (Hillen, of Gnarlube) and a Team Bicycles Plus guy (Rodney Spradlin). And... that's how they finished the race.

Rob pips me!
When I could tell that there were no real efforts to chase them down, I decided to try a last-lap "flyer" by myself, in the hopes of finishing 4th. On the penultimate climb I pedaled hard out of the right-left chicane before the climb, got to top of the hill alone and through the U-turn with a sizable gap, then looked back to see how hard I was being chased down; rather hard, it turned out. I stayed away for 1/4 lap before they caught me, after which I simply tried to recover as near the front as I could. This netted me 17th place. My friend Rob squeezed past me just before the finish, which made me chuckle (as much as one can chuckle while almost vomiting from effort!).

Margaret took the great photos you see here; she has real talent! And after the race we visited the very excellent Patz & Hall tasting "Salon," right inside the race course, where Margaret promptly bought 8 bottles of premium wine and signed us up for their wine club—I would say she won my race!

1 comment:

Jim Langley said...

Nice report, Dennis and great job out there on that highly technical course!