In the photo: Travis Keeney
Dunnigan Hills Road Race is an 89 mile rolling course with around 2,500ft of elevation change. The course this year was the opposite direction from previous years. Throw in heavy wildfire smoke, unusually hot windy conditions, and a full field of 65 hungry category 3 racers with a centerline rule in effect and it was bound to get interesting.
Previous years at Dunnigan Hills RR had been good to Travis with a 5th in 2012 and a 3rd in 2013, so he knew what it took to do well in this race. With such a large field and a centerline rule, start position was nearly as important as a criterium so instead of warming up, it was immediately to the start line.
The race began to pick up around mile 5 when Travis attacked off the front and brought two other riders with him. That group was then caught a few miles up the road. The peloton then rode relatively cohesively for the next 10 or so miles when a Squadra rider elected to go off the front. As riders commented how silly the move was this early in the race, Travis knew the rider was capable of making the move stick if he could bridge up. So after letting the rider work his way up the road to a safe distance, Travis laid down another attack into the cross-winds and reached the solo break.
The two riders went hard through the tailwinds laying the hurt on the peloton as the group of 65 began to shatter behind them. A few riders would break off the peloton and then get swallowed back up while others were spit out the back. Meanwhile the 2-man break had around 30 seconds on the field. As the 2-man break made it through the crosswinds, one other rider made the bridge up and then there were three - this is when the break became a real threat.
There was one 15 mile section of the course that the group anticipated and that was the upcoming headwind. Knowing it was coming and that it would be brutal, the group tried to lure more riders up by bringing down the wattage and just like clockwork a very strong group which represented nearly all teams in the peloton arrived and the group was off again!
The group of 7 worked through the headwinds like a well-oiled machine and continued to work together throughout the course until the second lap with around 17 miles to go when they approached the headwind again. This time, there was one particular team with two members in the break that was not doing equal work which caused tensions in the group so riders began attacking. As riders attacked, the group shattered and everyone was forced to do work through the headwinds nearly alone.
Things got a little strange towards the end. Travis allowed the Squadra rider to go off the front into the headwind because he had done work in the 2-man break and the other rider left was sitting on his wheel refusing to help. After being asked if he wanted to work together multiple times and refusing, Travis finally stopped pulling and made the rider go around. As the uncooperative rider slowly realized he needed to work together to catch the leader, the two slowly began to take turns pulling again and maintained the gap to the Squadra rider until he began to cramp and then the 3 riders came together once again.
Travis and the chaser contemplated attacking the Squadra rider but as the two approached, an agreement was reached that Squadra would not contest the finish due to the obvious leg issue. Out of respect, the riders agreed to help through the headwind. With the chasing peloton in complete shambles and minutes back to any chasers, the three made the final left turn into the finishing climb. Not surprisingly, the one who saved his legs the most was the freshest and Travis was simply unable to put out the power necessary to keep up. The other rider also sprinted to the line which was a complete surprise after the previous agreement.
Note: Although the finish was a bit frustrating, it was a learning opportunity and still a strong finish for the team. In the big picture, Team Mike's Bikes Dev got another category 2 upgrade and another podium for 2015. Thank you to my teammates that helped the breakaway succeed -- Sam Hill, Mark Rotondi, Ronaldis Noutai -- and thank you for an amazing 2015 season thus far. Thank you Rachel and Kristen for always being at the races and providing support for not only me but all of the Mike's Bikes teams. A big thanks to all of the team sponsors as well. It was exceptionally hot and the OSMO Active Hydration was extremely helpful. The new Capo kit also kept my bum comfy after 90 miles of racing, and PROBAR bites are always delicious. Feels great to ride with good friends I can call teammates and products I would be using regardless of whether or not they were sponsors.