Teammates: Roman, Marcus, James, Craig, Travis, Dana
It's September 21st and the last criterium race of the 2014 road season. It just so happens to be the elite criterium championships for the NCNCA region. It's in the mid-70's. As I think back now, 'boy, are we ever lucky to live in this beautiful region of the country and have such a solid racing season.' On those thoughts, let me start this report by thanking all of the event organizers and promoters, teams, support staff, media, event sponsors and team sponsors for doing what you do to make all this happen. I, and all of us at #tmbequator are grateful.
Team Mike's Bikes p/b Equator Coffee gathers just behind the start/finish line 30 minutes before the start. Team co-captain Roman Kilun lead the race plan strategy; if the races ends in a field sprint then we will work to leadout Travis Lyons. Craig is to lead us out of turn one (180 degree turn) and through the exit of turn two. Marcus takes us through turn three and as far as he can towards turn four, the second hairpin in the course. At that point, Roman takes over and guides us through the hairpin, around turn five and then let's Colin drilling it down towards turn six. I then take over just before turn six, with Travis on my wheel and James on his. I then go as hard as I can to the line, with Travis coming off my wheel on the small incline up to the finish line as I fade. All that said, there's a good chance that a break will get established and stay away due to the challenging nature of the course. If that's the case then we need to do our best to have one of our sprinters in the break. Game plan on, let's do this!
I roll up to the line in good spirits, focused and feeling good. As I had mentioned to my teammates during the pre-race meeting, I had just come off a training block that included two very hard races (Vacaville GP and the Giro di SF) and some solid intensity and was hitting my best power numbers ever. That was in the back of my mind, but I believe you can never let something like that define your mood at the start of a race. It definitely helps seed a deep down confidence, but racing is such a team sport that it's not always the strongest rider that wins. My plans was to focus on what I had control over and let that define my finish.
The referee addressed us, blows his whistle and we're off! Within a short period of time, I believe the second lap, I find myself in a break with Aerial Herman, David Grundman and Pete Morris. As we enter the second hairpin, with the field no more than 5-10 seconds behind, Aerial either clips his pedal or loses his front wheel and slides out. David begins to break but then is riding over Aerials bike and can't do anything but go down as softly as possible. I'm on my brakes behind him and my back tire is sliding sideways.
Next thing I know I'm rolling on the sidewalk trying to protect my bike. I hop up and grab my bike and check to see it's ok. The field begins to go by. My initial thought was to hop back on, but then I clued in and realized it's best to take a free lap. I made sure my bike was ok and then rolled to neutral support at the start finish line. A quick rear wheel change by Caesar Belli (to fix a piece of rubber that got pulled up from my tire in the crash) and I wait for the field to come back around. I'm let back in and soon find myself in another break. This time there's five of us: my teammate Roman, Chuck Hutcheson (former NCNCA Crit Champion), Rob Evans, and Stephen Cabebe. This all happened so fast that it's kind of a blur. But I'm now back in a break, with a teammate, another rider from Team Mike's Bikes main competitor, Marc Pro-Strava, an experience veteran in Rob Evans and an unknown rider in Stephen Cabebe. With this representation and being so early in the race, I believe there wasn't much urgency in the field to chase. Definitely not by us or MPS. What I do know is that we worked very well together. Our lead continued to slowly extend. I have to give credit where credit is due....we have the best equipment out there. I feel so fast when I'm riding my Specialized Venge armed with a pair of sweet and fast Zipp 404's. It rolls so nice and smooth. A few riders, including teammates James Laberge and Colin Daw, tried to surprise the field by trying to bridge up to us. At one point James was dangling off the front and Roman and I made the decision to ease off a bit. But no sooner did we decide this that Chuck and Rob dug in and took some longer and harder pulls to keep the breaks advantage. It worked. With around 15 laps to go, I believe all of us in the break knew we were going to stay away and one of us would be crowned the 2014 Elite District Criterium Champion.
At this time, Roman suggested and I agreed that we'd start some attacking and see if one of us could get away, or at least wear out our other break compatriots. We tried but nothing stuck. Chuck and Rob were covering us successfully. Next thing I know, I exit out of turn 1 and feel my front tire soft. Sure enough, it was a flat tire. But with Caesar Belli, our team mechanic, right there it was an easy change and I was easily back into the race (after being allowed a free lap). Now there were 10 laps to go. More attacking and covering, but in general still working together, and soon there were four laps to go. At this time Roman and I talked and decided a sprint with him leading me out was our best chances of victory. A small game of cat and mouse ensued for the next three laps, with all of us aware of the field slowly gaining.
I lead us up the hill and over the start/finish line, with the bell ringing, signifying last lap. Roman came up the inside with Chuck on his wheel, then followed by Rob. Roman hit it hard out of turn one and Chuck went with him. Rob saw this gap and went to close it down. I followed, with Stephen on my wheel. Roman and Chuck eased up as we entered turn three because of the work they had just done. I believe Rob sensed this was his time so he attacked. I was able to anticipate this and stay close to him. As he looked back and saw me, he eased up. I went by and rolled first through the hairpin. I accelerated out of it and had a small gap. Thoughts were going through my mind...do I go now or wait. I went around turn five, still had a couple bike length gap and it donned on me...now is the time to go! I stood up and started sprinting. Like always, the power transferred straight to the pavement thanks to my stiff yet comfortable Specialized S-Works shoes. Then I sat back down and kept going, not looking back. I felt as though I was trying to stay away from a pack of wild coyotes. I didn't want to look back because I was afraid to see them bearing down on me. I went through turn six and briefly looked back. To my surprise and happiness, I still had the gap. I had to keep going so I tried to stay as low as possible. Around the final turn and I looked back and still had a decent gap. Just then I knew I was going to win the race. Although a short time, I was able to enjoy the last few meters with my hands in the air.
I couldn't be more thrilled to be the Elite District Criterium Champion for the second year in a row. As I already mentioned above, thank you to my awesome teammates, team sponsors and everybody that makes this happen. A further boon was Travis winning the field sprint and in doing so taking the silver medal in the U23 district championship: