words: Colin Daw
images: Alex Chiu & Martina Patella
Gathering around the family room at our host house for a pre-race pep-talk, the team could all feel a special energy in anticipation of the impending Nationals RR. We had the strongest, most cohesive lineup in Team Mike’s Bikes history, a National Championships only a few hours from home, and a handful of guys who were coming into form at the right time.
The team decided to ride with two fully protected riders (Chris Riekert and Colin Daw) and two more who could win in a move from farther out (Max Korus and Nate English). The plan was to stay safe and hidden from the wind on the outbound leg, with Andy, Tyler, Craig, Adam, and Dana following any threatening moves, but knowing nothing significant would stick on the mostly-downhill first hour to Sierraville. From there, it would be all hands on deck at the front to enter the valley, where we were expecting head- and crosswinds of anywhere from 10 to 20+mph. The decisive moment would come sometime after the tailwind turnaround, when we expected full-on crosswinds on the way to Loyalton. We knew the field would shatter somewhere in the valley, but that the real fireworks would start on the 25 minute climb out of Sierraville and the multiple 1-5 minute rollers on the way into Truckee. We expected a very small group hitting the base of 267 to Northstar, and we were right, but it didn’t go down exactly as we’d planned.
As we turned onto the Sattley TT course (the outbound leg in the flat valley after Sierraville), most of us near the front, we felt a roaring tailwind and decided now was not the time to instigate a field-splitting echelon. However, about one minute later, the wind suddenly changed to a head-cross and strung the field out for hundreds of meters. Our guys were still mostly near the front, and a few of our strongest, savviest riders escaped almost immediately in a small group - Nate and Roman with 2 Elbowz and 1 KHS rider. Soon after that, Max Korus, The Cosmonaut, took a flier with one Elevate rider and quickly bridged to half-way between the groups.
The race got really interesting when our chase of ~30 (including Colin, Chris, Dana, & Adam), came upon a live railroad crossing as the gates were going down. The officials neutralized our field, allowing the gaps to grow to 1 and 2 minutes (to bridge and break, respectively) while our group ballooned to 50+ riders as the stragglers caught on. Luckily, it was just a maintenance truck on the rail lines, and the gates went up after less than a minute delay. The race was back on, and the crosswinds were stronger than ever. No teams were really picking up the chase, and the gaps continued to grow.
By the time the group reached Sierraville again and turned back to climb towards Truckee, it was down to about 20 riders from all the crosswindy echelon fun. Not thirty seconds into the climb, the pace was quickened by Taylor Shelden and a few others who had incentive to get back to the front of the race, and the group quickly shattered to only 10-12 riders. Of those, Chris Riekert and Colin remained for TMB, tucked safely behind the chasing riders, knowing they had 3 strong teammates up the road.
“We were climbing fast, and I was putting out a high-tempo effort just to hold wheels, but my legs were feeling great and I knew I had played my cards right in the crosswinds. It was a waiting game, and at this point I thought we were racing for ~8th, but I was happy with the knowledge that one of Roman, Max, or Nate would definitely win out of the stacked break,” said Colin of the 25 minute climb out of Sierraville.
However, not 10 minutes later, a group of team cars came into sight, and there was the break, only ~45 seconds up the road. The pace increased again and only 8 remained as we bridged to the break of 7 immediately following the feed-zone at the crest of the big climb. From there, we knew we had under an hour to race, and the attacks came fast and hard. Mike’s had 5 riders, Elbowz had 4 (then 3 just a few minutes later), and the rest of the break consisted of exceptionally strong riders with no teammates left. Roman rode like an animal and helped us neutralize a small escape on the longest remaining climb, and then the rest of us took turns following and countering threatening attacks by the other riders in the group.
At this point, it was anybody’s race, but we had the numbers and also 2 relatively fresh riders in Colin and Chris. As we came into the final 10km, Max had again escaped up the road with one other (Colin Strickland from Elbowz) and the group was starting to splinter as guys lost their legs or their will to chase. At this point, Chris and Colin followed Stefano Barberi (Cal Giant) and Chad Beyer (Super Issimo) as they worked to pull back Max and Strickland. Contact was made just as the road turned uphill with 5km to go, and Colin knew this was the time to make the decisive attack. Chris had just delivered him safely to the front and when the pace slowed momentarily, he shouted to Colin to ‘just GO.’ He went, and the only 2 that could come with him were Strickland and Barberi.
Colin recounts the final fireworks of the race: “After a long 1-2 minutes on the front, trying to ride the two others off my wheel, I slowed and let the Elbowz rider pull through for a 20-30 seconds. Once the Northstar traffic lights came into sight, I attacked again and only Barberi was able to follow. He attacked me on the steep (12%) 100m pitch up to the roundabout, and I knew I couldn’t let him get too far but also couldn’t blow myself up trying to respond to the much lighter rider’s attack. On the final downhill from <2km to 1km left, I super-tucked and slowly closed the ~20m gap until I was right on Barberi’s wheel. As we rolled through the 1km sign and the road turned up for the final 8%, 900m grind, we passed my old teammate James Laberge (2014 U23 Crit champion) who had started in the U23 field 20 minutes ahead of us - he shouted ‘you can do this, Colin!’ and I knew I had been training for a finish scenario just like this.. I attacked and didn’t look back for what felt like an eternity (maybe 100m). Damn! Barberi was not letting the gap open much more than 20m, and I was worried I’d gone too early. I put my head down and continued to turn the pedals over, and when I looked back 10 seconds later, I knew he had exploded and wouldn’t catch me. However, Elbowz was coming on strong (at this point it must have been Kevin Girkins after catching his teammate Colin, but I didn’t know that at the time) and I had to ignore the searing pain in my lungs and legs for 300 more meters. Once the line was in sight <100m away and I knew the title was mine, I pedaled a little more softly and let it all sink in. ‘I’m actually going to win the National Championship,’ I thought.. ‘Is this really happening?!’ I crossed the line in disbelief, remembering to throw my hands in the air to celebrate this sweet, sweet victory.
I knew as I came back to earth (my handlebars) that I couldn’t have done it, not just to have won the Nationals Road Race, but to have come this far in cycling at all, without the support, mentorship, and camaraderie of my teammates. This was OUR victory, and I couldn’t wait to see them when they started to cross the line a minute later, going 6, 7, 8, 9 and cementing Mike’s Bikes reputation as the USA's dominant amateur team.
A HUGE THANKS goes to all of our sponsors: Equator Coffees, Toyota, Specialized, SRAM, Capo, Osmo, ProBar, Bikesmart, & Violich Farms. Our team Venges performed flawlessly, and it should be noted the 8 of the top 9 riders were on Specialized bikes! What a sweet ‘hometown’ finish for Specialized, especially with employees Colin and Chris going 1st and 8th.
Another huge thanks is in order for all of the support the team received from others this week: Scott Bromstead (TMB Masters) for graciously offering his Truckee house as home-base for the team, Caesar Belli for his mechanic / soigneur services, and Martina Patella for taking care of the team before, during, and after the races. Also a shoutout to up-and-coming new Cat 1 from our development team, Aria Kiani, who crashed out of the race but is okay and will definitely be leaving his mark in Nationals to come.