Wente was my first day back racing with the team since Chico Stage Race, and what a day it was! It’s been a whirlwind of an early season for me – a crash at Chico combined with some stressors in my life leading to less-than-stellar legs for Snelling/Chico, followed by 2 weeks off the bike in late March for some Asia travel as part of my MBA program.
The last few weeks, however, have brought about a return to some really gratifying, hard training as well as the hunger to compete! I had no idea what to expect coming into Wente, other than knowing my legs felt good and that my teammates had been kicking ass, winning races left and right (huge shout outs especially to Cam Piper and Cameron Bronstein on their Redlands / San Dimas performances).
Our strategy for the day was pretty minimal; we had a lot of guys going strong and knew we could cover / initiate moves when we wanted. Piper and I would be riding aggressive early on, with the hope of getting in a small move and making it stick. The first 30 minutes were host to a flurry of attacks from all the contenders – guys like Ortenblad, Jenkins, and Saltzman seemed especially eager to stretch their legs on the main climb on course, 4-5 minutes that started at 13% and leveled off slowly. However, near the end of the 2 main sets of climbs on the first lap, we still had a group of 15-20 in tact, with another 15 or so trailing close behind.
During a brief lull in the action, I came up the right side and attacked on the last gradual climb into the descent to the finish, getting a sizable gap right away. Immediately chasing, with a gap behind them, was the dynamic duo of Zeke Mostov (BMC Development) and Thom Salveseen (Cyclesport – Specialized p/b Muscle Milk), both of whom I knew were strong and liked riding in breaks. I was pumped for some company and a hard day ahead!
We worked flawlessly together almost right away, with Zeke taking some especially motivated pulls on the flats to keep our gap growing, and Thom – who went from cat 2 to 1 in the span of a couple months – taking some monster pulls and a pointer here and there til he was rotating like a seasoned breakaway rider. About a lap into the break, we were able to tell the gap was over a minute, but we didn’t get any info until halfway into lap 4, when we were told we had 2.5 minutes. At this point, it was far from a sure thing, but we still had motivation, and when I felt it faltering a bit in the other guys, I took some hard turns on the front to make sure we kept the speed up. It was only in the last half lap that we started to play a few games, with Zeke attacking on the same last climb that had initiated the move. I was quick to cover, and Thom dieseled up right behind us. The final descent was slower than usual, as we played a bit of cat and mouse instead of charging ahead like we had on previous laps.
Thom led us into the final corner, at which point there are about 800 meters to go, 300+ of it up a moderate grade, with about 150m false-flat to the line. I was glued to Zeke’s wheel and waited for him to make a move. Just past halfway up the climb, I was thinking how much longer I’d wait before trying to beat him to the jump. Then he launched at about 200m. I stayed stuck to his wheel and thought I had it in the bag, with a solid sprint still left in my legs. However, with less than 100m to go, I started to come around him and realized I’d chosen the wrong side – headwinds and poor timing made it hard to accelerate up to his hip, but once I got there with a couple dozen meters left, I knew I just had to put in a few more big pedal strokes. One bike length to go and I surged by him, finishing with a hand up in celebration and just feet to spare… Phew, that was a close one!
I was pumped to see so many teammates piling into the top 10 behind me – first Roman and Cam Piper with Jason Saltzman in between them (4,5,6), then Aria winning the bunch kick for 7th and Craig recovering from a flat to finish 9th. Looking forward to working together to attack some of NorCal’s crown jewels in the coming months – Berkeley and Pescadero are high on the list.