This was the third opportunity, and the second weekend in a row, for NorCal riders to race this course this season. I had competed in the first two races and placed 3rd and 2nd. My number was called (the team worked for me to try to get the win) last weekend during the Team Swift Crit. This weekend we decided Steve Paleaz, our team director, was our team member who we were going to work for to try to get the win. It was just myself and Hank who were there to help Steve because the majority of Team Mike's Bikes riders were south racing the Modesto and Fresno crits. Our plan was for Hank and I to mark any dangerous breaks while Steve was to rest as much as possible in the field while at the same time be attentive and not miss any crucial breaks. On a side note, I wanted to get a good workout and get the team as much swag as possible so I made it a goal of mine to go for every prime if I was in the right spot. The 90 minute crit got started and the pace was pretty manageable. The first prime lap came and I moved towards the front on the back stretch and was lined up behind two Metromint riders. I could tell they were also keen on getting the prime. As we rolled around the final turn and onto the finish straight away, I was able to stay on the wheel as one Metromint rider sprinted and then just come around him at the line for the first prime. I thought to myself 'that was harder than I wanted to push'. The race continued.
It wasn't that long though, about 20 minutes if I recall, that a break of about 9 riders got some space on the field. With a little bit of communication, everyone soon realized we were in a good move and began working together. The gap began to grow. Steve and Hank were back in the field letting others try to chase to bring them back to the break. The bell for prime #2 rang. I found myself at the front going into the final two turns of the lap so I decided to pull a little longer than needed and then jump out of the final corner to get space to win the prime. Mission accomplished so far and it didn't mess up the break. Pretty soon after this, to my delight, Steve bridged up and was now in our break. Then a few laps later two guys got off the front and stretched their gap out to about 7-8 seconds. Steve soon came to me and said to pay attention because he was going to go the front of our chase group and put in a few good pulls. When the gap looked manageable then I was to try to bridge up to the two guys up the road. On Steve's second acceleration, the gap closed down enough that I thought I could bridge up. So I jumped and went for it. I was able to make it up to the two guys, one rider from Muscle Milk and the other from Metromint, the same guy that I 'duked it out' for the first prime.
We were now three. I wish I could say we worked well together but one of the Muscle Milk guy seemed to be in a bit of discomfort and wasn't doing many pulls. At this time I had to remind him that his teammates were counting on him to stay away so he should help us. Fair enough, he took some pulls but soon dropped back so it was the Metromint guy and I. We continued to work well together. I glanced back, without putting too much effort to really gauge our gap, and couldn't see any other riders. But then all of the sudden, out of the corner of my eye during a rotation, I saw another rider. Another Muscle Milk rider had bridged up (very impressive) so we were now three again. This was definitely favourable for us. We continued working well together.
Now let me reverse this story a bit. I put air in my back tire prior to my warm up. Then just before the start, or about 30 minutes after pumping it up, I felt my back tire and it kind of felt soft. I found a pump and sure enough the pressure of my tubular tire had gone from 130 down to 90. I wondered if I should use my spare wheel or just pump up my race tire again and go with it. The latter thought won. When Steve bridged up to our break early on in the race I asked him if my back tire looked soft because it felt like it. He said no so I forgot about it. But with about 10-12 laps to go in the race I started to feel as though my wheel was soft. Then with six laps to go, after I bounced on my back wheel and kept looking down at it, the Muscle Milk rider asked if I had a flat. I said that I thought it was soft. He looked down and confirmed this. So now what do I do? As we rolled over the line with five laps to go, I tried to get the attention of the referees to see if I still had a free lap. Note to self: pay attention at the start when the referee announces how many laps before the finish you can get a free one. Next lap around, I happen to see my teammate, Hank, holding his bike telling me I can jump on it. I wasn't sure what to do. Do I stop and make the switch and then try to make it back up to the two other guys in the break? Do I take a chance and hope I can ride the almost flat tire a few more laps? Well here's where fair play came into play. My two break companions told me they would let me ride ahead so I could jump on Hank's bike and get back on with them. So that what I did with three laps to go. Luckily Hank's bike fit me very well. As the bell lap rang, I rolled through leading my other two compatriots. We kept rotating and I was third wheel entering the back stretch. I could sense some jockeying about to begin so instead of playing any games I decided to make my move. I got out of my saddle and accelerated hard. I looked back and had a gap. But the Metromint guy was digging hard and keeping me in check. I pushed on and tried to stay as low as possible. As I turned the final corner my legs were hurting. The gap had stayed the same and as I got closer to the line I realized the win was going to be mine.
Once again, team work paid off. If you've been reading our team race reports this year, you've probably heard this before. Steve was our 'guy' for this race but he ended up helping me get in a break, which ultimately helped get the win. At the finish we were all psyched to get another victory for Team Mike's Bikes.