I look around and see 4 other teammates stacked at the front of the race with 1km to go to the summit. Jim Wingert was up there setting the pace. John Piasta attacked hard 1km from the summit to go after the KOM. Evan Huffman, 2012 Gila TT winner of Cal Giant, putting his team on his back at the front of race, went shortly thereafter with Jim and myself on his wheel. When Huffman went, it took quite a bit to stay in contact, that guy has an engine.
Jim and I sat behind Huffman while he chased down John. When Huffman caught on to John on the flats after the summit, I looked at our group containing three of us and Huffman. I looked back and we had a decent gap on the field. I yelled: "Jim, go to the front and drill it" in hopes of getting this group to keep rolling for a advantageous breakaway. We did the work to make sure we were toward the front of the race with numbers the entire climb and it paid off. Our team was in an extremely good position here. Jim took over and without intention got a gap on all of us immediately. Huffman closed it down. At this point, Huffman had been a beast, pushing hard in the wind for over three minutes on his own. I think back to what local racing strategy expert, Roman Kilun would do in this situation. Roman would assess the situation and decide what would strategically put the race largely in the team's favor.
Seeing the field not too far behind I realized our group was not going to maintain it's gap on the descent so I roll up to Jim and told him "sit up and follow Huffman". I fully trust my equipment which is undoubtedly free speed on descents (Specialized SL4, Specialized tubular tires, and Zipp 404s) and years and years of training in the East Bay hills. I have spent over a decade racing and training on twisting norcal roads, also spending much of my available time coaching some of our future's young talents on Tieni Duro Junior Cycling Team how to push extra speed through turns with exceptional comfort and safety. Turning around after sprinting out of one of the corners, I see a large gap opening behind me. This is the point where I get to put those honed skills to use.
I come to the consensus that until there's a time check, I've got freedom to open up some serious time. It's a race to the first time check to establish my gap before worrying about the chase.
I know the training I've been getting from Provantage Sports is working and the fitness is there (a completely self interested plug right there). This is a championship race. Internally I tell myself: "Make it happen just like Paul Mach did in 2008 (report)." I take the corners smooth, feather down the hills, and hit the subsequent flat stretches and small hills with sustained concerted efforts of 400-500W. I could tell this is where training with fellow cycling coach Nate English has been really paying off. My team has my back. If I get caught, we've got some great sprinters who will be ready.
Mile 25: I get a time check of 2:10. "Ok, not as much as I'd like but let's stay smooth and stay out of sight." Mile 30: I then get a time check of 2:30. "Great! This could really work. Hold back, stay smooth." Mile 35: 2:00. "Oh man, they are coming in but I am getting close to the last big hill. There's still a lot of legs left. The training is timed and tuned to perfection." Mile 40: 1:50. "I am at the 9 minute hill, the last big one of the race. The legs are feeling great so I push it hard to maintain my gap and to ensure I am not seen on the climb's long stretches knowing that it could really work if I maintained the gap over the hill." Mile 45: 1:40. "Only 10 seconds lost on the hill! EXCELLENT!" Mile 48: 1:40. "I'm feeling great, the legs are feeling energized, 40 minutes of racing to go. It's on! This is now a 30km time trial. Pedal it in!" Mile 52: Hamstrings are not happy about this effort and cramp with every pedal stroke. I am not ready to give up. I am pedaling through the seizing muscles. I can feel my legs ripping themselves apart. If there's a pain that is any worse than being stabbed, it's stretching out a muscle that is actively pulling itself into a ball. "HTFU! JUST KEEP PEDALING!!!" Mile 53: 1:10. The descending is so close. "JUST KEEP PEDALING. DEAL WITH CONSEQUENCES LATER." Mile 57: I turn around and see a field led by BHRR winner, Keith Hillier of Marc-Pro Strava. The descending is just around the corner. "Just keep pushing and there might be a lull in the field. If not, your team is still getting a free ride."
I get caught. We are now on the descent and our team is looking fresh with numbers. We had numbers and utilized it well to bring it in for a field sprint. With intentions of keeping it together for a sprint, we covered an attack by Cal Giant's strong climber/TTist that created a group 2:1 in our favor. This isolated Cal Giant's strong sprinter Sam Bassetti to chase it down with our riders in tow. I gave what I had left to keep our guys in place. The team took over. Tyler gets a huge win (can't wait to hear his story).