If you've read any of my previous race reports you'll know that I'm not usually short on words. :-) If you want to see a shorter version of the report below then check out it on CyclingIllustrated.com. The beautiful city of Bend, Oregon is once again (for the second year in a row) hosting the USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships.  For us in the 35-39 year old category, the time trial was on Wednesday, the road race was yesterday (Thursday) and the criterium is tomorrow (Saturday).  Having competed in only two time trials before, I decided I’d skip it, drive up from San Francisco on Wednesday and test myself in the road race and criterium.

I knew a few key aspects were going to play into the outcome of yesterday’s road race: altitude, the course, Team Monster Media Racing (MMR) and the race favorites.  The start and finish of the 110 km road race was at the Mt. Bachelor West Village base, situated at a mere 6,300 feet.  As one competitor expressed to me between two breathes as we rolled out under neutral “the altitude sure does pinch the lungs a bit.” The profile of the course was pretty basic; ride downhill for just over 15 km, dropping almost 2,000 feet of elevation, continue along 75 km on mostly flat terrain with a few bumps and false flat, then climb for 15 km to the finish, gaining about 1,500 feet.  The team with the most number of riders was MMR.  Not only did they have numbers but they also had some strong riders.  I hadn’t ridden against most of them before so I wrote down their numbers on my forearm.  This way I would know who to watch for during the race.  As for favorites, I based this off USA Cycling’s race predictor who had the top three as Rudolph Napolitano, Chris Brown and Jonathan Eropkin.  

Just under 50 riders rolled over the start line at 11:40.  It wasn’t long before I looked down at my Garmin and saw we were going almost 50 miles an hour. Thankfully we could use the whole road and the pavement was in great shape.  As the terrain flattened out, the attacks started as expected.  There was definitely some teams trying to establish a break.  Monster Media didn’t look to be an instigator but they definitely sent a guy up the road to make sure they were represented. I had heard from another rider that this year’s Cascade Cycling Classic, held on much of the same course, had many guys trying to establish a break but they always got pulled back and it came down to the last decisive climb.  I decided that I was going to rely on the merits of this and hang in the peleton and do my best on the final climb.

I’m guessing that it was around 20 miles into the race that a break of six riders got off the front.  Two of them were from MMR and another was race favorite Rudolph Napolitano.  I’m surprised this didn’t cause a bit more urgency.  But possibly like myself, other riders were watching a few of the other MMR team members that were still in the main group.  For the next 20 miles the pace was up and down, depending on if guys were trying to get off the front to bridge up to the break.  Two riders did end up getting away around half way through the race, one being race favorite Chris Brown. This ended up being a good move on his part.  The only action I really experienced was slamming into what seemed to be one of the only potholes in the course.  Hearing ‘click, click, click…’ as I put on my front break didn’t leave me with a comfortable feeling.  Turns out I severely cracked my carbon rim but thankfully it held to the finish.

As the final climb approached, it seemed as though it was really only one rider, Ben Blaugrund of Juwi Solar Cycling, that wanted to get a bit of a gap on the field before the road pitched up.  This wasn’t the case and soon we were climbing.  I knew I needed to be at the front in order to have the best chance of holding on.  Riders started falling off.  My heart was racing, legs were pumping and focus was on each pedal stroke.  I thought to myself ‘when was this hill going to end?‘  Soon there were just six of us, with me sitting on the back doing my best to hold on and  hide from a slight head wind.  We passed a rider and I saw a 700 number.  We had caught at least one rider in the front break and hopefully were going to reel more in.  My vision started to get blurry.  I was having a battle with my internal instinct that was telling me to stop.  The road flattened a bit and the pace increased.  I looked up and saw another climb ahead of me.  Imagine the sound of letting air out of a ballon. That’s how I felt.  The back tire of the rider ahead of me disappeared.  My pedal stroke slowed.  I was cracked!  But I had to keep going.  Just then three others riders went by me.  My brain was still winning….I couldn’t follow them.  I focused my attention to a guy on the side of the road who was cheering for us and managed to get out three words “How much further?”  He shouted “Just 300 meters to the top.”  I stood up and accelerated.  I had to get on the back of the three riders before the road flattened out at the top and began the 2.5 km somewhat flat run into the finish line.  Thankfully I made it and thankfully the guy at the front was happy to pull us along.  I accelerated to the front with about 500 m to the finish.  Fellow NorCal racer, Jan Weissenberger, hopped on my wheel and went by me just before the line, taking 13th and I 14th.  I had hoped to do a bit better but considering I gave it my all I can’t complain.

As it turned out, four of the riders in the front break ended up staying away from the five riders I almost stayed with.  I later found out that race favorite Rudolph Napolitano attacked the break with about 15 miles to go and ended up staying away.  He won by a very comfortable margin of 1:34.  Very impressive.  The sprint for second was won by Karl Bodine of MMR while Matthew Gates of Mix1 took third.  See race results here: http://www.usacycling.org/results/?year=2012&id=26&info_id=54387