By Shawn Rosenthal You only have a few races throughout the year that truly justify putting down that fourth slice of pie or deny yourself that third helping of chocolate covered ice cream. This would be one of those races. Something to do with a climb that is the tallest in the bay area. Oh, right. They've got a flock of observatories at the peak.
This year it's cold and wet. I think I heard some whining and complaining. At that point I decided it was time for headphones to keep those thoughts muffled. I still heard them. Turns out those were my thoughts. I may have started the race with a thermal jacket only to ditch it 2km into the race. Worth it.
In years past, the pace up the climb has varied from "ok, this is manageable" to "my eyes are bleeding". This year was far toward the later and then some. We start heading up the hill and immediately the line of riders spreads out single file, detaching some within the first 10 minutes of the climb. My team set up the race to allow me to conserve as much energy as possible. While they were holding together the race, I was floating through the group, staying sheltered from wind and any accelerations. On the final part of the climb, the pace picked up and I was 20 wheels back with the 2012 winner, Tyler Brandt. He starts losing contact with the wheel in front of him. I've ridden with this guy. He's fast. He gets KOMs on Santa Rosa ground. This is where I knew I needed to get up to the front of the race immediately. As I was moving up I saw gaps opening up as I passed by like one of those wooden bridges in cartoons where they would fall apart while running across. I was in a small group that was making time up the road quick. Not too much longer, Kirk Carlson (Predator Cycling) puts in a vicious attack that only a brave Sam Bassetti (Cal Giant) could follow. I "decided" to stick behind with the horsepower of my teammate, Steve O'Mara, Adrien Costa (Slipstream-Craddock), Jack Maddux (Specialized Jr Racing), Art Rand (Marc Pro Strava), and Justin Rossi (Marc Pro Strava). With a blistering pace, we were only 20 seconds behind the duo up the road by the summit.
We start going down the hill and not wanting to lose my teammate, I hold back and let the others set the pace. Almost immediately, Costa takes off. I follow him and within two turns we are out of site and closing in on the two up the road. Seeing he's spinning out his 14t cassette, I give some help on the straights and we make our way up. Costa and Carlson do the pacing on the hills. Bassetti and I give what we can on the flats. We get note that 3 are 30 seconds behind. I was assuming this was 2 Marc Pro and my teammate. This was not too bad a situation. The rider covering Rossi and Rand in the chase group was the fastest sprinter in the race, my teammate, Daniel Holloway, depressing the motivation of the chase that much more. I knew my teammates put their trust in me and would be there for me in the field. On the feedzone hill the chase group is closing down. Carlson and Costa push the pace. I sit on, doing what I can to survive. Bassetti loses pace after a heroic effort up the Hamilton slope. We work together and are surprisingly caught with about 12 miles to go by the Marc Pro duo, Rossi and Rand.
I continue pulling through; however, I am immediately gapped off when I roll behind the second Marc Pro rider. I had a feeling it would start getting really nasty if we got caught and it did. It's racing and they were making some good moves to go for the win. For the remaining miles it was a mix of Rossi pulling like a motor, someone attacking, cover, someone attacking, cover, Carlson pulling, someone attacking, etc.
Knives were digging into my legs with every acceleration. I kept reminding myself of those who have gotten me here today and let the knives dig a little deeper.
We finally make it down to the final 1.5km and I am caught on the front after leading the descent. I am first off relieved that we're so close and also straight up terrified to be in such a vulnerable position. Costa attacks with 1km to go. I halfway cover and pull off. Carlson takes over. I follow him. Rossi takes over. I follow him. Carlson starts sprinting with 500 to go and I am slow to get on his wheel. I attach with 300 to go, recover until 250m when I felt a lull and gave it a go. I have played this moment in my head for years. At the time, I kept wondering if this was a lucid dream.
I heard later that roman was putting in dig after dig to cover moves, eventually having to stop for a double flat. I heard he stopped, content with the situation, and said calmly "Shawn is up in the breakaway, they'll stay away and, he'll win the race in a sprint." Leadership like that makes the racing so much smoother and revive the confidence needed to win races.