by Dana Williams This article can also be found on Dana's blog: http://www.achieveptc.com/san-rafael-twilight-p12-criterium-a-premiere-show-comes-to-town/

The San Rafael Twilight Criterium is what Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase considers our ‘home race.’ This is because Mike’s Bikes original store (the 1st of 11) and head office are both within a block or two of the four-corner rectangle course. The energy and excitement surrounding this race each year is what we really look forward to. This year there was a bit of added pressure, with teammate Eric Riggs, being the defending champion. It felt as though most other team’s crosshairs were directly on us.

Our plan going into the race was pretty simple: be attentive the first 30 of the 90 minutes, then get more aggressive and try to get two guys in a break, with at least one of our sprinters. If a break didn’t succeed by five laps to go, then our team would go to the front and line up our train for Riggs or James Laberge (who won the field sprint for 3rd in last year’s race).

Before the race got underway, event organizer Project Sport did what many in their position try to accomplish, and in my view few achieve with as much success. The energy and excitement they create is astounding. Music pumps and resonates through the streets as the sun sets; Dave Towle, the voice of US cycling, calls up riders in a fashion that makes them feel like superheroes; these same riders are escorted to the start line under umbrellas held by beautiful women; the crowd buzzes like electricity. I know I wasn’t the only one with goose bumps.

The whistle blew and we were off. In typical fashion, the first few laps were fast and strung out. Guys who started further back pushed hard to move up. Guys at the front worked hard to stay there without expending too much energy. There were a few close calls, with riders being aggressive and trying to stamp their authority by shooting through tight holes that closed up quick. Thankfully I didn’t hear the agonizing sound of carbon scraping along pavement.

The first real move of the night happened 15 minutes into the race. Our team’s newest recruit, Brandon Trafton, who never likes to sit in and watch the race unfold, got off the front and held a 10-second gap for about 10 laps. Guys attempted to bridge on countless occasions. My teammates and I made sure we were on all of these moves. Brandon got pulled back at about 30 minutes into the race. The next 50 minutes were pretty consistent; small breaks formed, getting no more than 10 seconds up the road and then being brought back. I marked a few moves and stayed towards the front, but soon felt as though the race was going to come down to a bunch sprint.

At around eight laps to go, my teammates and I started to amass at the front. Then, as I recall, with five laps to go, it was Shawn Rosenthal, Roman Kilun, Adam Switters, and Brandon Trafton rotating in front of me and keeping the pace high. Eric and James were on my wheel. With around three laps to go, guys were coming up and trying to get in our leadout train. Two guys ended up being successful, Eamon Franck and Justin Williams, both slotting just in front of me and behind Brandon. My role going into the race (if it came down to a bunch sprint) was to take over out of turn two on the last lap and get James and Eric into turn three first, just as I had done last year. I was feeling strong and believed I was going to be able to come over Eamon and Justin on the back stretch of the last lap, as they were likely not going to want to leadout the pack from that far out.

As we sped over the finish line with the bell ringing, Roman pulled off and Brandon took over. Everything was going fine through the entrance of turn one, but all the sudden I heard the dreaded sound behind me: carbon scraping along the pavement. Then in the blink of an eye I was hit from behind and unclipped my left pedal while fighting to stay upright. It all happened so fast. I thought my race was over and guys were going to come by me. I did my best to quickly clip back in. To my surprise, I didn’t get swarmed by riders. The chaos behind me slowed the surging field. I stood up and sprinted to try to get back to Brandon and the other two guys. It’s a bit of a blur as I think back, but I caught them around half way down the back stretch. Instinct kicks in and tells me to go by them on the outside, so I do. I’m first into turn three and four. I’m leading the San Rafael Twilight Criterium with about a 250 meter slight uphill drag to the finish line. I hear my teammate yelling ‘Go, go, go’ from behind. I try to carry as much speed out of the turn as possible, not knowing how close the guys are behind me. I put my head down and start sprinting. A gear shift stalls my momentum ever so slightly. The lactic acid begins to seep into my quads like water exploding through a river dam that has given way. A wheel enters my peripheral vision, soon followed by the mass of a muscular 21 year old rampaging like a bull running the streets of Pamplona; his name Eamon Franck. Then another wheel and rider; Justin Williams. I was dying a slow death, just hoping the finish line would come soon. And finally it did, to my relief without another rider coming by. Third place it was!

It’s easy to look back at a race like this, where I came so close to winning, and wonder if I could have done anything different. Unfortunately, my team had a bit of bad luck on turn one of the last lap after doing a fantastic job leading out. But ultimately I’m happy to find a spot on the podium. It’s a way to thank my amazing teammates of Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase, who rode such a great race, like so many other races this year, and our sponsors and supporters, who we couldn’t do this without them. Thank you.