This race was on the team schedule from the start of the season and it was one of the big goals of mine for the year; to notch a podium placing in an NCC (National Criterium Calendar) event. I came close earlier in the year at the Dana Point Grand Prix, coming just short in 4th place so I was very eager to fulfill my goal at Vegas.  It was a night race, so once I got there that morning, it was all about trying to relax and lay down all afternoon in the hotel until race time. After getting my number and getting some lunch, Adam Switters, Brandon Trafton, and I finally went back to the hotel to relax and take a nap. We eventually all fell asleep for a good two hours so that passed a good chunk of the time. Before we knew it, it was time to get suited up and ready to race!

The team was: Roman Kilun, Shawn Rsoenthal, Dana Williams, Adam, Brandon, and I. With teams such as United Healthcare (UHC) and Smartstop here, we knew we were in a tough one tonight under the lights in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The plan was entirely to ride for a field sprint with Brandon, Roman, Shawn, and Adam helping to move Dana and I up for the finish and for me to sprint at the finish. The course was in a parking lot, so the course was designed out of metal gates that aren't curvy at all. For instance, in one of the turns, you get halfway through a turn and it would usually continue to turn, but with with these gates, it stuck out just enough to make you swerve last second and with a closing gate on the other side, it left very little room for error. Amazingly, there were no crashes that I know of there.

Dana and I were able to start front row until 3 rows of call ups started in front of us. This ended up being a smart move because of the such narrow course, riders were getting spit out the back early in the race and were having to work harder to keep up than the riders at the front. The race started out at a blistering pace with former Tour De France racer and current NRC (National Road Calendar) winner Francisco Mancebo (5 Hour energy) taking the front with a long line behind him. I didn't get the best start and started about 20 guys too far back and that made it hurt that little bit extra for the first 20 minutes of the race. My stomach was then turning upside down at times and it wasn't until the race started to settle down and I was able to move up the front safely that my stomach finally felt better. Unfortunately, Brandon, Shawn, and Adam were nowhere to be seen by halfway through the race and I was hearing that the race was getting blown apart so I assumed it was going to be just Roman, Dana and I for the finish. I was lucky enough to get a prime about two-thirds of the race through to pick up $200 which helped me build up my confidence in the hotly contested race. By 20 laps (out of 70) to go, UHC had taken over the front with a breakaway of a Smartstop rider and a Cannondale rider off the front which made it a dangerous breakaway for UHC. We started to fight for position with Smartstop at about 15 places back from the front but I let Roman know that we still had a lot of time left so we should wait until the closing laps to do battle. We relaxed for another 5-7 laps and then started to do battle again. Coming into  8 or 9 laps to go, I felt my rear tire going low and it was most certainly a flat tire! My worst nightmare! Luckily, with jumping a couple barrier gates and running back over to the pit, I just made it back in time to get a wheel change and get back out on course! This was a close call and I let Dana know beforehand just in case if I wasn't able to get back in. 2 laps later and I'm back out on course but was out of position, so with the time I had between corners I moved up behind Dana again with about 4-5 laps to go and Roman was nowhere to be seen. Unfortunately, he was caught out in a crash just before my flat and got a neutral bike but didn't fit him quite well enough to truly be able to be up there with us. I told Dana that we had to move up but we hesitated too many times in the closing laps to get by the Smartstop team to get behind the UHC train. This was our one mistake in the race. As the laps ticked by, riders were getting popped left and right and the sprinters were starting to show their cards. We stayed behind Smartstop and tried a last second jump within the last lap but it only moved us up a place or two. We settled for 9th and 10th places overall in the race where UHC ended up sweeping the podium finishing 1-2-3. Those guys deserve it and earned it without a doubt. They put on a show that no other team could do at that race. Big props.

After the race, I was initially disappointed because I knew I had a top 5 placing in me but in the end, a top 10, let a lone, 2 top 10's in an NCC race where a team went 1-2-3 in is quite a result for an amateur team that professional teams had no clue of before. We made our presence be known and we came up on top in our books. A quick thanks to all of my teammates: Adam, Brandon, Shawn, Roman, and Dana for all of their selfless efforts to finish off an amazing season with amazing teammates! Also, I would like to thank all of our sponsors for the 2013 season because none of this could have happened without you, so thank you so much and we look forward to hopefully continuing our relationship with you in 2014!

 

Thanks for reading and happy off season everyone!

 

--James LaBerge