I'd say there was a bit of tension in the air today for the P12 Winters Road Race. But not just your usual pre-race jitters. For those of you following the NCNCA BikeReg.com Premier Series you'll know that Winters RR was the second to last race of the series. Marco Pro-Strava (MPS) came into the race holding first place and Team Mike's Bikes was second, down by 43 points. Therefore, we knew that if we wanted a chance of catching MPS then we had our work cut out for us. Essentially we needed to try to get as many points as we could before the last race in the series, the Giro di San Francisco on September 3rd. The more riders we had in the race the better our chances. That said, I was thrilled to see 10 teammates at the start. Here I have to reiterate the sentiments of many team members in previous blogs that it's great to be part of a group of riders who are committed to supporting each other and helping the team achieve it's goals. MPS was represented with about 6 or 7 of their strong men, CalGiant 4 or 5, Metromint 2 or 3 and few other NorCal strong men including pro's Nate English of Kenda 5-Hour Energy and Max Jenkins of Competitive Cyclist.
The P12 race was 96 miles, or 4 laps of the 24 mile loop (see Strava ride date at the bottom of this blog). The course was essentially flat except for a 10 1/2 minute climb (separated in 3 shelfs) about half way through followed by a descent back down the the valley floor. It was my first time doing Winters but from team discussion before the race, this climb was the likely spot where a break would get established. True to that, on each of the four laps, around 10-12 riders got off the front.
The first lap we had two in the move but it was pulled back within a few miles of the bottom of the descent. Then on the second lap, we organized at the front and pulled a few strong riders back before the climb. Up over the climb and down the decent, we had three solid road racers in the break (Eric Riggs, Tyler Bryant and John Piasta) along with Jenkins, English and a few others. The good news for those TMB riders in the field was that MPS had missed out on getting a rider in this move so we could sit in and mark dangerous moves trying to bridge to the break. MPS ended up doing some good work, with the help of a few riders from other teams, and brought back the break at the beginning of the third lap.
About a 1/4 of the way into the third lap, teammate Hank Scholz (riding his first P12 race and fresh off a few weeks of racing in Belgium) followed an attack by Keith Hillier of MPS. No chase ensued so their gap grew. The field then got neutralized so their gap continued to grow (I later found out that they got neutralized for a bit as well). The pace up the climb this time seemed to be a little less aggressive. Therefore, there was a larger group at the bottom of the descent.
Then on the forth lap, about a quarter of the way through, we rode by Hank who unfortunately was on the side of the road and seemed to have had a mechanical. You could imagine the reaction this caused....a few sirens were going off. MPS now had a strong rider up the road. It was now TMB's job to pull him back if we wanted any chance of making up points on MPS in the Premier Series. So up to the front went team members and upped the pace. I was still feeling pretty good so after a brief discussion with teammate John Piasta, it was decided I would sit in and try to conserve. Our game plan going into the race was that if it looked as though the finish was going to come down to a pack or bunch sprint and I was there then I probably had the best chance at the win considering some sprint finishes earlier this season.
We brought back Hillier of MPS just about at the base of the final climb. When we got to the top, I thought I was with the lead group. My teammate Tyler Brandt was next to me and I was following Nate English. But at the bottom of descent, when the road straightened out, I saw that around six riders had gotten off the front. From what I recall, there was Jenkins, a CalGiant and MPS rider and a few others. If we wanted to finish well we needed to bring this back. I knew our chances were pretty good though with Nate back with Tyler and I. And sure enough, after some strong work by Tyler, Nate and one of two others, we bridged up to the lead group. There was about 7 miles to go and the group was about 16 riders. MPS had three riders and it was Tyler and I from TMB. I was a bit concerned we were outnumbered and wondered if this disadvantage would be taken advantage of. The attacks started. Fortunately other riders were also sensing a strong finish so we had some help covering moves. At about four miles to go, Jenkins put in a strong attack. He was joined by another rider and a gap opened. Shortly after I made an acceleration and all of the sudden felt my hamstrings and quads twitch. 'Oh no, were my legs going to seize up on me. Relax, nice smooth pedal strokes' I thought to myself. Then Chuck of MPS took a flyer. My focus now was to keep pedalling steady so not to aggravate my muscles and cause a cramp. We brought back Chuck at about a mile to go.
I had studied the last kilometre the three previous laps and knew that the speed would be high and an ideal position would be 4th or 5th wheel rounding the last corner, about 250 meters from the line. As we came into that last corner, I was positioned where I wanted but was concerned I'd seize up if I got out of my saddle to sprint. So I decided to stay seated and accelerate. I put my head down and passed a few guys ahead of me. Then, to a bit of a surprise to me, I passed Jenkins. He had still been off the front. Right then it occurred to me that I was in the lead. The finish line was right in front of me; I raised my hands and celebrated my first P12 road race win.
A huge thank you to my teammates for laying it on the line to bring back moves, mark dangerous attacks, establish breaks and then Tyler for sacrificing himself to reel in Jenkins and other moves in the final few miles. Also to our sponsors for providing us with the best equipment: Specialized, Zipp, BikeSmart, ClifBar, Capo, SRAM, Look, Garmin, GoPro, Smith and SF Parking.
As for the Premier Series points update. If my calculations are correct, my 20 points for the win and MPS best place rider's 4 points (9th place) means we are now just 27 points out of first place. Come on out and watch the Giro di SF on September 3rd. It's going to be a battle...and lots of fun.