By: Todd Markelz
Event: 2017 NCNCA Championship 35-39
Teammates: No masters teammates, Trevor Gilmore from the MB development squad
Conditions: Sunny, mid-60s with a 10-15mph headwind on the climbing portion of the course, strong tailwind for the miles leading into the start/finish.
Without teammates the plan was to animate the race on my own. With the strong headwind the thought was that a break would surely take the day. Therefore, my approach was going to consist of early aggression in an attempt to form a select group that was willing to work together. My best chance for victory would come from a reduced sprint in the end.
There were several key players to keep an eye on. Chris Cain (Squadra), Chris Coble (Olympic Club), Will Riffelmacher (Olympic Club), and Josh Carling (William Cycling) all promised to be there in the end and would be the likely candidates to race aggressively.
The race started out mellow. After an entire first lap of what felt like soft pedaling I decided it was time to test some legs. The second time into the climbing portion of the course I put in an attack to see who was in the mood to race. After about a minute of effort I looked back and saw that three had followed. I kept the pressure on for another two minutes, yes the four of us only had a marginal gap which was quickly washed away by the field during the rapid descent down into the valley. I had fired the first shot, but it was a miss. During the long tailwind section in the lead up to start/finish line everyone regrouped and prepared the climbs again.
The second time hitting the bumps Coble rolled off the front. It was clearly not an all out attack but he easily grabbed bike lengths and then looked back as if to dare people to bridge. Sticking with the plan of early aggression I bit. With a quick jump I sped across the gap thinking he would make a great breakaway companion. Alas, this move was also not to be. By the top of the climb and the subsequent descent the pack was all back together. Several people made charges out of the descent and onto the flats but the headwind was so fierce that all attacks were short lived. The field was approaching the end of lap three all together.
As the gradient toward the start/finish increased Coble once again sped off the front and quickly established 50 meters. Again he looked back, apparently waiting to see who would join. As the hill began to crest the collective pack backed way off the pressure and I saw my opening. With a slight acceleration I bridged to Coble with his teammate Will tailing me. After catching Coble he sat up, but I had other plans. Knowing Will would stick on me I pushed through and in no time both Will and I had established an advantage of 10 seconds and we were rapidly approaching the climbing portion of the loop. It was make or break time. With an all out assault for the next several minutes I was convinced we could open up a significant lead… one that we may just be able to hold to the line if we both were willing to work. I lowered my head and dug in. As we reached the end of the 4th lap the pack was nowhere to be seen behind us. It was time to settle in as we still had 9 laps to go.
Will and I collaborated well. Through an even share of the work load we rode steady for several laps and still the pack was nowhere to be seen. By the time we started getting gaps back to the group we’d already open up a 1:10 advantage. That gap held steady for several of the mid-race laps but then slowly started to increase. With each lap my optimism grew. It climbed to 1:20, then 1:30, then 1:45. With only 4 laps left to race we’d increased our lead to over 2 minutes. Surely we would not be seen again.
Then it happened. Halfway through lap number 11 the motorbike pulls along side me and delivers the one piece of news I was hoping to not hear. While the field was 2:30 back a solo rider had escaped the group and was now charging his way toward us. I didn’t need to ask who it was… who else could it have been? Coble was coming.
Will was aware of this fact as well and suddenly the tables had turned. My pulls got longer, Will’s got shorter, and I could sense the weight of the race shifting to my shoulders. It was now up to me to try and stay away. The final two times up the climbing portion of the course I expected no help and instead remained focused on maintaining as much of my lead as possible over the now unleashed Coble.
Well into the final lap, a quick look back over my shoulder after the last ascent of the day gave me hope. No other riders were in sight and all that stood between me and victory was a descent, a few miles of tailwind, and Will who had been happily sitting on my wheel.
As the finale approached I started soft pedaling while constantly looking over my shoulder to ensure Coble was still out of sight. Will made it clear that given the race situation he was content with forcing me to lead out the sprint. Realistically there was no way I was going to be able to avoid it. Given this fact I knew the longer I could wait the better. I was only going to have one shot at a kick and I didn’t want Will to have enough time to accelerate up behind me and make a last second charge. The line came into view and the gradient started to increase. With one eye on the finish and one eye on Will I waited to see if he would jump. Well inside of 200m and still neither of us had committed anything. The line approached ever closer and I finally felt the time had come. I poured everything I had into ten hard pedal strokes then glanced between my arm. I saw a gap... I saw victory. With a final kick I shot across the line. I had won!
The field, the climbing, the headwinds, and two hours off the front with Will, had all made for a tough day of racing. But it also meant the taste of victory was that much more sweet!