It was another Saturday of racing where no one knew exactly how to dress. If you looked at the forecast online it showed the typical half sun, half cloud with 70% chance of rain. Will it rain, will the temperature drop significantly when it does? This was the Washington State Masters Road Race Championships and we didn't want to get caught off guard by anything. We all decided to dress for the extreme. You can always strip gear off, right?
It looked like it could rain at any minute but at the start the conditions were, well, OK. Along with me, Aaron, Nikos, Mike, Kevin and Ed lined up for the Masters 1/2/3 40-49 race. Other teams were also well represented and we knew we were going to be in for a tough race. The course isn't that tough on paper. There is one gradual climb not long after the start and a short grinder about 3k from the finish. Looking around we noticed that there were a slew of sprint specialist in the field and if any of them were still around for the finish sprint it could get ugly for us mere mortals. Once again our plan was to get 1 or 2 guys off the front in a break. I was going to keep my eye on Jeff Reed(Starbucks) and Aaron Shaw(HSP). They are two that have been luck getting into successful breaks so far this year. There were others to watch but I figured most of them would wait for something to happen and then try to jump on.
Not long after we were released by our lead car Jeff Reed took of and Todd Gallaher(Guinness) quickly joined him. I was near the front and ready to go but decided to see how the rest of the pack was feeling. No one else wanted to join the fun and I decided to just sit in near the front and see if anyone got nervous. Jeff went into diesel mode and Todd decided to sit up. Soon enough Jeff was just a speck on the road in front of us. A short while later I looked over at Aaron(HSP) and said, "You know we can't just continue to let him ride off the front like this, don't you?"
Aaron smiled and said that there was over 60 miles to go in this one and he won't be able to hold it riding solo. Did you see what he did at IVRR a couple of weeks ago?
Still, no one responded for a while but when we reached the short climb 3K from the start we started racing again. After the descent the pace towards the finish line was super fast. We were strung out single file. Jeff had held his lead for over a lap but as we took the right hand turn after the finish we could see him up the road. Everyone slowed up a bit, deciding to just let him dangle off the front for a while before reeling him in. The only thing wrong with that is Jeff doesn't give up and as soon as we slowed he hit the gas and started to increase his gap again. I hadn't really done any work so when we hit the climb I attacked hard just to see what would happen. A few guys jumped on and even though we got a little gap it all came back at the bottom of the hill. After that a small group of us started working pretty hard and after about a five minute effort Jeff was finally brought back. It didn't looked like he was hurting at all and he was immediately able to slide right back near the front of the pack. A few moments later Brad(HSP) took off and again, no one decided to go with him. He too disappeared up the road.
Brad held this for quite a while and I actually thought that if we didn't do something soon he might be able to pull it off. We started the final lap and it was now or never if we didn't want Brad to solo in for the Gold. Nikos, Doug(Audi) and Jeff(Starbucks), yes, Jeff, took off hard and got a gap. I was surprised that no one from Bikesale or Olympia Ortho made a move to go with them. We started up the first climb and Aaron(HSP) looked over at me and asked if I was OK with what was going on. I told him if the three of them were able to bridge up and work with Brad then I was super comfortable with it. I told him that if a group of strong guys responded hard to try to bridge we'd have to go with them. Right as I finished my sentence Rich McClung jumped hard with a couple of guys in tow and Aaron and I quickly responded. As we made the turn at the bottom of the hill I looked back and realized we had a gap on main pack. It was kind of a cluster f*ck at first but Rich finally got us organized and we quickly increased our lead. Soon enough we hauled in the three in front of us but Brad was still up the road a bit. There were 11 of us and right away I noticed that that about four of the guys with us were just happy to be there and were doing zero work. One of them was Aaron but we knew he was going to just tail gun until we caught Brad. After we got our double pace line going I finally took stock at who was in our group. I soon noticed that none of the big time sprinters made the break! Now we not only had motivation to catch Brad but also to keep the main pack from catching us!
It wasn't long before we caught Brad. He sat in the back and took a rest while about six or seven of us kept the rotation going. We had no idea how big our gap was so we couldn't start playing games. With about 10K to go we finally got word that we had well over a one minute gap and I knew the State Champion was going to come from this group. I looked around and knew Rich(Broadmark) and Mike(Bikesale) would be my two biggest threats in an all out sprint and that Jeff, Aaron and Brad could make a move and possibly get off the front. Now the small solo attacks started and they didn't stop. We kept our eyes on HSP and Audi who along with us also had two in the break. We were not going to let either of them go without Nikos or I jumping on. Jeff(Starbucks) was still feeling good after all the big efforts he had put in and of course put in a couple of attacks himself.
It was starting to get hard to respond to all the attacks but both Nikos and I were still feeling pretty good and when we finally got to the short climb that was 3K out Nikos jumped hard. I sat up and waited for others to respond and as soon as they did I jumped on and took a free tow up the hill. Near the top of the steep sections I saw that everyone was just lining up behind him so I decided to jump hard to force them to work a bit. I wanted to see if we could drop a couple of guys and also really wanted to be one of the first to hit the steep, winding descent. It had rained off and on during the whole race but seemed to be mostly dry now. I wanted to be able to take it as fast as I could and keep the packs strung out before the last 1.5K. I was the first to hit the finish stretch and I swung wide through the turn, forcing about four guys to go past me. We ran straight into a pretty strong head wind and I was sitting in great position about four wheels back. I looked back and saw that Mike(Bikesale) was right on my wheel and it was pretty much single file all the way back. I was going to wait and pick my time to sprint. I was feeling pretty confident.
With about 450m to go Jeff Reed jumped from behind and as he came by he yelled, "Get on my wheel!" I normally would be more patient but based on how he'd been riding all day and how fast he went buy I decided to take a chance and jumped on. We were flying! I looked back and saw we had a gap......a small one but a gap none the less. It felt good. Jeff was going to give me a perfect lead out! It seemed too good to be true. Jeff had gone so hard, so early that with about 300m to go he blew up and pulled to the right. I had no choice but to just put my head down into the wind and hope for the best. I went as hard as I could but I could tell I was not going to have the juice to do this for the full 300m. I had to just hope everyone else was dying too but I knew they were lined up behind me just waiting to pounce. At the 200m mark (which was probably at 250m) Mike(Bikesale) jumped hard and got a small gap. Rich(Broadmark) came by next and I got on his wheel. It was short live. I couldn't hold it and as the finish line got closer and closer I just waited for the swarm to engulf me. With about 50m to go I was still sitting 3rd but then one by one they came flying by and I couldn't do anything about it. I ended up 7th and Nikos 11th.
Jeff still managed to hang on for 9th and after the race he came up to apologize. I told him there was nothing to apologize for. That's just bike racing and we took a big chance and this time it didn't pay out. It has for each of us before and will again. He then said, "Yeah, I guess I didn't hold a gun to your head and force you to jump with me!" Exactly! We were a little disappointed but we both knew we left it all out there. I was super happy for Mike. He played it perfectly and deserved the win! On to the next race.