by Bryan Larsen
It’s only February. How fast can this race be? I mean, it’s kinda cold and cloudy and we’re in normally sunny Southern California. Nobody is going to want to take control.
I told myself that while warming up on the nearby industrialized streets of Brea. I was wrong.
Roger Millikin Memorial Criterium brought solid organization, great timing, an incredibly fun and fast course, and a solid field. The familiar SoCal colors of Cashcall, Full Circle, MRI, Get Crackin’, Bike Religion, and a light sprinkling of Stage 17 Racing, took to the line eagerly to hear the final race rules: “you will be racing for 80 minutes, gentlemen…”
And so it began with the oddly calming whistle being blown. We were off, and straight from the gun a three-man move was up the road on the very first lap. Once they were brought back, another went. And another. And yet another. That continued for the next sixty minutes. Tensions were high and the race pace showed it. Attacks were relentless. I told myself to stay calm, eventually, the elastic would snap.
In the closing thirty minutes of racing, I noticed that gaps were starting to form a little easier. It seemed as though the packs’ legs were lacking the sharpness and snap that kept the pace upwards of nearly 30mph for the first hour. Heads were swaying and then–BOOM!–eight-ish riders were 5-8 seconds up the road. Checking for teams, I scanned the front of the pack then the breakaway. It was a seamless match. All the teams near the front were represented. CashCall had three. Full Circle had one or two. And the youngsters of MRI, Get Crackin’, and Stage 17 Racing all were there as well. While my teammate, Ben Bertiger, was up there, I knew I could get across and perhaps jumpstart our chances at a win with two full hands instead of one. I punched it during a moment of hesitation in the pack and powered myself across.
My legs were going good and I checked over my shoulder. A fourth Cashcall rider huddled in my draft as I closed the last few meters to the back end of the break. Bullets were used, but surely this was THE move of the day. Wrong again. Disorganization and a still-hungry pack brought us all back into the fold. It would be a day for the sprinters, I told myself as I drifted back into the pack, catching my breath.
In the final ten laps, tension peaked. Teams were trying to get their leadout trains organized behind the blue train of CashCall. Elbows began to fly. The sweet smell of burnt brake pads filled my nostrils and my adrenaline pumped. If nothing else, the adrenaline of such a fun course helped me recover from my earlier efforts during the race. I felt refreshed. I felt sharp, and so did everyone else near the leading point of the pack. Surely, Cashcall was the most organized, well in advance of the bell lap, but was it too early? Other teams seemed to think so and lined up waiting for a brief lull before taking the front. MRI, Bike Religion, and Full Circle all lined up in linear patterns offset from the Cashcal train. I, meanwhile, was swinging wheels from team to team.
Three laps to go. I saw a grey and orange blur on my left. My other teammate, Michael Valdez, launched himself ahead of Cashcall; a bold and fearless move. He held his gap for about a lap before he was brought back. I wanted to pat him on the back. Committing yourself to a suicide mission is sometimes the hardest part of racing. Michael’s willingness to train his mind to such an effort showed he will be a rider to be reckoned with later this season.
Two laps to go. Cashcall still at the front, but looking a little bit less organized. MRI and Full Circle both pressed forward to take control.
Bell lap. Cashcall surged forward and hooked it hard into the first corner. I heard panic from some of the other sprinters who were yelling at their leadout trains to start going, but with no reply as they themselves were maxed out. I got swarmed and found myself too far back exiting the second corner. I stood up and went all out, slotting in at 10th wheel cresting the second to last corner. I scanned through newly tinted SPY lenses to see MRI, Cashcall, and the lone Rahsaan Bahati fighting for the last corner. MRI took first through the last corner only to have Cashcall’s Justin Williams and Fabrizio Von Nacher cross the line first. MRI suffered some kind of ill-timed mechanical. Bahati finished up third. And a wicked fast Spy Rider, Erick Sobey, finished up just shy of the podium in 4th, which is a very solid performance considering he came out of the last corner in around 10th place just behind me and pounced past some big guns in the closing meters. And that left me. I finished 7th with no sprint left in my legs. At this level, we always want to win. ALWAYS. I was disappointed and rode back to my car. Ah, I sighed while packing up. I didn’t crash. I learned a lot. I felt strong. And, after all, it’s only February.