On the day of the race, as my Jelly Belly teammate, Nic Hamilton, and I rode around PCH figuring out how we were not going to fall asleep on the beach that looked so inviting, we realized we were riding on a completely closed section of PCH. Really? What American city can shut down a road like PCH? That’s what makes the Dana Point Grand Prix special to me. That, and I won there last year. Anyway, after two cokes, one snickers, and two bags of Sport Beans, Nic and I felt like we had finally overcome the jet lag we were hanging on to after our return from the Tour of Korea earlier in the week. We were ready to race.
The start of the race was just like the finish of the race: Fast! Last year I don’t remember it being single file for such a dramatic amount of time. As I watched a few teammates waste some energy pulling hard on the front, or attacking from the front, I felt that it was time to be more attentive. With the constant pressure, I was sure something was going to happen.
Just as I started to move up, I saw my teammate, Sergio Hernandez, flying in to a breakaway that put several teams in threat. Sergio and his two compatriots had launched the most substantial and dangerous move of the day. But, alas! Their efforts were in vain, as the SoCal teams, with some help from United Health Care (UHC), slowly pulled them back.
In the last 30 minutes of the race nerves were obviously starting to get tested as riders fought for position, even when it wasn’t in their best interest. Around six or seven laps to go UHC took the front with a fury and controlled the pace like they have so often in criteriums across the U.S.
With five laps to go I blinked and found myself no longer in the top 15 riders. The washing machine of riders had hot-routed and jammed their way up to the back of the UHC train with limited regard for preservation to actually have a finishing kick. Looking through about 50 to 60 riders, I told myself to not freak out and just slowly work my way back up to one of my teammates positioned well. In this situation a rider has to be very precise when he decides to move up. If you mistime it, well, you’ll only waste energy and go nowhere. Let’s just say I had to say sorry a few times as I took some hot routes of my own in my pursuit back to the front of the group.
With two laps to go, a few of my teammates and I were positioned just to the side of the UHC train, waiting our turn to give the lead out a go. However, with such a short and tight course we were never able to fully get together to overtake the UHC train. On the bell lap, Sergio surged up the left side of the group with me on his wheel. Then, just as quickly as he got to the side of the lead-out train, he dropped me off, right on the wheel to be on: Hilton Clarke’s. The UHC rider was one of the favorites in the race. His team controlled the closing laps and with his quick turn of speed, Clarke was at an advantage. But, lucky for me, I was placed so well by my teammate, Sergio.
In the last straight-away King Karl Menzies (UHC) peeled off the front after a massive effort, and we sprinters are off to the races. Coming to the final 50 meters it was so close. Only in the final meters did I realize I had the edge, but I do not sit up early. I gave it one final push to the line to ensure the victory, and success was ours! After avoiding way too many close calls, the Jelly Belly Presented by Kenda boys were able to come out on top again!