Winter training is officially over for most in NorCal. Snelling, basically the fastest race of the year, (everyone is so fit due to no rain the entire winter) is the usual “wipe the cobwebs off the race bike” first race. Every field is practically full, and riders are chomping at the bit to show off their white, untanned, freshly shaven legs. Ahhh racing has begun.
The Pro race started off super fast. Everyone was gung-ho to make an impression on this early season race. There were many teams of 10 riders, and each year, it seems like the recruitment of riders and teams gets bigger. This year, Marc-Pro Strava, Mikes Bikes, Vu-Medi, and Squadra are fielding some great competitors. It’s nice to see the sport picking up around here, teams like Vu-Medi and Mikes Bikes really focusing on development and mentorship.
Anyway, the first two laps were blistering. Each team wanted to have representation off the front in the break. So, if there wasn’t a team member up the road, then someone would try to get across, or the break was neutralized. After I tried a few times to get in the break with the right mix of riders, I decided that at 30 mph average, anyone getting off the front had a long shot. So, since I was the sole rider from Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis in the race, I sagged to the back of the race and sucked wheels.
When you are your only teammate, it makes these local races tactically harder then most UCI races. So, in this chess match, you’re constantly protecting the King. If you make a few wrong moves, you leave your King unprotected and vulnerable. But, if you play a strategically sound game, you can take down your opponent when the opportunity arises. You don’t want to go into a knife fight without a knife, you want to bring a bazooka.
Snelling, for me, was a waiting game. You basically had to outsmart your opponents, wait for the right moment, and commit 100 percent. Since the first few laps were so fast, I knew that everyone was burning up their matches early. There are only so many times you can attack before your magic beans run out. With around 3 laps to go, I started making my way back up toward the front. I started feeling that the pace was starting to slow and people were getting tired. This is when I started really watching for the right mix of riders, from the right teams, go up the road. I started using my “pawns”.
With two laps to go (11 miles per lap) all of the sudden, the right mix of riders were going up the road and the next thing you know, 10 guys have a major gap on the peleton. Out of those 10 guys, eventually 7 men were left standing. Those riders, Colin Daw (Mikes Bikes), Adrien Costa (Hagens Berman) , Chris Reikert (Mikes Bikes), Max Jenkins ( Marc-Pro Strava), Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis), Tyler Brandt (Stage 17) and myself were left to duke it out for the finish.
The cohesion in the group dwindled immediately. It seemed like no one wanted to sprint from the group. Naturally, people started attacking. I think that Ben and Chris were playing a little bit too much cat and mouse, and eventually took themselves out of the break. I think these two were probably the stronger sprinters of the group, so it worked out for the rest of us.
The group started rotating well together, with some minor hiccups along the way. You have to understand that in order to make it to the finish without being caught as a group rotating is much easier then going out and trying to solo the last 10 miles. If you want to win solo, you must wait until you know you’re able to go “full gas” to the finish without blowing yourself to smithereens. Attacking from so far to the finish was not the brightest idea, unless there was a massive climb to the finish. But, Snelling is a flat and windy course. So, if you’re not a sprinter, the odds of winning from a small break compared to the entire field are much higher, you have to try to work together to make it near the finish. When you know that you’re going to make it to the finish with the “break”, then you can start playing games.
These games started with about 5 km to go. Attack here, get caught, waste energy, etc. It’s easy to sit in the draft on a flat road with no wind. With 2 kilometers to go Max Jenkins attacked and got a healthy gap. Then, the remainder of us just kind of starred at each other. “No you pull….No you chase it down….” That’s what was happening. So with about 1 kilometer to go, I no longer wanted to risk the games. And at this point, I knew I could make it to the finish in one effort without blowing up. I attacked, got a gap, and never looked back. I took the final corner in front of Max, almost going off the road (Snelling roads are very bumpy). I almost died on the rise to the finish, but I’m pretty sure so did everyone else behind me. Tyler Brandt did a fantastic ride to finish second and Max hung on for third.
It was super satisfying watching this race play out. It seems like people are riding very aggressively this year and putting their efforts out on the line. I hope the races continue this way, as they should. Hard racing and having fun is the way it should be. “Look, I won this sweet T-shirt!”