This past Saturday up in Bend, Oregon, the Super Bowl of Masters category road and crit racing took place. Many of us SoCal racers signed up and made the trek up to the beautiful state of Oregon for the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Masters Road National Championships. I went specifically for a chance to win the stars and stripes jersey in the age 35-39 criterium. This race always brings out the top riders from across the country so it’s guaranteed to be a dog fight, and a very brutal and challenging day on the bike.
The race course consisted of a little over one kilometer, and had six turns. Two of these turns were rather unique with turn five being very nasty. We ended up having at least five to seven pile-ups in turn five during the race. Before getting out of turn five you had to go through an “S”shape, which had a slight uphill to it before dropping you downhill right into a sweeping right-hand turn that you could not take at a very high speed, or even pedal through it like a normal turn. Pedaling through this turn would cause you to wash out or clip a pedal like many riders did time after time during the 50-lap of the race.
The race started out moderate with the attacks slowly building as the race progressed. Once the attacks started they never let up. The Monster Media/MRI guys and Time Factory Team were often trying to keep the pace high and bust up the field. As I saw the tactics of the day playing out I was sure to ride and stay near the front so I would not miss any moves. Since I was racing without any teammates, I formed an alliance with a couple other single riders. One of the riders, Jan, I recognized from the Dana Point GP. Jan is a solo sprinter, like me, so I suggested we look out for one another. The plan was cool with him because it was clear that Monster Media was racing for a break, with a goal to keep me out of it. Every move I got in, once they saw I made the split; they would sit up even though they had strong numbers in the move.
As the laps continued to count down I began to think the race would stay together, until we hit 12 laps to go. Right then: Boom! Mike Easter (Time Factory Team) hits it pretty hard with no one responding, quickly putting time on us. I was expecting Monster Media to respond as they lined up five guys but they waited. Once they realized Mike was rolling pretty well, they started to chase but never organized their chase properly. Instead of sending all of their guys to the front, they would send one to two guys at a time which never works when trying to bring back a one-man break especially with a guy like Mike Easter. He was going as good as he has been in the last month. I had very little options since I was racing alone and with the field watching me, I did not want to waste my few bullets I had left.
As we got down to five laps to go, I knew we had to bring him back or the race would be a wrap. We got him down to ten seconds with two laps to go but on the quick-moving technical course it wasn’t enough. We weren’t bringing Mike back. So, I changed my focus to making the podium and winning the field sprint and a silver medal. Heading into the last lap I was sitting fifth wheel which is not a great position because everyone who won another category race or won the field sprint came out of the final turn in first. In turn five I was still sitting fifth wheel waiting for an opening that seemed like would never happen.
Going through the “S” section of the course my opportunity came as the two riders in front of me went down. One was my new buddy, Jan, and the other guy was Rudy Napolitano (Time Factory Team), who had just won the road race two days prior. The crash left a gap for me to close on Kayle LeoGrande (Monster Media) heading down the long stretch before the final turn which was only about a 100 meter run in to the finish line. I give an effort to catch on to Kayle’s wheel thinking to myself, “stay calm because the final turn is one you can not take at top speed, otherwise you’ll hit the barriers.” So, I took the final turn very careful. So careful that I had to sprint on my hoods which is a big no-no, but even sprinting in my hoods I was lucky enough to catch and come around Kayle to take the field sprint and second place. I was proud of my sprint, but it was not as impressive as the effort put in by Mike Easter; attacking the field solo and holding off 30 charging men, as half the field either dropped out, crashed out, or either pulled out due to the difficulty of the course and speed.
Huge props to Mike Easter and his team on capturing not one, but two National titles in the same weekend. Congrats to all the people who laid it all on the line and gave there all without quitting in the biggest event of the year. Thanks to USA Cycling and the amazing city of Bend for putting on an awesome event.