Nothing like getting up at 3:45 am for a bike race. I was too busy on Saturday evening, which meant I had to drive to Bakersfield in the morning for a 7:10 start. I’ve been riding a little, but had no real expectations for this race. I think I’ve done one ride in the last few months over 75 miles. so I knew things would be rough on the last lap.
My strategy for the race was simple: shorten the race as much as possible and try not to ride in the wind unless necessary. We left the line and we were cruising. Nobody wanted to pull and we were reaching speeds of 15mph, perfect. We hit the long climb, and the pace picked up with Pat Caro taking a few pulls. I was pretty happy about how my legs felt. The tempo picked up over the top, through the small climbs. to the turn around and over the first climb on the return. I started thinking nothing would happen until lap two, so I drifted back a little. We cruised down the twisty decent into the last climb. Carrying speed off the decent. we started the climb and the speed was not dropping; hell it was increasing! So much for thinking nothing would happen until lap two. I figured I would go until my legs and heart screamed to stop, and I would keep passing guys until I reached the front. I saw Pat Caro and Mike Onkels backing off the pace of the three guys on the front, and decided this was a good spot. My legs were feeling good, but I was definitely not up for a 100k break. Two more riders went across, and the 5 man break was set. Pat made a hard yank for the front before reaching the top and continuing down the decent. There were less than 15 guys left out of the 50 starters with 5 or so bridging up on the decent.
The chase was on and the break built up a one-minute gap by the bottom of the decent. The break had three Arts Cyclery.com/Wild horse Wines riders, one Cal Pool rider and one Harmony Homes rider (I believe that was the other team). The chase group contained 20, but there were some who were counting down the miles until they came off again, and three riders had teammates in the breakaway. Realistically, there were only ten maybe that would work to pull the break back, and my plan of not doing any work was thrown out the window very early in the race. We were not super organized, but we were at least keeping the break around the one-minute mark. Distance was on our side, the break would crumble; hopefully.
Lap two was steady with no easy way into the break, but, luckily, they were not gaining much either. Our group was down to 15, maybe, and I was not liking towing around someone like Mike Onkels, but that’s bike racing. He and his teammate were doing a good job of getting in the way for teammate Rubin Meza up the road.
We started the last lap with a time gap of 1:20. On the flats before the last time up the long climb, I made a big mistake. A rider made a surge past the Calpool guys, who had moved to the front, and soft peddled. I rode to them and sat on their wheels wanting to make them close the gap. The group was riding away, and Mike kept slowing down, trying to force someone to close the gap. Jessups Auto Plaza rider, Evan Trubee, finally jumped and I rode with him. Evan made a short pull, and I came around him thinking, “I have to catch these guys before the climb or I’m screwed.” I pulled until we hit the top of the climb, and the group was still 15-seconds ahead. I thought about pulling off to see if I would get any help, but I knew if I did that, all I would gain is 3 guys sprinting by me. So, I just kept the power on, finally bringing them back. I ended up pulling for a little over 2 minutes according to my race data. Mike came by me after we caught back on, smiled and said, “nice pull”. Mike worked his way to the front to slow things down, and I was very happy. At the top of the climb, I could see the break coming apart. Matthew Carinio, from Arts Cyclery, attacked. Three were together, and one was dropping back quickly. A La Grange rider took off after the doomed break, and did bridge up, seeing Matthew at the turnaround. Pat pulled up on the second to last climb after the turnaround, and I stuck to his wheel, pulling through over the top as he started to complain about craps. We hit the last climb and I decided to set a hard steady tempo. I couldn’t figure out if guys were wasted or just saving energy for the finish. I pulled the entire climb trying to shake off anyone I could, and caught the break at the top. With only a group of ten left, and the leader with a big gap; we were racing for second as we started the decent. I’ve done my share of work, and I was not doing anything from here. Pat kept launching attacks on the flats, but riders kept going after him and he was not going to get away. I rode up the right to counter another move with about 2k to go, but got pinched and couldn’t get by with speed. I figured I had a good shot at achieving top six by just waiting at that point. I knew I was not going to beat Pat and Mike so I figured 4th would be about as good as I could expect. The sprint started at the crest of the climb, and after standing, my legs were seriously cramped. The pain was bad from my groin down to the top of my knee in both legs. I sat down and just hoped they would not completely lock up. I passed a few guys just before the line and thought I was going to get 8th.
I was pretty stoked to get 6th, but I made a lot of mistakes out there; who knows if I would have placed better by sitting in more. At the end of the day, I had a blast. I’ve been shooting so many of these races; I really do miss competing. All-in-all, with my goal of just not getting dropped, I was pretty happy to finish in 6th place.
For those who have not raced this course, do yourself a favor and do it next year. I’ve heard all the jokes about Bakersfield, but you will not find a better all-around race course then this. It was so scenic I almost wish I was shot it instead.