Perfect day! We started at 7:20 AM; 70 degrees, and temps were expected to stay under 80 until we finished!
I feel it is necessary to mention the weather because a few months ago we raced Vlees Huis and it was over 100 degrees, which was a killer!
We had most of the usual suspects, except we didn’t have Thurlow and Roger Worthington; both from Breakaway from Cancer. Thurlow was hurt, and Roger flew the coop to Bend, Oregon to train for Nats! In attendance were Mark Noble and Louis Amelburu, who were huge threats; however, both were without teammates. Benny Parks (Jessup Auto Plaza) was looking good, and he did have a couple of guys to help him – the ever tough Brein Miller and Andy Jessup, who was coming off a win from the previous day. We hoped he was a bit tired from his win.
Big Orange was rocking almost their full road team: Steve Klasna, Jon Flagg, Mike Mid-Night-Oil Haluza, Michael Hotten, new guy Bart Clifford, defending road champion Jeff Konsmo and myself.
Yeah, strong group!
Most of these guys never race a Crit, but give them some crazy hilly terrain with a possibility of snow, rain or hot windy conditions, and they were ALL over it!
We thought our biggest threat would be Richard Meeker; he is on fire, and pounded me on the flats just last week. He sprints, he climbs, he covers attacks, but he was light-handed. His team help consisted mainly of two flat road specialists: Pete Sullivan and Rob Mesecher; we decided to try to isolate Meeker and make him work.
We sent our big gun, Steve Klasna, off the front right away. Meeker blasted off and joined him without dragging anyone else. A late entry, Bart Clifford, rapidly joined them; they built a lead quickly. WOW, that was easy!
Meeker was isolated, and this was the first 60-seconds in a 3-hour race; HE WAS GOING TO BE TOAST!!!!
I expected that Bart would work hard until the climb, and then come back to the group; he did and we picked him up near the top of the main climb. Job well done, Mr. Clifford!
The main group was large. We made the left turn and headed down the technical section of the course; fun, fast and curvy. The first right hander got the better of me 3 years ago, and I crashed and broke 6 ribs. This day, everyone was clean through all of the turns. We made the “U”-turn and headed back to the Start/Finish. Steve and Rich had about a 1-minute gap. Louie was mostly setting temp, but he had some help from guys we don’t race with often (I don’t know their names) and they were solo. I call them “stray cats”, mostly because they are willing to chase for really no reason except for, “hey, those guys are up the road! Shouldn’t we go faster so we can all be together?” Minor lesson in this team sport: don’t chase unless you have a teammate who will benefit. If you are solo and want to get into the breakaway, think “bridge up”, not chase. Okay, getting off topic here.
We hit the Start/Finish line, and the break still had about a 1-minute lead. Todd Parks of B&L Bikes and Big Orange’s MidNightOil hit the jets after the u-turn, gapped the group and made a run for the break…AWESOME!!! MidNightOil had a huge engine; he would be a welcome sight for Steve!
They made it to the break; we can see them working right away!
Now, I have to admit that I am a bit fuzzy about this second lap. I really cannot remember what happened, but about mid-way into the lap, 2 more riders escaped, including Mark Noble, and I did not see this go down. This was pivotal because we thought Mark was a huge threat to win. Jeff Konsmo or I should have been watching this and making the move with them!!! Big mistake!
Now as a team we had to decide if we were “okay” with this new mix of 6 breakaway guys. Jeff, M Hottie, and I discussed the situation at hand, and the consensus was to chase. We thought the hard pace would kill off most of our group so we jammed the pace and almost everyone in the group took a turn; we were slowly bringing the group back. We caught the breakaway as we were heading back to the finish line, about 10 miles to go. Riders looked bad, but our group was still about 20 strong. I was not thrilled that we chased the break and caught with so many bodies! Riders were cramping and looking tired, but they were still there; dang it! On the contrary, Konsmo looked great and appeared ready to repeat as the Road Champ! Klasna had been off the front for 70 miles and still looked good! Geeze, I would have been a mess!
As we hit the long flat approach to the finish, I was hoping for a few attacks and counter attacks, but there were none. I tried to sneak away, but I was not allowed to get more than a bike length away. I hoped for a counter; nothing, so I went again. The group was all over me like we were in the first few miles of the race!!! Weren’t these guys even tired at all??? Still no counter; again I was wondering why all these guys wanted to go to the line in a group!!! There were at least 5 great sprinters in this group! Excitedly, I realized there were Helen’s Joseph Sulse, Noble, Louie, Meeker, Konsmo, Klasna. I thought to myself, “the other 15 guys in the group have no chance”, but yet they sit; I was amazed (it’s not really unusual, guys sit in all the time, and shoot for 12th place…i don’t get it). But this was MY only chance to win this race, so I attacked! Nothing! We were now within a mile of the finish. I was on the front, and I could see my teammates just a wheel behind. The group was kind of strung out from the last acceleration, so I just kept the speed fast, and did my best to keep the group spread out. With about 700 meters to go, I was toasted. I swung off, everyone passed me. I saw the guys blasting away, and it was amazing how fast they got away from me!!! “HEY, Wait for me!!!”
Konsmo hit it hard, gapped everyone and made a run for the line. Rich Meeker (Breakaway from Cancer) was too much. He displayed the next level that he is on and won by 2 bike lengths. That was amazing! He was out there working all day and still delivered a huge win.