Poor College Kids Road Race Report: Masters 35+ 1/2/3
The 2013 So Cal Road Race Season Kick Off
by Matt Carinio (Arts Cyclery)
Having just wrapped up winter base training, I was eager to test my legs and blow the lungs out for the first time in four months. It would also mark the first race wearing the Stars and Stripes jersey I earned last year in Bend. But this is a new year and, as a famous cycling broadcaster once said, “the race has no respect for reputation. You’re only as good as now.”
Close to 70 racers would line up at the start in Santa Maria to tackle the 14-mile, windy, but relatively flat course. Before every race, my ArtsCyclery.com team selects the top five riders to key off of and this race was no exception. Our rider list included Time’s Rudy Napolitano and Michael Easter (both current national champions) as well as MRI Endurance’s Phil Tinstman, Gary Douville, and Anthony Rustuccia.
The race started slowly until we hit the first right hand turn ten minutes in and the attacks started to fly. Groups of two and three riders started jumping away from the peloton. I saw at least 3 green MRI jerseys up the road along with Michael and one of his Time teammates. Luckily for me, my own teammates Craig Nunes and Nate Erickson quickly jumped across and there were soon 15 riders with a lead of 30 seconds riding away from the field in the 60 km/hr tailwind section. I could sense the field’s disinterest and, with only ten miles or so covered and the first little hill quickly approaching, I knew the race was heading up the road. I figured that if the gap was still 30 seconds at the top of the hill, I’d give it a go to bridge across on my own. With a few solo attacks from various riders up the hill keeping the gap around 30 seconds, I bided my time until the gradient eased up at the top and there was maximum cross wind. I accelerated and for the first time since September I made a hard effort. Ouch! I immediately got a gap on the field and I was towing Kevin Phillips (another rider with stars on his sleeves) across. He took one short pull and admitted to be on his limit. I respected his honesty so I dragged him with me.
After a few minutes of chasing, we attached ourselves to the back of the break just before the downhill. The pack was out of sight, save for one last rider coming across on his own. It was Rudy. He would join a minute or two later just as we headed into the start/finish to complete lap 1. There were now 18 up front: 3 Time, 4 MRI, 3 ArtsCyclery, 5 Spy, 1 Helens, and 2 solo riders. We got a time check soon after and we already had a gap of nearly 2 minutes.
I had a quick chat with Craig, who mentioned that due to the size of the group he wanted to break things up. Needless to say, the other strong riders in the break had the same idea. Over the next 2 laps there were always 2-3 riders off the front with a lead of 15-30 seconds. The right combination never materialized and things continuously regrouped. During this time, we lost 3-4 riders due to attrition and the gap over the field was well over 3 minutes. We never got another time check but we didn’t need one.
The start of our 4th lap saw the first really dangerous move of the race take place. With riders starting to feel the early season efforts in their legs, Rudy and a solo rider rolled off the front and immediately got a gap of a few hundred meters. I road alongside Phil and Gary to have a quick chat. We agreed to put our teams at the front and just hold the gap at 30 seconds. We let Easter sit 5th wheel as between ArtsCyclery and MRI we had 4 riders rotating and keeping things in check. We let Rudy hang out for an entire lap and swallowed him up towards the end of lap 4. Looking around we had lost a few more riders from the break and it was now down to 12 heading into the 5th and final lap.
Just past the final feed, a lone rider who had been active in moves all day made a huge effort. Being alone and without teammates, we all let him go as we took a much needed breather. I had been keeping track of his strength during the race, but I started to get concerned as he become a distant dot up the road. Within 2 miles we got a time check of 30 seconds. The rider was Marco Arocha. I remember his impressive win at Vlees Huis last year as he solo’d the final 35 miles in 100 degree heat. Letting him go was a mistake. Once again, MRI and Arts were doing the bulk of the chasing. 4 riders pulling our break at 60km/hr on the tailwind section and the gap was still going out. 45 seconds was the next time check.
Craig decided he had had enough and he put in a slight dig. I told Nate to sit up and Craig got a gap of 50 meters. A slight hesitation by the rest of the riders and it was now a pursuit, Marco vs Craig. As we headed into Sisquoc (5 miles from the finish) Marco was at 45 seconds, Craig was at 20 seconds, and the riders in the break all seemed fatigued. The race was starting to heat up.
Rudy put in a huge effort and Phil followed. I jump across and we all sat up. Michael over the top followed by Derek Brauch from Helen’s. Rinse and repeat. This attacking over the next 10 minutes was brutal and everybody in the break was getting stretched. As we hit the bottom of the hill for the last time I could see Marco starting to fade on the lower slopes. Phil hit out very hard and I didn’t have the legs to follow. Easter came over the top. I still didn’t have it and they started to ride away as they bridged across to Craig with Marco only a handful of seconds ahead. In all likelihood I knew that when they caught Craig he would be under serious pressure, so I had to have a go. I made an acceleration 1/3 of the way up the climb while it was still steep and as I caught Craig, Phil, Easter, and Marco all at the same time, I turned around and saw the rest of the break scattered all over the climb. I rode by the leading 4, but the headwind was brutal and it was impossible to make progress. With such a strong headwind, I needed a gap on the rider behind to break the draft. I quickly glanced to see Easter on my wheel. I made two accelerations and was checking the shadows to see his wheel come off a few feet but it wasn’t enough. The climb was too short and too flat to do any real damage. I eased off as the hill flattened out and gradually turned to the left. I knew what was coming and it wasn’t going to feel good.
Phil attacked in full flight and immediately forged a 50-meter gap. Rudy jumped across and I saw the race going away. Derek Brauch went too. I wasn’t recovered. I had Michael on my wheel and he was cramping. Craig was distanced. Marco was struggling to come back from his nearly lap-long solo effort. The other remnants of the break were further down the slopes and out of it. I threw everything I had left into the pedals and made one final acceleration. Pulling Michael with me, I buried myself for the next minute and somehow clawed my way back to Rudy, Phil, and Derek. We were all completely exhausted. I figured Michael would counter but he was still cramping. We track-standed briefly at the top of the last roller doing about 8km/hr. Rudy went again and nobody responded. The gap went out to 10 seconds as we started the final 2km descent into the finish. Out of nowhere, Craig stormed past our group and we all scampered to find his wheel. He managed to bring Rudy back at the 1km-to-go sign.
There were only 7 riders remaining from the original 18 who went away 4 laps earlier, and any of them would have been a deserving winner: Rudy, Michael, Phil, Marco, Derek, Craig, and me. After catching Rudy, Craig continued to keep the pace high to discourage any further attacks. I figured that Michael and Phil were the two strongest sprinters in the group and I positioned myself behind them. Knowing how tired everybody had just been and not feeling confident leaving it late with such strong sprinters, I tried to surprise everybody and go for a Hail Mary at 350 meters as Craig began to fade. I immediately got a few meters’ gap and slid to the right of the road to force anybody coming around to do so on the crosswind side. I clicked up all the gears but I needed more speed. As we hit the slight rise with 100m to go I felt the legs start to leave me and I knew the inevitable was coming.
In the last 50 meters Phil and Derek got by me. In the last 10 meters Michael slipped by and I lost a bike throw to Marco. I’m disappointed in myself that I couldn’t pay back all the work Nate and Craig did for me on the day, but I’m pleased with the sensations in my first hard ride of the year. The final results were Phil 1st, Derek 2nd, Michael 3rd, Marco 4th, Me 5th, Rudy 6th, and Craig 7th. The best man won and that’s what it’s all about.
Final numbers geek tally: 72 miles, 2hr 57 minutes, 305 watts Normalized Power, Race Weight 145 lbs.