Words by: Jonathan Baker (Chico Masters Cycling Team)
After a big result like my win this past weekend in the Snelling 35+ 1/2/3’s, I remind myself to savor the moment as much as possible. Trying to win a road race against tough competition is usually an exercise in futility. Seventy-five other guys toed the line, many with aspirations of winning the race themselves. What other sport gives you such low odds of victory? To compound matters, the flat to rolling parcours did not especially suit the body type of a skinny climber. Nonetheless, I entered the race with some confidence. I have been on good form and have a motivated group of guys working selflessly for a Chico Masters Cycling Team result.
The team had devised a strategy of covering and controlling the race in the first few laps (there were five laps – sixteen miles each). The early start, my unfamiliarity with the course, and my preference to make a later, decisive, move versus an early longshot breakaway led us to this plan. Sure enough, a first-lap escape of four riders went away. That break included some dangerous riders such as Chris Phipps (Thirsty Bear), and Patrick Stanko (Team Stand). I relaxed at the back of the pack eating my homemade rice cakes while my teammates worked tirelessly at the front. They were either pushing the pace to keep the gap to the break reasonable or jumping on the constant counter-attacks. By lap three, as the pace continued to increase in the field, the break was reeled in by strong pulls at the front by Chico Masters and others.
When the break had been caught, it was my time to get to work. I had picked out a spot on the backside of the course to initiate an attack. A sequence of rollers combined with rough roads made it a good place to get away from the pack. Before we got there I needed to make sure a move didn’t go without me in it. After covering a sequence of attacks, in a fast, flat section that left the field strung-out and tired, I sensed it was a good opportunity.
I went full-gas down the right side of the road. I gained 100 meters, and glancing back saw another rider bridging. Easing slightly, as I welcomed the company, he joined up and immediately went to work. The bridging rider was none other than Stanko, from the earlier breakaway. We both continued to smash out our traded turns at the front, carving out 20 seconds by the time we hit the rolling section. When we passed the start/finish with one to go, the field was out of sight and we had over a minute lead. I would later find out that the chase effort from the field had relaxed after a second pair of escapees, containing two of the other strong teams, had broken away: Josh Dapice (Team Specialized/Touchstone) and Kevin Metcalfe (Peet’s Coffee Racing).
Back to the our breakaway.
I had gone through some suffering moments, but with the win in sight, I used all the mental toughness I could muster to continue to push the pace above 30mph when I was taking my turns. I could sense that my breakaway companion was tiring a bit. Typically, in this sort of situation, and especially judging by the size of my companion’s quads, I would try to go alone to the finish to avoid a sprint situation. However, I wasn’t feeling especially fresh myself and knew that the uphill kicker at the end would favor me.
Coming into the 1k to go sign, Stanko stopped taking pulls. I was forced to lead out the sprint. Fortunately, our gap was big enough that I didn’t need to push it hard and could do a proper, tactical, two-up sprint. Judging from earlier laps, the wind in the finish straight was left to right. I pulled along the right side of the road, while looking over my left shoulder for my opponent to make his jump. As we neared the final kick at 150 to go – Stanko still had not made his move, I ramped up the speed. Starting the sprint from the front is usually not preferable, but, by leaving it to a late jump, my disadvantage was minimized. I crossed the line with a full bike-length gap and was able to savor the win with a raised-fist salute.
I’m hoping my team can extend this success into our main target for the early season, Chico Stage Race, hosted in my hometown. Look out NorCal, Chico Masters Cycling Team is one to watch out for!
Jonathan Baker lives in Chico, CA.