The Dana Point Grand Prix is one of the biggest races of the year for any Southern Californian cyclist. There are only a few races during the year that the Cat 2 racers get to race against each other without the Pros and the Cat 1s in the mix, and Dana Point is one of them. Before the season started I wrote down my goals for the year and one of them was to win the Cat 2 race at Dana Point. The course is challenging but incredibly fun. It consists of six turns with two slight uphill sections.
For some reason, in every category this seems to be one of the fastest races of the year. Last year’s Cat 2 race was the most difficult race I have ever competed in. I have never had a race with a higher average heart rate, and that includes all of the Pro/1/2 races I have done. Last year I finished a disappointing eighth place.
In the hours before this year’s race I had a lot of nervous energy, but my legs were feeling really good. As expected, when the race started, it was fast. At times it was difficult, but I managed to stay up front and stay out of the crashes that always occur in the race. The race requires constant shifting of gears since you are always going up or down hill and going through tight turns. The entire race I focused on staying in the top 15 riders.
The first half of the race had constant attacks, but nothing was staying away for long. The field was hungry and there were many riders in the field that had a realistic chance of winning, so that made it difficult for a break to stick. About three-quarters of the way through the race, there was a big move that looked like it had the right workings to stay away. It happened at the hardest point of the race thus far and had about six strong riders in it with the big teams represented. My teammate Ryan Early sensed this as well, and quickly made an attempt to bridge up to the move. The break was going all out and so was Ryan, trying to get up to them. It took him a whole lap off the front, solo, to make it up there. Just as Ryan was closing the gap another strong rider made an attempt to bridge to the break. I quickly jumped off the front and sat on his wheel hoping to join Ryan in the break. I didn’t offer any help since I had a teammate up the road and he didn’t expect any help anyway. After a huge effort I joined my teammate only to get caught a half lap later: what a waste of energy.
The attacks continued the rest of the race, but nothing stuck. As we got into the last ten minutes of the race I had to really stay focused to keep my position at the front. There was a constant shuffling, as riders did everything they could to do the same. Of course, there were plenty of shoulders bumping and elbows rubbing. Going into the last few laps I was following the rider who won last year’s race. Even though he won last year, I felt like most riders were battling more to get the wheel of two of the other favorites. He was doing a good job staying in the top five riders in the last three laps so I was happy to be behind him.
On the last lap, I was in perfect position. After turn four, going up the hill, a rider jumped and everyone else began their sprint early. I was constantly looking around, and I recognized a rider who did the same thing at San Dimas and held on for a podium finish that day. When I saw him coming I sprinted to get onto his wheel. I stayed on his wheel over the hill, through turn five, through turn six, at a full sprint. When we came around turn six, I was unsure when to begin my final sprint, as it was a long way to the finish line. Plus, the road goes uphill as you near the finish line. I hesitated for just a moment after the last turn, at which point the rider on my wheel began his sprint and passed me on my left. The moment I saw him coming answered any uncertainty and I knew it was time to go. I passed the rider in front of me on his right and caught the rider leading the race. I used his slipstream to increase my speed and get along side of him. We were literally even with each other going into the last 50 meters. At the last second I did a bike throw and took the win by just 6 inches. Mission accomplished!