By Blake Anton (TEAM CLIF BAR Cycling)
With a bunch of the normal NCC big guns at Nationals or the NCC Iron Hill race, I was hoping for something that has eluded me so far, a top 20 NCC finish. I had one teammate, Mark Shimahara, and was planning on prime hunting a bit, but really, I was just waiting for the inevitable sprint finish and hoping to place in the top 20. Around 20 minutes in, the field had been getting hammered by a series of attacks and was strung out single file. I was sitting in the top 20 when a prime bell rung. A MRI rider, Diego Sandoval, and I ended up going at it hard and he took it by a couple feet. Brandon Gritters and Jesse Anthony were on us and rolled through HARD. Diego and I were able to jump on by the skin of our teeth along with 2 other riders who we dispatched rather quickly. The 4 of us settled into a hard rhythm and figured out a solid rotation with Jesse and Brandon, who were riding like diesels doing the lion’s share of the work. Diego and I occasionally had to skip a pull or two, but for the most part, the 4 of us worked very well together, putting in longer pulls on the tailwind finish stretch, and rotating much faster into the headwind section.
We quickly pushed the gap out to 25 seconds, but had a hard time getting it further. I didn’t think we would make it until 20 minutes to go, Predator and a couple of the other big teams and big pro riders missed the move and Manhattan Beach NEVER ends with a breakaway. With 20 minutes to go, I thought we might have a shot of actually staying away, and then Brandon lit it up hard on the climb right after I had finished a big pull. His attack put me way into the red zone (where I had already been for the past 45 minutes!!!), and I had to chase solo for half a lap before I was able to claw myself back up to the 3 others. That messed up our rotation for the next two laps as Diego and I tried to recover. We started working well together again and finally saw 5 laps to go with a 40 second gap. At this point, I knew we had it, barring a crash or mechanical. I got quite excited, knowing a top 4 NCC finish was hopefully in my future. With 3 laps to go, Jesse attacked hard into the climb after the start/finish and got a small gap. The 3 of us worked together and were able to bring him back. We finally got the bell and stayed reasonably civil until the final sprint, although I was quite tempted to attack from 800 meters or so out, hoping that Jesse and Brandon would just mark each other. Diego led into the final turn and then Brandon took over with 300 m or so to go. I was third wheel, on Jesse’s wheel. I thought Brandon would just ride away from us because of how he had been riding all day, but he slowed with 150m to go when Jesse and I hit it. Jesse got the jump on me and put a bike length between us, but I started bringing him back. I ran out of road in the end, and Jesse took a very deserved win by a wheel over me.