The San Rafael Twilight Criterium is always a great event, with spectators thickly lining the course and a massive street party. Each year it gets bigger and better.
The course contained four corners, wide roads, and a hill in the middle with gradients ranging from gradual to relatively steep. Typically, the race sticks together because of constant surges in the field due to the wide roads, which helps keep the pace high. Team Mike’s Bikes went into the race with this in mind, partitioning our riders to race for primes and exposure off the front and then setup a lead-out for our sprinter, James Laberge.
Twenty minutes into the race a move of four riders had about 15 seconds on the field. The surges and line changes in the field were not coming fast enough to send fresh riders to the front to chase it down, and the field had been single file for the past four laps, which meant they were going to be less likely to chase. I did a seated attack (less threatening) into corner three and rode pretty dangerously through the downhill turn while my teammate, Jon Piasta, went to the front and rode purposely slow in order to maximize my immediate advantage over the field. I came out of corner four with a five second gap, chased solo for a lap and made it to the break.
A couple of riders in the break were being obnoxious and playing games with me as soon as I bridged up, gapping me off the back over and over. I wanted to actually ride the break and knew it wouldn’t happen with these riders, so I let them gap me and then attacked into a corner, caught up with Jared Barrilleaux (Cal Giant) and put in a hard one lap effort with him so the other riders wouldn’t be able to reattach.
Ariel Hermann (Metromint) fell off the break shortly after and the lead group consisted of just Barrilleaux and me now.
Barrilleaux is a much stronger rider than me and so I had him pull the downhill stretches while I pulled the uphill stretches. This meant he ended up doing more work than I did and took the important roll of maintaining our speed after the uphill, but the offset equalized our fitness discrepancy and allowed us to work well together. This combined with my teammates blocking the peloton and tricking it to ride slower allowed us to rapidly put time into the field.
Still, I never thought this break had a chance. It was always just a matter of time until I got tired and stopped pulling, which would discourage Barrilleaux from pulling, and we’d both stop and wait for the peloton. Laps came and went, and even though the pain got worse for me it never took control and caused me to seize up and opt out of contributing the break.
Eventually we saw the back of the peloton on the long straightaway and I realized this break would last, and would probably lap the field. I just wanted to get my picture taken off the front, I never imagined it would go this far. I had more faith in my teammates than fear of Barrilleaux’s and so lapping the field became my goal. At the same time I had to be careful here because Barrilleaux was strong enough to attack me, bridge up to the field solo, and leave me behind. I didn’t think he would do that, but nonetheless I started to be more cautious of how deep I went when I pulled in anticipation of this.
Right as we were about to latch on and lap the field they picked up their pace for about six laps, riders getting shelled left and right. Barrilleaux and I kept staying consistent, minimized our loss in time on the field, and eventually were able to catch the field once it slowed down.
In the field Roman Kilun (Kenda/5-Hour Energy) waited for me at the back and then babysat me, carrying me to the front of the field. Later Andy Jacques-Maynes (Kenda/5-Hour Energy) also started helping me. I thought they were doing it out of kindness and because they liked me. Turns out my teammate, Dana Williams, had cut a deal with them for their help.
In the closing laps our team had setup a train with teammate James Laberge at the back of it, and me right behind him. I have never been hooked, hit, bumped, and cut off so much in my entire life. Everyone wanted James Laberge’s wheel and were willing to do anything for it. With three laps to go I made the decision to give up Laberge’s wheel because the way everyone rode for it meant I’d end up crashing if I tried to keep it. I’d stay nearby and planned to take it back on the last lap.
The final sprint would be between Barrilleuax and me, with the field racing for third. Because I had my team doing a lead-out and help from Kilun and Jacques-Maynes, I decided to focus on trying to get as high of a result in the sprint as I could rather than marking Barrilleaux.
Coming into the last lap I started trying to find Laberge’s wheel. I kept getting bumped and rubbing handlebars all over the place. Felt like I plowed through people more than passed them. Coming out of corner two Kilun came by me, gave me space so I could get onto his wheel, and then took off up the inside. Everyone was full gas, the Mike’s Bike lead-out train led the charge, and the Cal Giant lead-out train got split somehow. My teammate Tyler Brandt came up next to me and I yelled at him to sweep because I knew Barrilleaux was somewhere behind me. I hit corner three and passed Kilun, and sprinted after wheels. Brandt did an absolutely amazing job sweeping and I had, at minimum, a six bike length gap behind me coming out of corner four.
I started my sprint immediately, too long out, but I needed to maintain the gap that Brandt opened up for me. I ended up getting fifth or sixth in the field sprint and in front of Barrilleaux for the win. Laberge had absolutely demolished the field sprint and won third overall, a testament to both his sprinting talent and our team’s extraordinaire lead-out.
I would like to think that I won because I am a stronger sprinter than Barrilleaux, but it really all came down to Tyler Brandt having the wherewithal to stay close to me in the final lap and accomplishing one of the best sweeps I’ve ever seen.
Easily one of the best finishes of my career and the memories of which I will cherish always.