USAC Crit Series By John Abate (MMRI)


It’s been close to seven months of bike racing here on the So Cal Cup scene and this season has finally wound down to the last two regional races on the 2012 calendar. For many Southern California Masters racers, it’s approaching the witching hour of our season as we draw near to make the journey up to Bend, Oregon for the USA Cycling Masters National Championships. So, by virtue of this big week of racing for the right to wear the Stars and Stripes, many guys are still flying and only getting faster. The local Criterium races in the late season prove to be a great temperature check on fitness and form leading up to Nats. It’s definitely high time to tune up and fly.


Sundays’ race was held on the Carson course outside Long Beach. The course is always challenging with strong winds and a punchy climb into the final corner, finishing off with a 300+ meter straight-away to the finish line. It’s a breakaway course for sure, as it rarely comes down to a full field sprint.


Monster Media p/b MRI came out in full force with over 10 riders in the field. Many of our riders will be representing the team up in Bend, Oregon in two weeks for Nationals, so itwas a great day to race and train together.


The Masters 35+ field was packed with strong riders on teams that included Surf City Cycling, who brought their full team, along with Amgen/Breakaway, CA Pools, and Helens. Our team plan was to make sure we were consistently on the attack and everyone was committed to making this race as hard as possible, avoiding any opportunity for the race to end in a field sprint.


The opening laps of the race were relatively tame, with riders getting their legs opened up. Attacks began launching off the front third of the pack soon thereafter and from that point forward, that was how this race was looking to go down.


Coming into Sunday’s race, I felt good but a bit unsure of how I’d race, coming off the prior week with Bronchitis. I was just starting to feel normal, yet I was not riding intensity or going too deep into my training. I did feel rested enough by weeks’ end and tested my fitness the day before the race on the local Swami’s group ride back home in San Diego. All systems seemed like a go then, but there was some doubt as to whether I could hold the longer sustained race efforts. My race plan was to be as active as possible yet avoid going too deep into the red until absolutely needed.


During the race I marked the key splits closely, while following attacks and countering off of them as often as I could throughout the race. My fellow teammates were right on point, attacking and countering in pairs, along with the likes of the hard chargers; Michael Johnson (Breakaway from Cancer), Travis Wilkerson (Surf City Cyclery), and Kirk Bausch (Surf City Cyclery). The pace, intensity, and repeated attacking was going to be one of those deals made on the road- where you might need to be a part of a few moves rather than waiting for “the one.” As the race continued to unfold, I checked in with my fitness and vision of the race and felt as though it would be a good day for me to be productive for the team while also finding the right opportunity to make the decisive break.


Mid way through the race, teammate Chris DeMarchi set out on a flyer and took Charon Smith with him, however Chris was able to shake Charon loose quickly and began to lay down some seriously hard laps solo, dangling out there alone for what seemed like eight or more laps. I followed the strung out pain train; riders in a straight line, gnawing on their handlebar hoods in chase. The chasing peloton finally got close enough to catch Chris while coming out of the first corner. Once we came through the corner, I hit it hard from five spots back and took Johnson, Bausch and teammate Phil Tintsman along with. We rolled and the combination was looking to be a good one, each of us taking our fair share of the work but the field pinned us back quickly. Again and again, the MM/MRI boys were using our numbers in the field to race aggressive until a final selection was made.


The lap cards were down to five to go and a move of riders had just been brought back. A few small attacks were still happening which strung the field out, looking similar to a snake slithering through the corners and swaying down the straight-aways – all riders on board digging deep into the tank.


Coming down the headwind backstretch with three laps to go, Phil got on the gas from a few riders back and Charon pushed all his chips into the pot, deciding he was going to go all in on pursuit. I jumped aboard and locked onto Charon’s wheel. Phil drilled it through the turn three downhill and whipped it up hard into a steamy hot lather as we started the bottom of the punchy climb. Charon was out of the saddle and pinned to the back of Phil’s wheel and just about into the middle of climb, I came around the two riders and attacked. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Charon working to stay on me, so for a quick second I rolled to the top for a gasp of air and then punched it hard again. Both riders sat up and it was time to do what I hate the most: time trial!


I pushed hard out of turn four and down the long front stretch. Crossing the line I heard the bell ringing for one lap to go. Driving it as hard as I could through turn one I peered back under my arm and saw the field in chase, but I had a nice gap opened up. I was going to need it because the back stretch section sucks something awful with a big headwind and I still had the climb and long drag to the finish.


My muscles were on fire and I was in full “St. Bernard” mode: white slobbery foam caked to my cheeks. Out of the saddle through turn two and riding as hard as I could go down the backstretch, I hit the downhill, sat down into the saddle into turn three and I stopped my legs from rotating for a split second; wait, don’t stop pedaling!


Back on task, I got in the drops and out of the saddle, climbing the ‘fun punchy one’ for the last time. I hit turn four I looked back to see I still had a good gap but I was still overcome with the feeling that I was going to get caught down the long front stretch – and that made me go harder, opening up my sprint. .I didn’t bother to look back, keeping my head down as I closed in on 100 meters to go. Sensing no bodies around me, I was finally home safe, arms raised high on a solo attack to take the win!


Looking back I saw Phil leading the sprint to take second and Randall Coxworth cleans up for third place. A great day for the team and another Monster Media p/b MRI podium sweep. Keep on the lookout for hopefully more great results in two weeks in Bend!





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