2 September 2012

This weekend was my sixth participation in the Eugene Celebration stage race. I don’t think I could have much more of a ‘home’ race – three of the four stages start within ten minutes of EC HQ. I finished second back in 2007, and first through last year (which was a super close finish – I ended up taking the win with a time bonus in the final criterium by 0.4 seconds from pro mountain biker Carl Decker). This year I wasn’t super optimistic; having been sick in the spring and consequently losing my state TT title three weeks ago, I knew I didn’t have the form of other years – I’m going okay, just not great.

A good field lined up too, boasting both youth and experience, with talented Junior Max O’Neal from Seattle, the very fast Colby Wait-Molyneux from Bend, Oregon road champion Scott Gray (although he wasn’t able to stay and race all the stages), and national 45+ Masters Road and TT champion Brendan Sullivan from Georgia (who it turned out is also English).

Friday’s prologue was my local 3 mile climb of McBeth Road. I hold the course record for this at 10:16, and have been unbeaten on it in six years…. until now – with the way Colby and Scott have been riding, I half expected them to beat me, but actually Max and Brendan did so too, although we were all within 10 seconds, with Colby and Max tied on time for first in 10:26.

The road race on Saturday was four laps totaling 76 miles, and was a proper smack down battle! On the first lap the field hit the main climb together. Scott drove the pace and we ended up with him, Max, Colby and I off the front on the descent. We were caught shortly though, and that was the cue for Brendan to make his first appearance and attack. We were all together starting lap two, and Brendan rolled off on his own. Scott and Colby did a bit of chasing so he didn’t go too far, but then there was several flurries of attacks, the result being that a group of 10 got away, including Brendan, but with the rest of the top five missing the move. I was kicking myself – I was right there when it went, so had to make amends. I attacked solo and it took me about twenty minutes of flat-out effort to bridge, finally getting on after the descent of the main climb. So then we had 11 away, with the bunch out of sight. But 5 miles later two riders were closing on us – Colby and Max had attacked on the climb and ridden across the gap, whilst Scott had flatted.

The third time up the climb was calm, and the group was together for the last lap; the second half of which was attack attack attack! Brendan was relentless – I chased him down three of four times, but he just kept going from the front until he got away. Coming into the hill for the last time, he was about 20 seconds up. Max did a good pull on the first part of the climb, then I went to the front on the steep part and took the pace up as much as I could (just starting to get some cramping at this point….). At the top it was just Max, Colby and I, and I encouraged them to keep it going to make sure we caught Brendan within the three remaining miles to the finish. It took some doing, but we did reel him in with one mile to go. Then it was a little cagey for the sprint, with the young guys having the best legs – Max just barely took the win from Colby, with me and Brendan a second behind. So the top four was set, with the final finishing order to be decided….

Stage three was a 15 mile time trial. I thought that Colby would beat me (he did at the state champs), but that I could maybe gain on Max and Brendan to move up to second overall. I was fairly pleased with my ride – a ways off my best time on that course, and 20 seconds slower than last year, but good enough for third on the stage and to beat Max by a decent amount, and Brendan by a whole two seconds!

Once again the final shuffle came down to the criterium. Colby was pretty safe in the lead with 29 seconds over Brendan, 30 over me and 1:14 over Max. I went in aiming to try and get a finish line time bonus (15, 10 and 5 seconds for the first three) to move up to second. But there were other ambitions out there too! It was a fast, active race, and a third of the way in, Max got himself in a two-man move and very quickly established a 30 second gap. This was dangerous – if he got 30 seconds plus the 15 second win bonus then he would move ahead of me. The bunch did the usual thing of attack-regroup-attack, which didn’t keep the speed high enough – the gap went over 40 seconds and I was getting worried. So I did a few hard efforts – not really trying to attack, but mainly to lift the pace. Then with four laps to go the bunch let four guys roll away including Brendan and Colby, and showed no signs of being likely to bring them back. I did a big solo bridging effort to get across, which was the right thing to do as the bunch never came back. At three laps Max still had 39 seconds, and I encouraged the group to bring it down to under 30. On the last lap everyone pulled and I was in the right place to win the sprint for third, 32 seconds behind Max. By my quick math I thought it was enough to get me into second overall – and the official results confirmed it: I ended up in second place, one second ahead of Max, who was another three seconds back. Another really fun race day!

We’ll have to see if I can return next year with a healthy season behind me:- Many thanks to Sal and the fantastic OBRA team for putting on such a great event!

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