Okay, I'm late. I don't suppose that surprises anyone anymore - it seems to be the theme of my life these days. But, I did finally remember to sit down and write about my weekend of racing back in July.
Watsonville Crit has become one of my favorite races. Prior to this edition, I have participated 3 times in the 35+ category, with 2 wins and 1 second place. This was my first effort in the 45+ group, but there really isn't any difference since we always race together. This edition was different, however, in the larger quantity & higher quality of riders.
As always, I started at the front going up the S/F hill and strung things out a bit to see how the pack would react. They pulled me back before the end of the lap. It seemed like the tactics this time would be slightly different from in past years, so I settled back deeper into the pack to watch & wait.
For the next ~5 laps, there were multiple attacks efforts which were pulled back. Sitting back was a good choice to let others waste energy before the real fireworks were lit off. But, I nearly got too complacent. At one point, a gap formed about 10 riders back from the front. I wasn't really concerned, but I started to pay closer attention. At that exact moment, Brian Heneghan (SJBC) decided to jump hard from our group to bridge. That was enough motion to finally spark my engine, so I jumped on the right side of the pack while Brian went on the left. We were going up hill at this point, so it was a good spot for me to keep pace and then settle in on Brian's wheel for a free ride across the gap.
As soon as we got across, I noticed that there were 3 riders a few second (5?) ahead, including Kevin Klein (Primetime), Dennis Hopp (SJBC), and Jan Weissenberger (ZIPZ). Knowing that those guys would only be there because they are serious about making a run for it, and also knowing that they are fully capable of succeeding, I went straight to the front of the group to help contribute to the chase. After taking a 10 second pull at the front, I looked back and found that I was disconnected from the chase and on my own. Little did I know, but one of the teams (SJBC?) had swarmed the front behind me and I had been lucky enough to sneak through just in time.
So, now I was in no-man's land with a decision to make - go for the bridge, or wait for help from the chase group. I can't say that I'm very patient, so I put my head down and drilled it. it took me about a full lap to finally get all the way across, but I did make it there, and then we were 4. It was a perfect situation since there were 2 45+ riders, and 2 35+ riders. We all had a good incentive to work all the way to the end.
Now is when I made my fatal mistake - I found a spot in the rotation just ahead of Dennis, who was just ahead of Kevin. I pulled up hill and around the top of the course (hard to pass in that zone). Dennis then took over on the slight descent. But, he was out-of-shape after a week of travel. So, he was almost immediately passed by Kevin who pulled hard. I then had to sprint to catch back onto the tail. I needed to shift my spot in the rotation to behind Kevin, but I just didn't think it through well enough at the time.
Eventually, Dennis dropped out and there were 3 of us. Jan now had every reason to pull full out since he was assured a win in the 35+ race. Kevin and I had to continue fighting it out. Unfortunately, I was finally cooked with 3 to go. I knew that if I dropped off, I would be caught, so that wasn't an option. Unfortunately, trading jabs with Kevin wasn't really possible anymore either. So, I just tried to hold it together and come through on my turns so that Kevin wouldn't attack me. I had to show just enough weakness for him to feel confident in beating me in the sprint, but not so confident that he would try to ride away from me and risk being caught. Somehow, I played it well enough to remain in the group until one-to-go. At this point, Jan attacked the group. I have no idea why since he didn't need to be the first over the line in order to win his race. But, given that situation presented itself, I tried to use it as an opportunity to manipulate Kevin. I sat back to see if Kevin would chase Jan in order to 'win' the combined race out of pride. But, Kevin is too wise for that and he also let Jan go in order to remain on my wheel to contest the 45+ sprint.
At that point, I knew that I had lost since I really need to be in top form to beat Kevin in a sprint. Tired wasn't going to cut it. So, I tried to at least catch Jan in order to give Kevin a chance at showcasing the 45s, but it was too little, too late. Jan crossed the line first, Kevin jumped away from me up the hill, and I rolled across for 2nd in the 45+.
Still, not bad, especially when you add in the multiple primes that I enjoyed also. :)