Snelling Road Race Cat 4 - 2nd Place - Words by Kurt Brown
Breakaways don't always get caught, and the am/pm in Ripon is on point.https://www.strava.com/activities/887953347
As with most "Bay Area" races, Snelling is far away...very far away, almost 3 hours from any form of Bay. Doing a race that far away meant the day started off really early, a 3:45 wake up time for me, and a 4:20 (true story) meet up with Brian Kuczynski (BK) and Kortney for the drive out. Three hours later, we were pinning numbers in the parking lot and hoping the temperature would crack 50 degrees.
We started with a group of approximately 30 riders in the cat 4 field, BK and I were the only Dolce Vita guys in the pack, vastly out numbered by SunPower and Team Mike's Bikes. Snelling is a fairly unique race in that it offers the entire use of both lanes of traffic on a ~12 mile closed circuit. It wasn’t long after the neutral roll out that the first flurry of attacks started. There were quite a few attempts by various riders to escape the peloton, I swear the one LOW rider in the field attacked at least 20 times #cat4tactics. SunPower was keeping tabs on everyone and shutting down any and all breakaway attempts, even attacks from some of their own teammates #cat4tactics. BK put in a few good efforts at the front in a crosswind section in an attempt to split the field, but unfortunately the wind really wasn’t blowing hard enough to force a selection. I put in a fairly hard attack on one of the few hills on the course and managed to get a decent gap with about 3 other riders in tow, but it was quickly shutdown by the still fresh-legged peloton. The race followed this pattern of sporadic attacks and quick chase downs for another 35 miles or so, I made a couple more attempts at escaping during this period, but with far less success than my first.
The race calmed down after we were neutralized for a breakaway in the Cat 2 field that was quickly approaching us from behind. After all the neutralization drama and with about 40 miles covered I decided I needed to do 1 of 2 things: either A) Wait until we got to a section of fairly rough pavement that immediately leads into a hill, and make an absolute last ditch effort to escape (I’m so not a sprinter) or B) Work to stay in the top 3 wheels before the final corner to the finish and then cross my fingers. With about 17 miles left in the race, decision time was rapidly approaching, ~1.5 laps left, we were approaching the hill.
SunPower had managed to get a guy up the road, but he was not really gaining time on the bunch and the field was fine with letting him hangout there as we maintained a civilized pace behind. As the road started to get bumpy, I headed left over the smoothest section of pavement (I had figured this out by trial and error over the previous laps...I still don't know how I avoided pinch flatting) The moment had arrived, and I kicked hard as the road turned upward, going straight past the flagging SunPower rider, I took a half glance back after the road flattened and noticed that I had a sizable gap on the field!
I'm in the break; I am the break, what now? I'm not bad in a TT, but 17 miles is a long way. Thankfully I didn't have to spend too much time contemplating a 17 mile solo TT as almost out of nowhere a rider from CA Technologies (Charlie) latched on to my rear wheel. We started trading turns at the front, and quickly gained a minute on the field. After pulling off the front, Charlie asks me if I’m all in for taking this to the line, I say yes. It was either we take first and second or end up DFL, we weren’t planning to leave anything in the tank and we had an entire lap left to attempt to stay away. We worked together pretty smoothly for most of this time, trading 1-2 minute pulls. With about 6 miles left the moto ref rides up to tell us the gap is down to 45 seconds, we do some quick mental math and some looking back and decide that although tenuous, we could do it. About 3 miles to the finish we were both looking very ragged, gaps opening up after pulls, thoughts of whether or not my power meter was broken, it was saying 300+ 10 minutes ago!?
As we descended into the 2nd to last corner I let a small gap open up to his wheel, I make an attempt to close it down but end up being too cooked to do anything but keep pace a few meters behind #byecharlie. Paranoia kicks in with about 2 miles left, I'm now alone and the pack is visible in the distance, it’s definitely way behind, but it’s enough to prompt me to not put my 2nd place in jeopardy, and I dig deeper. Charlie finishes with about a 10 second gap on me with the pack a further 30 seconds behind. I almost can’t believe it, the race is over and we held off the pack!
What did I learn?
"Race towards your strengths" - I'm not a stellar sprinter and doubt I would have had as much success fighting it out in the final bunch sprint.
"Sometimes the break works" - 17 miles is a long way out, 30 miles is even longer, but my teammate in the cat 3 field won solo from that far out.
"Having teammates is important, even if it’s just one" - Having BK cover attacks that we considered dangerous and putting in attacks of his own did a lot to soften up the competition, and saved me from chasing down break attempts.
"You can burn matches" - It took me 4 tries to finally escape, but it worked.
"You can burn too many matches" - Charlie played it very smart, I only saw him twice that day, once following an attack that looked like it had potential, and the second time when he joined me in the break. Without teammates to work with, he had to choose his moves wisely and it paid off. At least one of my attacks could probably have been categorized as foolhardy, and I might have had a bit more left at the end had I not been so aggressive.
Next up? Bariani with Mario and Matt!