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California, March 29-April 1, 2001
Stage 1 - March 29: Time Trial, 20km/12mi
The interesting part of this stage is that this year our starting ramp was the gaping mouth of a C5 Military Transport Plane. I probably didn't warm up enough just prior to my start because I wanted to get into that plane a couple minutes early and check it out! It's amazing to see the sheer size of this plane and realize that it can actually get off the ground. I've never seen Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose but I can now imagine it after having stood in the belly of such a huge plane as the C5.
My TT went well. 2 weeks ago I was 80th, last week 40th, now I finished 13th (albeit with a domestic rather than international field of competitors) There's 190 competitors in this year's event. Other placings for our Team 7UP/Colorado Cyclist: Clark in 7th, DougE Fresh in the top 20 as well, good for 3rd highest in the Team's Classification. Wohlberg ripped another fast one to take the early lead.
Stage 2 - March 30: Lake Beryessa Road Race, 155km/95mi
The 7UP/Colorado Cyclist bad luck cloud that's been following us seemed to be breaking up. A few rays of sunshine in the past week. Today, however, our team had five flat tires. I got two, with the second one coming just prior to the day's major climbs. This flat occurred because Prime Alliance was chasing the break down (in which Clark was representing us and was the "leader-on-the-road") and had the bunch riding "in the gutter" where all the broken glass was, trying to find shelter from the crosswinds.
It was at least 85 degrees F today! Steph did a great job handing off 7 bottles in rapidfire succession to the whole team in each of the two feedzones, without dropping any. There were some wackos in the feed zone who would drop the bottle they were trying to hand up, pick it up, and run to try and get it to their rider, nearly causing a crash in doing so. Amateur hour.
On the climbs, Clark bonked (ran out of fuel) and the breakaway was reabsorbed. I didn't see any of the region's natural beauty, the lake, or the views. I was too busy trying to stay with the leaders. After the last climb it was 20 miles to the finish and the field was down to about 50 riders. We had Charles, Doug and I in there, so our team time was protected (officials tally the times of the first 3 riders from each rider to cross the finish). Two riders were dangling about 1 minute ahead of Wohlberg's team Saturn freight train. They held this lead for the next 15 miles, a gargantuan feat when Saturn had 5 men pulling hard at the front.
With 4 miles to go our manager Jeff came on the radio and suggested that we might be throwing the race away if we didn't throw a guy into helping Saturn chase. I declined, thinking that the little I could do wouldn't make a difference. I thought the break would be caught. Hindsight is 20/20. The two leaders were 20 seconds ahead with 1 mile to go, and the field was in full hammer down pursuit. Doug did a great job bringing Charles to the front. Charles was 7th through the last corner with 400m to go, and he sprinted to the fore with 200m to go. The two escapees were just 25m ahead of third placed Charles at the line.
It'll be easy to sleep tonight.
Stage 3 - March 31: Criterium, 90 min
I was tired and a bit cranky all morning, so about two hours before the race today I broke down and fixed myself a vanilla ice cream soda float. My comfort food must have worked because I had great legs in the race.
Only problem is, this race was 12 corners in 2km/1.2mi, flat, windy, and entirely unsuitable for a breakaway.
Saturn and Mercury battled hard for the time bonus sprint at the midpoint of the race. Saturn's Ivan Dominguez did a great job winning the bonus (preventing Mercury riders from taking bonus seconds and moving up) but Horner took 2nd and collected enough time to take the yellow leader's jersey off Eric Wohlberg.
At the end all the teams were vying for the front in an effort to leadout their sprinters, and 7UP/Colorado Cyclist was right there in the thick of the action. I'm not one for crazy sprint battles but I was up there until one lap to go, just unable to hook up with Charles. My old friend Jonas Carney (Prime Alliance) took the win after a 35mph brush against metal barriers in the last corner. Charles (5th today) said that it was a very close call for Jonas. I heard the impact too, it was a loud metal against metal "kling-clang-kling". We had Juan Carlos and and Kevin Monahan also in the top ten, myself in the money, and Doug and I were successful prime (lap prize) hunters today as well.
Our main sprinter Dave McCook, recovering from his car accident, is in his first race of the season here in Solano. He was following Jonas all race long today. Unfortunately a dropped waterbottle from someone caused Dave to crash heavily. He got up and finished the race but afterwards he was dazed. His helmet was badly cracked in the fall. I felt so bad for him. If luck goes his way for a while, Dave will be awesome this year.
Stage 4 - April 1: Rancho Solano Circuit Race, 87mi 13 laps
I awoke to the realization that it was my last day in California, and in an entire month I hadn't scored a single top 10 result. I resolved to do something about that today.
Mercury's Chris Horner holds a tenuous 3 second lead over Saturn's Eric Wohlberg. Saturn's best strategy would be to launch their top 10 G.C. men in early attacks, forcing Mercury to ride hard for Horner. It's a catch 22 because if Saturn doesn't get help in attacking then Mercury won't crack at the end, but those attacks are doomed to failure as long as the latter team keeps a short leash on them.
Rpresenting 7UP/Colorado Cyclist in the early breaks is Shark (Clark). I'm laying back on the climb each lap and watching the fireworks, listening to the commands that Trent Klasna (Saturn) is issuing into his team radio, and trying to determine which lap to cease my energy saving mode. Half the field will be dropped today.
For a while it looked as if Mercury was on the ropes but they were just playing possum. They came back strong and all seven of them were on the front with just 3 laps to go. I went on the attack with the Saturn guys but Horner was right with us every time, neutralizing the break and waiting for his domestiques to work their way up to the front.
On the last lap there was a tiny gap to a leading trio of a Jelly Belly rider, our own Doug Ziewacz, and Soren Peterson (Saturn). Coming into the backside hill I radioed Doug that I was going to try and bridge across to him alone. He was looking back as I gave it all I had. Ivan Dominguez (Saturn) had my wheel but Clark was just behind him, and Clark opened the gap and slammed to the left in the uphill corner. Ivan wouldn't help me but I felt pretty good and finished the job quickly.
Once there, we quickly built a 20 second lead on the remainder of the circuit. The depleted Mercurys (only 3 of them now) were satisfied with marking only the top two Saturns, Trent and Eric. Soren now had a dilemna, drive the break for Ivan to win the stage or soft pedal and hope Trent or Eric could jump across to us. He must have gotten the word to go for it. The Jelly Belly guy was dropped. Doug was giving it everything but in our parlance he was "swinging" (hanging on by a thread). Not the optimal situation to beat a renowned sprinter like Ivan.
On the final 8km run-in to the downtown finish, the remainder of the field was just 12 seconds behind us. We would look back and see them all attacking each other in the crosswinds and riding unsheltered in the gutter, while the 4 of us echelon'd out across the road and worked smoothly. Ivan quit working 4km out. 2 weeks from now I'd call his bluff but with the way our month has been compared to Saturn, I couldn't throw away getting 2 riders in the top 4. We just held off the field and I came up 2nd, with Doug 3rd. We gained enough time to move up to about 7th and 13th in the G.C.
7UP/Colorado Cyclist held onto 3rd team too, so all told it was a big improvement for us.
We split up next weekend with some guys going to Austin TX for a big crit and the rest of us doing the inevitably rainy and cold Tour of Willamette in Oregon. Til then!