It was 5:30am when I pulled out from Kevin Van Gundy’s house at the edge of Fresno and big drops of rain fell weakly from up above. It was still dark and I caravan’d behind the UC Davis Aggies I used to race with in college, following them up to Pine Flat reservoir. We turned at deserted country intersections, my headlights glanced across a sleepy cow in a dusty field, its ribs showed from not enough grass to eat. I remembered big painted signs along highway 99 as I drove south the night before: “PRAY FOR RAIN”.
We passed into the belt of citrus orchards that span the eastern edge of the valley, where it gets really hot and makes the oranges sweet. The deep rows of trees were dark shapes before dawn. Pine Flat reservoir was shockingly low, based on what I had seen in past years at the race. The shoreline of bare rock went a quarter mile down into the basin, where you knew if was definitely supposed to be underwater.
The weather was perfect, no leg warmers required, no snow on the mountaintops around us like there was 4 years ago. I chatted with Sam Bassetti (5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda), Chris Stastny (Firefighters Upsala CK), and Tyler Brandt (BMW Development) who had convinced me to come down and race with them despite the usually tiny fields. There was a great turnout, results said 27 guys in our field, which felt like double the usual.
Tyler Brandt and local crusher Vinnie Owens (Dayka-Hackett) attacked right after the neutral rollout and got the 2-man break started. We raced along the lake, with Bear Development and Hagens Berman trading the work. I attacked a couple times to see what would happen but nothing did. Theres a climb before the descent to the Central Valley and Bassetti attacked, I joined him and we were up with the break, which was fun for about 1 minute before Hagens Berman and others chased us back. We did the descent and started going through the orange groves, there were a number of attacks and Zeke Mostov (Hagens Berman U-23) got away and a Squadra guy joined him.
We got to the rolling section before the main climbs ahead and I rolled off of the front and bridged up to Zeke and the Squadra guy. I started time trialing and they sat-on, Zeke was waiting for his teammate, superclimber Adrien Costa. I was feeling really good and finally reached the main part of the climb, which is a mile of steepness. Looking back, Costa was right there all of a sudden, catching up. He and Zeke had a nice hypoxic chat and then Costa attacked up to the top of the climb. I was happy I was able to respond just fine and for that moment, it seemed like the duel might be pretty even.
Adrien told me he was going to wait for Zeke, so I just sat up as well, not wanting to drain myself pulling Costa all the way to the final climb and becoming vulnerable. I would have to deal with a crappy situation either way because they would undoubtedly take turns attacking me when Zeke caught up. Sure enough, they traded attacks and I kept it in check, eventually riding a soft tempo on the front, looking behind me repeatedly like a trackie, hopping on the next move as soon as it started. I was happy when they gave up and started working with me, but not after Adrien did one last attack, which was a hell of an acceleration. After that I was concerned about how much punch I would have left for the last 1k climb to the finishline.
I started to feel more confident, but then a chase group came into view behind us, for a little bit we played the “Bro, I could care less if they catch us” game. I gave up and started big-ringing up the the last roller to the beginning of the climb, and then Costa attacked over the top of that. Well-played, I hope that was extremely uncomfortable. I thought maybe I could claw him back on the climb, and for about 10 seconds that seemed feasible, but wow, he was smashing it big-style, so I focused on Zeke. Zeke made his move with 200 meters, but its a looooong 200 meters, so I waited a bit longer before kicking for the finish, getting 2nd.
It was a really fun race, definitely the most fun Pine Flat I’ve ever raced. We started to ride back to the start, stopping at a firestation that Vinnie knew about where we could get water. The spigot was wrapped in pink ribbon, which apparently means, “This is poisonous water right now”. A guy from the LUX Pro Development team van was in the parking lot and gave us some bottled water – thanks!