By now you’re undoubtedly curious about how things went down at the Suisun Harbor Crit last weekend. News travels slowly on a busy work week though, so first to a quick flashback to another great weekend for Marc Pro – Strava on the NorCal racing calendar…
The Auburn Omnium is a relative newcomer to the NorCal racing calendar. After a May full of big-name local races starting with Cat’s Hill and running through the SJBC Memorial Day crit, with Berkeley Hills and Mt. Hamilton in between among other storied names, it fills what might otherwise feel like an awkward lull in the calendar. Courses far from the overplayed office-park fare, reasonable start times, a solid prize list, and an enthusiastic promoting crew make it well worth the journey to the tip of the Sierra foothills.
I’d heard of the races only secondhand, but evidently Marc Pro – Strava had pulled off a fairly successful campaign in Auburn in 2013 (ed.: the team won both races and went 1-2-3 in the omnium), ensuring enthusiasm for a return trip while setting a high bar for our squad this year. Our crit squad was eager to build on the previous weekend’s results (in which we led Matt to a win at Folsom and just missed the victory at the Memorial Day crit) and take another opportunity to hone our teamwork. Sunny skies and forecast temperatures in the 80s beckoned as fog already began to roll over the hills of San Francisco at mid-day…
Day 1: Sierra de Montserrat Circuit Race
Fatigue must have set in among the deep rosters of NorCal’s elite teams – or perhaps an office-park crit in Pleasanton as well as a new gravel-road ride/race on the calendar were competing for riders – as a select group of only about 15 lined up under picture-perfect skies for Saturday afternoon’s circuit race. Marc Pro – Strava had the numerical advantage with even a short squad of Josh, Matt, Nate, and me. Cal Giant’s Torey Philipp was there, returning from injury, and a few Data Driven Athlete and VuMedi guys joined the mix along with an assortment of solo riders. Josh had been riding very well of late and the uphill sprint finish was tailored to his strength, so our goal would be to take him to the line.
The race started at a civil pace, as much of the field was riding the course for the first time and all seemed content to let those of us who missed an opportunity to survey the course in advance have a chance to check out its assorted curves. Winding among unfinished homesites, the 2-km course was far from boring: a brief sweeping descent, a few narrow sections, a couple of short rises and a 180-degree trip around a roundabout were all packed in. As soon as we had a chance to admire the course features, a few accelerations ensued and Torey quickly darted off the front in a solo bid. We were happy to let him dangle in front of the peloton with an advantage hovering on either side of the 10-second mark, though Matt pointed out his U23 national TT championship that argued for keeping the leash short.
Restlessness within the group in a 60-minute race eventually pushed the pace higher over the short rollers and after a handful of laps Torey was back in the fold. Attacks began more earnestly, and after a few hard accelerations, Josh and I found ourselves off the front with Torey, Dirk Himley (Hammer Nutrition / Charity of Choice), and Andrew Shimizu (Data Driven Athlete) as the peloton splintered behind. Cooperation in the group hovered somewhere between tenuous and nonexistent, but neither Dirk’s constant string of attacks nor Torey’s counterattacks nor my half-baked attempts to catch the others on their back feet could split the group. As our advantage increased over the shrinking groups behind, the situation looked great for taking Josh to the line: numbers along with the best sprinter were on our side.
On the last lap, Dirk took a big dig on the descent into the roundabout; I accelerated to follow, sure that Josh would find my wheel. Exiting the roundabout with 150 meters to the finish, Dirk had a slight gap, but it would not be enough. I pushed hard to accelerate through his slipstream as we hit the last rise, dug deep on the hill, and put my head down in one last effort to hold speed over the top. Approaching the line as the road leveled out with 50 meters to go, only Josh was close behind as I raised my arms in victory. (Special thanks to our ace sprinter for not coming around!)
The victory growler from Knee Deep Brewing in Lincoln (have I mentioned the stellar sponsors that the promoters lined up?) raised a deep philosophical question of the proper celebratory brew to choose for its fill, but a post-race torta with the team took priority as the sun’s descent hastened.
Upon unpacking at home I noticed an odd rattle in my front wheel, and on further investigation found a broken spoke – clearly evidence of some newfound sprint power. The race wheel situation was looking bleak as my home spoke collection came up short on spares and the hour was late, but Matt McKinzie, not racing for the weekend, was kind enough to offer his front wheel for the next day. Here’s to teamwork on and off the bike!
Day 2: Downtown Auburn Criterium
A field of roughly double the previous day’s size lined up for a hilly circuit in the historic mining town, the county seat of Placer County, a few kilometers and a couple hundred meters in elevation closer to the Sierras than the previous day’s course in Loomis (and perhaps a few degrees cooler as a result). To contend with the larger field and prove we were serious about defending our omnium lead, we brought in heavy-hitting reinforcements: Jared, who had won the Lost and Found gravel road race the previous day, and Willie, who single-handedly fended off a dozen Mike’s Bikes riders for the win at Dash For Cash in Pleasanton. Three wins among us the day before, and last year’s title on the line – did I mention setting the bar high?
Also high was the pace from the gun, with attacks up the steep start/finish stretch the order of the day. Willie was first to animate, and Tobin Ortenblad (Cal Giant) bridged with Jared in tow – three riders who did not feature on Saturday, and thus posed no omnium threat. Torey Philipp, third on Saturday and the closest threat to our omnium lead, made a bid to get across; Josh followed and offered no assistance, and the entire breakaway was reabsorbed. Our game for the day was defense, with both the omnium and the day’s prize ours to lose, and we were playing to plan.
Six laps in, my second front wheel of the weekend went out of commission after taking the perfectly wrong line over the pockmarked pavement at the top of the course. The leak was slow but certain, and I limped back to the pit on the next lap to pick up a spare (thanks again to more teamwork here too). While the group had gone through slowly on the previous lap, they flew around the corner and it took an all-out sprint to catch up on the incline the next time through.
Tobin meanwhile put in a massive effort again on the steep rise, and when Josh and Jared responded the day’s move was established. With a couple laps of smooth work, the break established a solid lead and its advantage increased as the trio traded pulls as the remainder of the field failed to mount an effective chase. Again the race was in our hands, as Josh’s finish in the top three would guarantee an omnium win.
With a half-dozen laps remaining and the repeated trips up the climb taking their toll, Torey attacked a tiring field in a late bid to turn the tables. The field seemed to missed a beat but Willie, with a stunning burst of speed, shot around from the back to latch on. The chase was established but Cal Giant’s only hope for the omnium was a mishap ahead, and as the laps ticked down we were still solidly in the driver’s seat.
On the final lap, Josh accelerated over the crest of the climb, opening a gap, holding it through the descent and into the finishing stretch for the win. Tobin outsprinted Jared, who had put in a huge amount of work after the previous day’s 100-mile effort, for second place, but the cards had fallen perfectly. Willie distanced Torey for 4th, and I mimicked Josh’s move from what was left of the field to take 6th. Josh’s victory meant the weekend omnium win was his, and with only one place separating Torey and me we maintained 2nd place in the team’s hands after a perfectly-played race.
Josh summed it up succinctly in an interview with illustrious local publication NorcalCyclingnews: “This was an awesome weekend of racing with two of the best courses on our calendar. The whole event was run very professionally by Victory Velo and the prizes were incredible. Let’s get out next year and give it the support that it deserves.” So indeed: We each ended the weekend with growlers to fill, and the trophies sculpted from old bike parts were a sight to behold. I admit to drawing a breath of relief when it became clear that Josh would take the overall winner’s prize – it could have been a tight squeeze in a San Francisco apartment. For the growler of Hop Shortage, though, I had to make room in the fridge.