The San Rafael Twilight Crit is the premier criterium in northern California, and most riders in the area will name this race their favorite crit of the year. What makes it so cool? Most would say the 8000 screaming fans that watch the racing throughout the day. Others would say the fact the race starts at 8:15pm, making it a true crit in the dark. A select few would choose the location, smack dab in the bustling downtown of a town in the middle of riding paradise. I would say I love it because the 1st corner is 4 blocks away from my house!
The race is fast. It’s loud. It’s crazy. The winners list includes many of the biggest names to ever race in California. It’s cool race in every way. The course itself is 4 corners. Corner one takes you into a climb. round corner 2 and continue suffering on a false flat. Gain speed into corner 3, shoot downhill into a ripping final corner, and then sprint down the finishing straight through thousands of screaming fans and a big party in the beer garden.
We had 8 riders line up for the event. Matt, Willie, Sam, Torey, Robbie, Jon, Dave, and Nate. This year, the team plan was to give Matt Chat a shot in the bunch gallop to the line. Torey, Robbie, and Jon were to cover moves, as a move without our team would really try and stick it to us. Sam, Willie, and Matt were to sit in and save energy for a final big burst of speed on the last lap sprint to the line. It’s great to have a team plan, but as often happens in races, our plan majorly evolved as the race unfolded.
Two laps in, Sam found himself isolated as the only rider at the front of the race and burned big matches to bridge to and drive a dangerous 3 man move that nearly broke the elastic of the field. It was a great move and he gave it a solid go, but the twitchy field eventually brought it back. When that came back, Willie and Matt, our 2 protected sprinters, took many punches covering dangerous moves at the front that needed representation as the rest of the guys struggled to gain position on the course behind. Just as I was seeing those two start to tire, Torey stepped up big time and smashed the front, covering moves left and right. It was an impressive display of power, and the best crit racing I’ve ever seen from Torey. From that point on, Sam, Willie, Matt, and Torey remained in total control at the front of the race, covering everything, always in position, and riding intelligently. Watching the fearsome foursome ride like that at the front of the race is a directors dream!
A crash neutralized the race as an ambulance came on course (the rider was ok!). After the guys got restarted, a small two-man move slipped up the road. An organized and orderly chase by Cylance ensured the move was no true threat for the win and made it clear the race would finish in a bunch sprint. As the laps started counting down, the guys were great. The staked a claim at the front of the race and stayed there, biding their time for the final couple laps.
With one lap to go, the field came screaming through the finishing straight with Sam, Willie, and Matt tucked away a few guys back, just where they needed to be. On the back side of the course, Sam jumped hard. Really hard. Willie, having been forced to burn huge amounts of energy to cover moves all race (not ideal!), hesitated slightly. Sam slotted into 2nd wheel going into the 3rd corner and came out of the final corner screaming fast and launched his sprint. He got a gap. He pushed and pushed. He still had a gap. 50 meters to go. Still out front. 40. 30. Still ahead. At 20 meters to go, right as he was coming by a crazy man screaming and jumping on the sidelines (that was me!), Justin Williams pulled up next to him. On the line Sam was second by a wheel. A huge effort, a great result, and a really impressive 400 meter sprint!