The Master’s National Championship Road Race along with a podium at Gila was my season goal. In cycling its hard to put everything into one race, because road races can be so unpredictable. That said, we still have our targets. This was the big one. Its the one race where all best the guys show up. You are racing against the top guys in your age group and they are all targeting to be on top form. Last year was my first nationals and I went into with an exploratory notion. I wanted to see if I could be competitive. I ended up 9th the previous year and felt like a deep effort at Steamboat Stage Race the previous weekend had taken the extra pop out of the legs. So, I came away from the race feeling like I could target a podium if I really worked at getting there at top form.
The 40+ race this year was super stacked. It was a deeper field than last year. It was certainly deeper then any of the other categories. There were about 10 guys that had a legitimate chance at the win. I saw Napolitano as the biggest threat followed by Gates, Popowski, Carinio, Dapice and Tinstman. There was another bigger group of guys that if they got time in a breakaway could easily survive to take the win. I had teammate Eric Zolner with me. Eric is my go to guy in the mountains and always blows up the competition at the beginning of the climbing sections. In this race I was pretty sure that there would be a hard tempo set and Eric could ride for his own personal best time. Three weeks prior I was in the form of my life. I had quite a few wins already for the season and was feeling amazing. There was a lull in Colorado racing leading up to the Steamboat Stage Race and Nationals. I had entered a mountain bike race in order to stay fit. Unfortunately with a clip of the handlebars on a tree I ended up with a tailbone injury which had interrupted my build up. For two weeks all I could do was an easy spin. That said I had come off a tuneup race the weekend prior at Steamboat with a GC win and felt like I still had a shot at the podium at Nats.
The course starts at the ski resort and heads downhill for several miles. It then does 3 flat laps around the lake and heads up for a summit finish after a 30ish minute climb. Past experience had taught to make sure to stay at the front during the descent in order not to get left out of any major moves at the bottom of the descent. So, I made sure I was in the mix on the downhill. Once we reached the lake circuit the attacks began in earnest. I was looking around and there were two favorites I could not find, Carinio and Popowski. Having the entire road was nice and it made for dynamic racing as the attacks came one after the other alternating from one side of the road to the other. I tried to remain in the middle surfing the waves of riders on each side of the road. I was staying far enough to the front to not miss out if a move went with the main contenders, but not too far to the front wasting precious energy. I was looking at Gates and Tinstman. I figured if one got in the break then the other’s team would shut it down. If both got in a break I needed to be in it. On the first lap a move went off the front with Tinstman in it and Gates began to bridge. I followed and we all made the move. It then came back together. Then Gates got in a move that went up the road. The California boys would not let this go and at the end of the lap we were all together again. Then Carinio and Popowski showed up. Evidently Carinio broke his rear derailleur and got a bike swap from a teammate. Popowski got gapped off the back on the descent. There was a chase group that formed that eventually made its way back to the field.
On the last lap Giles, last year’s winner, launched an attack up the left side. I was to the right of him when he attacked and felt like that was the move to go with. However, I was boxed in and couldn’t follow. A group formed up the road with Dapice, Giles, Bole, Grefrath, Bordine and several others. Tinstman tried to bridge and I followed, but the bunch would not let us go. This group was strong and motivated. RMCC, Gates’ team, worked to bring it back, but in the end they had over a minute on us before the final climb. Before the climb the favorites jockeyed for position and we got to the bottom at a hard pace. Popowski was the first to launch a significant attack and Napolitano ended up in between the group I was in and Popowski. I was happy to sit on Carinio’s wheel for the first part. Popowski and Napalitano were coming back. Both ended up being absorbed. Then Napalitano had a small gap again on the steepest part. Tinstman made a move to join him and I followed. We bridged up and then Tinstman pulled off and was off the back. Apparently he had gone too far in the red and his day was done. Napalitano ended up getting a small gap in front of me and pretty soon I found myself leading a small chase group. There was a small downhill section during the final climb that breaks things up. Right before the downhill is a good place to attack and be able to recover on the downhill. Carinio did just that bridging up to Napalitano. I didn’t quite time things right. I should have done the same. When I realized the downhill was coming up it was too late to bridge. I ended up with Timothy Ahearn and a group of favorites a little behind us. We worked a bit together trading pulls. Then we got to a flatish section before the road kicks up again for the final time. I ended up being unlucky to be pulling at this section. I also noticed that Popowski had connected with the two of us. After a good solid pull I motioned for Tim and Leroy to help. They would not. As soon as the climb pitched up Leroy put in a surge and dropped us. Tim and I each were solo for a time. Then Segur came up behind me. We ended up trading pulls for a while. Then we started passing guys from the break including Scott Giles who had dropped his chain. We bridged up to Carinio. The finish line was approaching and I prepared to sprint. I launched, but neither Carinio nor Segur could respond. All in all four guys survived from the break. Josh Dapice winning the day. Popowski was the first finisher from the main field. He was followed Napalitano, Ahearn, myself, Segur, Carinio and then Gates. So, I was 8th in the end. Eric ended up with a solid 26th place.
I shouldn’t be too disappointed as I think I had a good race, but I also believe it was a missed opportunity. If I had been properly positioned to make the winning break I believe I had a good chance at the win. Also, I ended up doing more than my share of work on the final climb which in the end cost me several positions. These near misses tend to fuel the fire and will provide good motivation for next year’s national championships. See you boys next year!