Off-season over. Pre-race meeting complete. Pre-race nutrition complete. Race food prepared. Race drinks prepared. Feed Zone Van filled. Team Caravan car roof stocked with bikes and stuffed with team staff. Fifteen minutes to start. Five minutes till sign-in closes. Jerseys pinned, shoes shined, wheels polished and frames shiny...we roll out.
Six laps of a 12 mile course featuring one of the most interesting courses on the calendar. Winding through rolling, windy roads up a 2% grade in the final 6km of each lap, led into a 7 minute, 182 metre climb at 5% gradient. Over the summit, wind-exposed, a long 10 minute rolling descent completed the 30 minute lap. Despite active attacking throughout the race, in which Kevin, Conor, Quinn and Tino represented Team Exergy without fail, no major splits occurred. One rider escaped solo from laps 1-4, amassing a total of 2 minutes, after which time small breaks of 3-4 riders hovered in the 10-45 second 'unestablished' zone. With 1 lap to go, Quinn snuck away in his second big break of the day with Bissell strongman Ben Jacques-Maynes and 3 others. But with Bissell, Optum Health and Team Exergy all looking for a sprint finish with the shallow 2% run-in, the breakaway was reeled back in with 5km remaining.
After sagging a bit on the first four of six climbs, Logan and I stayed together and at the front on the final two ascents. Freddie and Serge were both riding strong all day and stayed near the front all six times up the narrow, bumpy but short climb of Hule Road. In the final 5km, Optum Health looked to practice their leadout train by placing all 10 riders (no rider limited at Merco as it is a non-NRC event) on the front, working for Ken Hansen. Bissell jockeyed for a while but eventually sat in after controlling the race from 25km to go with their 11 man squad. With Optum Health shedding riders, Team Exergy awaited for the final kilometres due to our smaller numbers. We arrived at Merco with the traditional 8 riders and had 5 left in the final 3 km.
Kevin guarded us from 3km to 2km to go, at which point I took over and moved up past four of the six remaining Optum Health riders. Hitting max heart rate during the 800 metre pull, I whipped off to the right at 1200 metres to go and caught a glimpse of Serge driving by, eyes on fire and teeth gritted, I wanted to chuckle but I didn't have any air to spare. At this point, Serge was partnered up again Tom Zirbel (a beast of a bike racer) but he did an amazing pull and took Freddie to 600 metres. At this point, Optum was down to their sprinter, Ken Hansen, who starting matching Freddie's acceleration thinking that he was going for the win. At 250 metres to go, Logan popped out and lit the road on fire. No one was on his wheel. Freddie strategically faded right. Logan had a huge gap! He caught Bissell's Patrick Bevin and Eric Young off-guard by going 50 metres early, who'd been following the Team Exergy leadout in the final kilometres. With 150 metres to go Logan held an impressive gap, but just got pipped in the finale. So 3rd place for the day, an awesome result! The team did a great race as well with strong presence in the breaks, an almost-perfect leadout; I should have waited until 1500 metres to go to ramp it up since we only had 4 guys for the final surge.
Tomorrow is the Individual Time Trial and I think we will surprise some people!