Saturday night's Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium marked the first event of Team Exergy's criterium squad. It was a big money race, with $12,500 dollars on the line for the top step and a total of $50,000 over the top twenty five placings. Working with Team Exergy's new assistant DS (although he is extremely experienced) Ken Mills, we planned to stay represented throughout the race in any real breaks and then work off of the United Healthcare team in the finale with the hopes of a victory or podium for Carlos.
Although we started with only five riders due to travel complications for Tino Alzate (Carlos' younger brother), everyone came out guns a blazzin'. Starting at 7.30pm, it wasn't long before the sun set and the cameras along the sidelines starting flashing. The course was a "mirrored" course, with the start/finish and back-straightaway run along one stretch of road, dividing the four lane road into two opposing directions. The course rose to its highest point at the finish line (and thus at half lap distance), providing a very fast entry into corner 1. At the ends of this 650 meter straightaway, were two similar 3 left hand corner complexes...essentially we call this type of course a dumbbell or 'I' shaped. In general the tarmac was in very good condition, providing good opportunities for fast cornering to the delight of the crowd.
Early in the race a small 3-man breakaway established a solid gap of 30 seconds and consequently racked up a large amount of prime sprints. To limit the gap, United Healthcare moved multiple riders to the front and we asked Serge to also work. For the next 30 minutes Serge helped keep the break within closing distance and made sure Exergy hit the loudspeaker often. Following closely behind, the rest of us stayed at the front with Carlos.
With 1 hour remaining, it went nuts. While Kevin, I and Carlos rode in the top ten shortly after the mid-race $1000 preme sprint, Carlos accelerated away with two United Healthcare riders. As the gap widened, 1 Kenda rider attempted to bridge so I latched on for a maximum heart rate effort...whew! It was wicked hard! Within a lap our move was caught but significantly chopped the breakaway's advantage and shattered the field, whittling the 130 race starters to an smaller group of 40 riders. Serge was hanging tough at the back of this elite group after his effort on the front and with 12 to go (30 minutes), Menzies attacked solo which ended Serge's day due to the elastic effect felt after those riding outside the top ten. Great job Serge. His is looking fit and powerful as he prepares for Joe Martin and the Tour of California.
In the end it was a real battle. Kevin rode strong and took the brunt of the elbow work to stake our claim behind the United Healthcare train. Jamis' Borrajo and Bissell's Young and Kenda's Issac Howe were all very aggressive as is to be expected. With 1 to lap Kevin finished his day after a great job riding in the wind and moving Carlos to the front when needed over the final ten minutes. With 1/2 a lap to go Menzies led the blue train, followed by Hilton and Jake. I had Carlos on my wheel and was coming up alongside the United guys unsure if I should go nuts and take over or wait. I waited too long and we were swarmed. I had the legs just not the guts. As a result, Carlos was boxed with 3 corners to go, riding in 5-6th wheel. I was pushed back to 10th. In the final corner, Young clipped a pedal at 7th wheel and caused a large crashed. I was able to stop without going down and Carlos sprinted in for 5th (unofficially).
We rode very well for our level of experience. We are almost there. I'm looking forward to more 'practice' in the coming races and when the distances from the final corner are not so large, I will know to just go nuts, worrying about fading when that moment comes.