Marc Pro - Strava

Cycling Team

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.

Growler and trophy

Serious prizes on offer... (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

The day

The day's breakaway (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

Matt gives the thumbs-up to the victory and spoils thereof. (photo: Alex Chiu)

Matt gives the thumbs-up to the victory and spoils thereof. (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

Jared looks serious driving the winning break with Tobin and Josh. (photo: Alex Chiu)

Jared looks serious driving the winning break with Tobin and Josh. (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

We had a few yellow helmets on hand to cover moves in the field. (photo: Alex Chiu)

We had a few yellow helmets on hand to cover moves in the field. (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

Omnium podium -- Josh may have won the largest trophy of the year. (photo: Alex Chiu)

Omnium podium -- Josh has a solid lead in the largest-trophy-of-the-year competition. (photo: Alex Chiu)

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.

5 Years ago marked the moment I decided to try and race a bike. Previously, I had spent the last few summers pushing pedals on my aluminum frame ebay special to lean out the 220lbs of gym rat physique I had worked so hard to build. Tasha and I headed downtown to catch the Tour De Nez and see what this whole bike racing thing looked like in real life. I was actually terrified by what the Pro field looked like and how fast they were going. I told Tasha that I wanted to try and do some local stuff but would never want to compete at this level. Fast forward a year, 30ish pounds lighter, some hard training, some fast upgrading and I was a newly minted Cat 2. Turns out, I still had much to learn...I clipped a pedal in a simple corner and ate shit hard. The next three years were a steady improvement; first year I made the final selection with the only amateurs being myself and Steve Reaney, 2nd year I made the selection with Patrick Bevin and Alex Cando, 3rd year I lost to Eric Riggs in a sprint from our 2 man break. This year was my year. Unfortunately we had a small field, but the Tour De Nez and my hometown of Reno threw on a pretty epic event as usual. I believe in the next few years they have the passion and ability to make this a premier event again. An hour before the race started some thunderstorms came in and started to rain. It was quickly apparent that the storm would not clear and by race time it was absolutely dumping rain.

Josh, Nate, Nick and I took to the start line with a soft plan of how we wanted to dictate the race. The race started with attacks and some sketchy cornering, while guys figured out how much they wanted to risk. I actually felt confident in the corners and knew my decision to drop the pressure to 85 was going to pay dividends. After some sprints for early primes and a few attacks, I was off the front with Dave Grundman (Bicycle Plus). I know Dave is a strongman and could beat me in a sprint so I didn't hesitate for an opportunity to go solo. He sprinted for a prime and I countered. It was 12 minutes into the race and I was off. I committed everything I had to the next 5 minutes, knowing my teammates would mark anyone trying to come across. My gap grew and I was free to fly, taking any line I wanted to combat the wet roads. The race from there was a blur, literally I couldn't see shit, it was nuking rain so hard it actually hurt. The corner at the bottom of the course was flooded with at least 6-8 inches of water. From there I let the crowds push me and listened for time gaps. Before I knew it I lapped the field and heard the announcer telling us we had 5 laps to go. I did my best to lead Josh out for the field sprint, but Grundman had my wheel and Josh couldn't swing past him on the short 100meter stretch to the finish.

I've never been good at hiding my effort!!  Photo credit Neil Lockhard

I've never been good at hiding my effort!! Photo credit Neil Lockhart

The Colombine Climb is a 3,000 foot ascent which tops out at 12,500 feet.

The Colombine Climb is a 3,000 foot ascent which tops out at 12,500 feet.

This past week my teammate Max Jenkins and I traveled to Leadville, Colorado to compete in our first Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race. Leadville had been on my bucket list for quite a while but logistically I'd never been able to make it happen. I also had some reservations about competing in a mountain bike race with such a small amount of single track, so much commercial hype, and so many people. Over the years I'd definitely talked some trash about the race for those reasons but this year I finally decided to check it out and see what all the hype was about.

After spending some time in the town of Leadville and competing in one of the most difficult yet fun races I've ever done I can report that this race is legit! Yes there are 2,000 people racing, yes it's super hyped and commercial, yes there's a large entry fee but personally I think the race is worth it. The overall vibe was insane, anytime you gather that many people from all over the world to compete the energy is going to be amazing. The amount of people out cheering and supporting the racers is in the thousands which definitely helps when you are suffering at 12,000 feet. The level of competition is amazing, there were two world champions racing, the current US National champion, and hundreds of other crushers from around the world. The race course aside from not having a ton of singe track is actually really cool. The climbs are super steep, long, and at serious altitude which makes them ridiculously hard. The descents although not technical, are fast and allow a skilled bike handler to make up time on those not so skilled racers i.e. roadies. Leadville is almost the perfect blend of a road and mountain bike race where you need skills from both sets to really do well.

My race went pretty well as I was able to find a nice hard painful tempo for about 7 hours and 13 minutes and finish in 16th place. I definitely suffered on Columbine and Powerline but all the positive support on the course helped immensely. However, my roadie teammate Max Jenkins, absolutely crushed the race coming in 5th overall with a time of 6 hours 47 minutes! Here is a quick interview with Max about how his race went:

Q: What were your overall impressions from your first Leadville 100?

Max: The amount of people both racing and supporting the race was insane! I've done many NRC level road races, crits, and time trials but I don't think I've ever seen so many spectators as I saw on the course at Leadville, it was inspiring!

Q: What's your mountain biking experience?

Max: Growing up I did a couple of high school mountain biking races but was never that great. In 2011 I raced the SoNoMas race in Santa Rosa and crashed hard several times and finished pretty far back from the leaders. About a month before Leadville I picked up my new hard tail mountain bike and trained on it as much as possible leading up to the race including the week of the race where I was able to drop 6 minutes off my Strava time on the Powerline descent (most technical section of the race).

Q: What was your race plan going into Leadville?

Max: I wanted to get into the fastest group possible between the bottom of Powerline and the bottom of Colombine. Once I got to Colombine I knew the race would blow apart and I would probably have to suffer alone and just try and get to the finish without completely blowing up.

Q: How did the race play out?

Max: On the first climb St. Kevins, Lakata, Wells, Sauser, and Hynek went ballistic and set a blistering pace which I was able to hang with until the very top where a small gap opened up and I ended up descending in a small group of other fast guys to the outgoing Powerline climb. Our group mostly stayed together on the climb about 1-2 minutes behind the leaders, then on the Powerline descent things broke up a bit and I noticed Sauser fixing a flat on the side of the trail. At the bottom we had a group of 4-5 guys working together well in the flats towards pipeline when Sauser put in a crazy effort and caught us. We rode with him through Pipeline when we caught Lakata due to a flat. Lakata caught onto our group and with those two guys we were flying toward Colombine. At the base of Colombine Sauser and Lakata threw down and were absolutely crushing the climb. I was able to hang with them for a while but eventually got dropped and settled into my own pace. At this point I was pretty happy sitting in 5th place but knew I was still 50 miles from the finish and had some serious suffering ahead. I made it to the top of Colombine about 2-3 minutes off the leaders and descended as fast as possible without flatting or crashing. From there on it was pretty much just hang on and suffer, I was hurting pretty bad up Powerline but was able to get to the finish without cramping or blowing up too bad, and was super happy with 5th overall.

Q: Was the race harder or easier than you expected and now that it's over what impression has it left on you?

Max: Honestly, it was pretty much on par with what I expected as I've raced at altitude before. It was really tough but I knew ahead of time how important it is to gauge your efforts and just be prepared to suffer aerobically. Overall I thought it was a really cool event. Since the course is fairly non-technical it draws a huge crowd which I think is really cool because the energy was amazing. Plus even without a technical course the race is definitely very challenging.

Q: Would you race Leadville again?

Max: Absolutely! It's such a cool event and I'd like to race again with more altitude training prior to the race and see if I could get on the podium!

Giant Bicycles unveils the new Reign stacked up with 160mm of travel, 27.5 wheels and an Instagram hashtag to feed the rally. Can't wait for this rig. #MAKEITREIGN

Louie settles into vacation mode at Drake Park Bend, OR

Louie settles into vacation mode at Drake Park Bend, OR

After much doubt of ever returning to race bikes in Oregon again (3 for 3 of the last trips involved hitting the tarmac), my wife Tasha begged and convinced me to give it one more chance. She had extra motivation, considering that a trip to Bend, OR is tops on her list of vacation spots. We also had to bring our ailing dog, Louie, who had just been diagnosed with Meningitis. The trip was a well timed break from our normal lives and we all needed it. After Tasha went out and crushed McKenzie Pass on our first day in Bend, it was time to start racing bikes.

The Tetherow Prologue is just that, it's a prologue, a really short prologue. Timothy Rugg, our guest rider and all around bad ass for the week, set a blazing time that ended up holding on to 7th for the evening, with myself in 21st and Max Jenkins just behind.

Tim Rugg crushing the Tetherow Prologue

Tim Rugg crushing the Tetherow Prologue

Due to fires up north of Bend in Warm Springs, the inaugural running of the Warm Springs Road Race was cancelled, and the race promoter's came up with the fun idea to run us up Bachelor twice in opposite direction of our Friday road race. The high for the day was 99 degrees with areas of smoke. We set off on this death march at 1030. As usual it was a hectic start, while meatballs jockeyed for position in the 215 rider peloton. The break was established early and Optum took over pace setting for the rest of the day. We missed the break and were relegated to pack fodder for the next 3 hours. All the guys (Jon Teeter, Max Jenkins, Chris HD, Ariel Herrmann, Jared Kessler and even our GC leader Tim Rugg) did a great job going back to the follow car for bottles and kept everyone hydrated. The overall stress of the day was wearing as the peloton constantly locked up their brakes due to the squeezing of the group from travelers that couldn't quite pull off the road. Luckily we narrowly avoided the largest crash of the day, that sent one rider skidding under an approaching SUV, with Jared getting the worst of it but managing to keep it upright. As we approached the final climb, I was mentally checking out and suffering from headaches and heat related suckiness. Luckily Max and Tim were up for the battle and made the final group as the team, especially Teeter, rode their hearts out to keep them positioned well. Tim had a good shot at the sprint and just missed an opportunity, landing him 10th on the day (Good enough for a trip to the USADA Piss tent) and Max just behind in 17th. Art made the 2nd group at 1:27 back with myself in the 3rd group hemorrhaging 1:51 to the leaders (this would end up costing me as the week rolled on).

Jared "the shetland pony" Kessler shows off his quads after a 133 miles in the saddle in 90+ temps!!

Jared "the shetland pony" Kessler shows off his quads after a 133 miles in the saddle in 90+ temps!!

The next stage was my chance to shine as we headed to Prinville, OR for the Crooked River TT. Again this is a time trial so nothing exciting to report of the riders in front of me had a team follow car that decided to try and squeeze through the turnaround point for cyclists and got himself stuck (picture of the actual event below). I ended up having to overshoot the turnaround to avoid hitting the car and absolutely botched the improv job. I may have lost 5 to 10 seconds when all was said and done, but the USAC officials were not interested in making things right...instead they fined the driver and I ended up 8th on the day (still a very proud result) and 6 seconds off 6th. Tim and Max both managed well in the long flat TT, but still lost time and moved down the GC ladder.

To be unnamed team Director doing his best to block my access to the TT midpoint turnaround!!

To be unnamed team Director doing his best to block my access to the TT midpoint turnaround!!

That's my wife Tasha enjoying one of the many treasures of Bend's culinary excellence Glazed and Amuzed Donut Food Truck.  Probably my favorite part of the trip!!

That's my wife Tasha enjoying one of the many treasures of Bend's culinary excellence Glazed and Amuzed Donut Food Truck. Probably my favorite part of the trip!!

The next stage was the 111 mile ass kicker that would send us twice up the full Cat 1 distance of Bachelor. After some bullshit crashes in the first 2 miles (so typical in a 215 rider field), the race was neutralized for about 10 minutes while we waited for those involved to get back to the race. After the green paddle was raised, the throttle was smashed and the field started to implode. Luckily I felt great and was able to ride a nice threshold effort for the next 32 minutes @382 Watts. Max made the break of 12 riders at the top and we were set. The field had decreased to about a 120 riders at the top, but luckily about 50 riders made it back, including Teeter and Jared who would play a huge role in setting us up for the finish with positioning and constant feeding. Ariel didn't make it back and was stuck chasing for the next 4 hours with a small group. The middle part of the race consisted of Jelly Belly setting pace to keep the break in check and everyone else waiting for the last ascent up Bachelor. We hit the final climb after some amazing work by Teeter, Jared and HD. Towards the top Tim was locked on my wheel and I was feeling great. Unfortunately Max suffered from some serious Asthma and lost contact from the remainder of the break at about 3K to go. I put down the throttle for the final 1K trying to set Tim up and dropped him off with 200 meters to go. He ended up 17th on the day with both Art and I in the first finishing group outside the break that we never caught. HD had an awesome ride just down from the first group with Teeter and the pony just behind. Ariel fought the entire day and made the time cut!!

Ariel Herrmann knows how to ride a Crit and is showing race leader Serghei Tvetcov how to take a corner!!  Ariel posted a top 25 result.

Ariel Herrmann knows how to ride a Crit and is showing race leader Serghei Tvetcov how to take a corner!! Ariel posted a top 25 result.

We enjoyed a little down time and ate some good food before heading into the downtown Bend Crit. Our plan was to position well and go for it if we had a chance. If I could find a way to enjoy a 180 person field squeezed into a downtown 4 corner crit, this could be my favorite race because local Bend residents show up in the thousands, 50,000 to be exact and cheer their faces off. It is one of the only times we get to feel like true celebrities. Highlights include nearly our whole squad riding near the front 3rd of the peloton, Ariel holding his position for a top 25, and Tim "the urban cowboy" Rugg moving from the back of the peloton to the front in a matter of 2 laps and snagging a $400 Gambler's Prime!! Afterwords, Tim treated the boys to Beer and food truck madness!!

Time "Rugg Life" laying it on the line for the Gambler's Prime of $400!!

Time "Rugg Life" laying it on the line for the Gambler's Prime of $400!!

The final stage was upon us after 400 miles of racing. The Aubrey Butte Circuit Race is a blast and is usually the kind of course I can manage. Rolling downhill terrain with a series of short steep climbs followed by false flats to complete each lap. Once again the race went nuclear from the start. We lost about 50 riders on the first lap and continued the fast pace, with Jelly Belly keeping the break in check. I did my best to relax and not worry about position until I saw a chance to move up. Once again everyone did a stellar job of feeding and staying hydrated. Chris HD was constantly feeding me bottles. On the penultimate climb the field exploded. I kept my head down and tucked in where I could. Max nailed down a large gap that opened between the first and second large groups and I soon after saw a chance to go for it. I hit it full gas up the final bump on Mt Washington and bridged to a small group containing Eric Marcotte (Pro National Champ), Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Bad Ass), Andres Diaz (In Cycle Pro in 3rd overall). With the break of 10 more riders just up the road, we all worked to make the bridge. I hit the large riser on the first half of the course and gave it everything to get across. I nearly blew myself prior to making it, but after the Pro National Road champ gives you words of encouragement you find a little more room to suffer. After gathering myself, I realized that this break was full of all the big Pro Contenders and that we had a good chance. Instead of playing the "I'm an amateur card and am going to sit in" I gave it everything. I could have been smarter and sat on the group, but that is not the type of rider I am. We went eyeballs hard for the rest of the lap and had 50 seconds at the bottom of the final climb. After a solid attack by Hincapie kids at the top of the climb I nearly came unhitched, but fought to hang with the big boys. We approached the final 500 meter kicker to the finish, and I was seeing double. I should have had more of a killer instinct and attacked at the 1K but instead sprinted it out for 5th on the stage, which is to this date my best NRC result.

Making the final selection of Aubrey Butte and trading pulls with Tom Zirbel!!

Making the final selection of Aubrey Butte and trading pulls with Tom Zirbel!!

It was truly an amazing week for Marc Pro Strava, and I couldn't be happier with the group of guys that rode their hearts out.