By John McKee
The 5th Imperial Classic bicycle race held on Feb. 20th, 2010 has been on the calendar for a few years now and is starting to grow in popularity but it has one big thing going against it and that's the location and how far it is from most SCNCA cyclists. I can be geographically challenged sometimes and I thought Imperial was somewhere near El Cajon and I have been there before and it isn't that far from central OC where I live. I signed up for the race. When I did a mapquest I was surprised to actually see where it is and it was going to take 3 hours and 17 minutes to get there. Once you get to El Cajon you have another 100 miles on a winding up and down road. You all know Hwy 8 out to Blvd. Well if you think that is far this is 50 miles further. Turns out Imperial, El Centro and Brawley make up a core in the lowest part of Cal. on the way to Yuma. They even use the Yuma TV stations. Agriculture has been the economic engine there. Imperial Valley Velo Club hosts the race and the City of Imperial is an enthusiastic supporter. Anything to get people there and spend some money. Imperial isn't much and you can see in the older areas that most of the infrastructure is crumbling or at best in less than fair condition. Streets, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and flood control seem to be hurting. Sure there is a spanking new mall on the other side of the freeway in El Centro with brand new buildings and 2 Marriott suite hotels but where the race was at and where Imperial City Hall is it is different.
The Imperial Classic has included a 55/60+ race for a few years now and I am glad I chose to support the race and the area. I got to the area the day before the race on Friday Feb. 19th, 2010. I got a room at the Airporter Inn for $50. It was the host hotel/motel. The rate told me something but it was 1/2 mile from the race course so it was an idea spot to stay. The rooms at the Airporter had been redone not that long ago and fellow competitor Loren Stephens was staying there as well. The clerk said there were only 8 racers staying there. Wow. Not many. There was a Motel 6 near the freeway for $39.99 and I figured Robert Paganini was staying there. He loves Motel 6 but no he drove Sat. morning from Pasadena. Another wow. The continental breakfast at the Airporter left a lot to be desired but put something in the stomach. I hate Sunny Delight. Colored corn syrup water with 15 other things in it that probably aren't good for you but that was their "juice".
The weather this weekend was a major concern to everyone. Rain was forecast for different times during the weekend in Southern California but early on in the week there was no prediction for rain in Imperial for Sat. Well that changed and it did rain early Sat. morning before I got up. I drove up to the course and parked and walked around. There hadn't been that much rain but there were puddles everywhere and most of the gutters were full with 2 corners looking very bad. There were volunteers everywhere helping out and there must have been 6 to 8 people out sweeping the course or at least the bad spots with brooms. Ralph was in his usual form with the cat 5 men first off. Ralph set up the night before at the finish line and spent the night. Ralph is to local bike racing as Dick Lane was to wrestling in the 60s on KTLA Channel 5.
The 55/60+ race was scheduled to go off at 9:30 am which is a great time for us compared to what it usually is. When all was said and done 30 people lined up to race. 28 men and 2 women.
Most of the racers were 55+ with 8 of them from UCC. 2 of the 60+ racers were also from UCC.
10 riders from one club while the rest of the field had at most 2 members from one club. Reminds me of "Naked Gun" where Leslie Nielsen wipes out the Shakespearean actors in a park doing a play and the mayor tells him he killed 5 actors in the park. Good ones! Well all the UCC riders are good ones!
We were allowed one lap to get a feel for the course and I started talking to Paul "Gene Simmons" Rodriquez(See pic of Paul from MBGP last year). He said he spent the winter snow skiing but was bemoaning the fact that he put on a few pounds. I asked him if he ate meat and he confirmed and volunteered that he liked the gilley juice or the modern equivalent as well(You would have to be a fan of the movie "Operation Petticoat" with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis to know what gilley juice is but I think you get the idea). I actually thought he looked fine so it must not be many pounds.
It was told to me before the race by Kal Szkalak that the green machine was going to push it and try and make the race hard because it was a sketchy course and of course making it hard would keep weaker riders in the back. It also would help the strongest riders like on UCC. Right. I get it.
OK. We're off! The race started near on time. 40 minutes of racing were ahead of us and the course was starting to dry out. 2 of the corners were still bad with standing water and there was a Paris Roubaix section that really gave everyone and their bikes a rattle. I believe this had an affect on me but I will get to that later. The course was .8 miles and flat as a pancake like the entire Imperial Valley. Sea level and no slope what so ever. The course was but 30 meters off Highway 86 which would take you to Indio. Another desert gem.
It wasn't long before the greenies were jumping, attacking and stuff. There were some guys from other clubs that tried to do what they could to control things like Rick Swanson but with the numbers and the fire power out there it wasn't looking good. There were a few new faces out there as well.
The first major play was initiated by Mark Helvie of UCC. Mark aged up to 55+ in 2010. Strong rider like most of the green, yellow and white. Mark got out there with a pretty good gap and his teammates went to the front to "block". Block only means to control the pace at an acceptable pace. Not a slow pace. This was done to perfection today by the Swedish cross country team in the men's 30k pursuit in the Winter Olympics. With one Swede away 2 guys went to the front and worked the pace and made a Russian chase. In the end the Swedish team had a gold and a bronze. Team play at its best.
Kal and Dale tried to go across to Mark but Rick Swanson was right on Dale and I was on Rick. We had a mini gap but the pressure was on in the field and Kal decided "jams off". A few more laps and it looked like Mark was faulting a bit. Michael Mueller another new 55+ made a move and worked his way up to Mark. Nice job! A few laps went by and the pace changed dramatically depending who was at the front and how much energy that person wanted to put in.
Kal and Dale went across the gap separately with Dale being last I believe. The 4 of them got together and the first 4 spots were locked up. Some of the rest of the team like Mitch Weinstock even went to the front and put some pressure on. Everyone knew that the 4 were away and a faster pace would help the remainder of the squad. Mitch had a rough start going into the race. He signed up for 60+ on Socalreg.com even though Mitch is 56 this year. He got it straightened out at registration but when he got to the line the officials told him his number was too much on his back. The number needs to be on the side. Teammate John Rubcic had to move the number for him. Well at least you showed up, Mitch. You had that going for you.
The 6 lap to go card came up and the pace ebbed and flowed but it felt hard to me. I was thinking this shouldn't feel harder than Brea but it was. Little did I know that either from the start or during the race my rear wheel starting rubbing against the right brake block. Doh!
The last lap came up and Paul Rodriquez went to the front with the plan of stringing it out and pulling everyone to the 2 corner to go point and did a nice job. It was strung out. I had the 4 60s right in front of me in line. Paul didn't make it that far but still made it hard and I started to feel bad. Once Paul pulled off the scramble was on. I kept Raffy Gomez in my sights ahead of me but going into the last corner I couldn't hang on to his wheel. I was cooked. The bunch ahead of me went for the line which was 350 meters from the last corner and into the wind which was stiffening as we raced. The day before it was 25 mph with gusts to 34. It was proably 9 to 12 out of the south when we raced.
John Rubcic showed his fine form and piped the field for 1st in 60+. Raffy Gomez was 2nd and John Edwards also of UCC took 3rd in 60+. Loren Stephens, Phil Richards, and Don Kimper all finished ahead of me in that order. In 55+ action Mitch (I think I am 60+...no 55+??...Yea that's it! 55+) Weinstock took the next 55+ spot to make it 5 places in a row for the green machine. Damn.
All in all it was a pretty good race with the outcome rather predictable. Oh yea. I forgot. Who won the race, anyway. I heard that they kind of figured that out amongst themselves and thought that one of the early breakers should get the win so Michael Mueller was first, Dale 2nd, Kal 3rd and Mark 4th.
No crashes though there was some sketchy riding at times. The average speed was 24.0 mph for the field. Nice to see an area actually care there is a race there. At Dom. Hills LA County could care less. The course is not in any city. The pictures were taken and distributed by the host club. Thank you! The places are below for 55+ first and then 60+:
10-McNeece(from host team and he said he didn't finish this high)
That's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!