By John McKee
March 28th, 2010 and the Redland Criterium was going against the LA Circuit race. If you read the last post about LA Circuit, you know a number of 55+ and 60+ racers did LAC and drove all that way to Redlands to do that race as well. Monty Pettus and I arrived at registration 20 minutes before the start of the race at 10:05 am and got a lot of static about it being closed...blah, blah, blah. They let us in. I had pre reged anyway. There were more total racers than at LAC and the field was stronger. UC Cyclery/JW Flooring had their A team out. They were loaded and were looking for 2 first place finishes in 55+ and 60+ and maybe a sweep of the podium in 55+. They had their work cut out for them but they also had a lot of talent there with lots of experience. There was no clear challenger in 55+ but in 60+ Kenny Fuller was there to avenge last years 2nd place to UCC's John Rubcic. Kenny has 38 Natz titles and defending World champ in the time trial. Kenny was going to drive the race as often as he could and make it hard and try and get away from that pesky little rocket. JR maybe small but he packs a blistering finish. JR has one mantra in a race. Get near the front at the end of a race and sprint as hard as he can. Without any other team with any numbers it was up to UCC to control the race. They had the ability to do it but they HAD TO DO IT IN THE RACE!
After the pro women started their last day of their stage race the 55/60+ racers lined up. Over 40 guys were there. No gals. I looked around and knew this was going to be a serious suffer fest. It was going to be hard and fast and the you knew the call was out "Take no prisoners"! The head ref was Velo Avanti's Ed Keck. Ed gave clear instructions but from questions I heard afterward, not everyone was listening.
They had a count down clock on the upper left side of the structure that went across the race and the lap counter was going to be electronic and be in the same area. We were listed at 40 minutes of racing.
The whistle went off and everyone kind of looked around but once the shyness wore off the guns started blazing. The course was very technical, difficult, dangerous and fun. All at the same time. I felt more comfortable on the course this year and I have to compliment everyone for racing SAFE! Attacks were more prominent on the uphill section going toward and away from the start/finish line. Another popular spot to attack was near the top of the course before the 120 degree turn. If you could get a jump by yourself or with a small group you could go faster in the downhill technical section than in the pack which might have to brake now and then.
Lap after lap the race got harder and harder. The better riders started moving forward and some of the others starting falling off little by little. Michael Mueller coming off his awesome victory at San Dimas did some important leg work early in the race. JR was a little too far back and it was hard to move forward with the pressure on so much. MM escorted JR up to Kenny. Teamwork.
I know Kenny was attacking often but from where I was I couldn't see who else was driving the action. Al and Ricky Shorts are always in the action. Al is coming off 2 crashes on his bike in training and is just starting to feel comfortable again out there. Gary Shuey coming off a great finish at San Dimas was in the action at the front. Gary a former mountain biker is taking to the road racing in style. A little shaky with his bike handling but super strong. He is getting better though. Steve Cahill of Swami's is also strong and was surely in the action. Mark Huffman and Mitch Weinstock of UCC were mixing it up as well. Steve Bernede of Simple Green loves to make things hard at the front. What a field. Mike Birditt of Swami's isn't well known YET but is a very fast finisher. Mike was hanging out in the pack and very much imitiating the UCC rope a dope. Conserving energy until it is needed. John Edwards and Phil Richards made the mistake of using their energy stores and got in bad oxygen debt. They had to let others go around them. They never made it back. Phil and Don(Everly Brothers) Davidson of Citrus Valley Velo were expected to be strong in 60+ at this course. DD has in the past lapped the field in a small break group. It wasn't their day. 60+ racing with such fast 55+ riders is about survival first but everyone has their style of racing. Nothing wrong with aggressive riding but one can't ride himself into the ground because someone young guy is going to attack you when you are hurting. If you aren't racing with a little reserve, you can get hurt bad unless you recover quickly and that is tougher as you age.
I was watching the clock and when it said 23 minutes to go I was thinking this is really hard for me and I don't feel as strong or comfortable as I did earlier. Was I going to blow up like I saw others. About this time the pace subsidied. I catch a break but I have learned one thing out there. If you are hurting, someone else is huring too and maybe many others.
The race got down to 15 minutes and 2 small groups were away. Of course Kenny was in the lead group with maybe 3 other racers and a small group of 4 were just behind them but couldn't close the gap. Carlos Cruz was in the second group and my antenna went up. The podium was ahead of me. Damn! JR was surely near Kenny.
Al Shorts starting pulling the pack but couldn't close the gap. Dale Luedtke was there but wouldn't lend a hand. He had teammates ahead and was conversing energy. Monty Pettus decided to do a solo effort to close the gap and he made it. That was impressive. About the time Monty got there the groups gave up working together and the bunch was all together again but at Redlands it always strings out on the downhill portion. 5 laps to go came up on the electronic board and it just got harder and faster. Some 60+ riders were going backward or dropping off. I told myself that since I hung in this long no reason to quit now.
I swear I saw the 3 laps to go twice but my brain was major oxygen deprived. Kenny put in a major attack with 2 laps to go and Paul Rodiguez, Dale Luedtke, and Kal Szkalak came along with Mike Birditt and of course John Rubcic. Bob Guglielmelli was in the mix and was on his best behavior. Bob made an ass of himself in Santa Barbara 6 years ago and those that were there probably haven't forgotten it. I know one thing though is Bob didn't listen to the chief ref at the beginning. Bob asked me after the race where the lap counter was. Doh!
Paul Rodiguez took the last corner wide and came toward the line near the rail. Mike Birditt took it up the middle as did Dale Luedtke. Kal was on the rail and JR was very near Dale. Paul showed super human strength to hang in this long but the last 20 meters, Mike came on to edge Paul by about 2/3s of a wheel(Complete vid at bottom). Kal took the last podium spot over Dale by 4 inches. JR was right there. After a little lull the next pod came across with Kenny Fuller in it taking 2nd place in 60+. After a few more riders Monty Pettus came across for the last podium spot for 60+. Half the podium finishers were at LAC earlier. Race nuts!
The 55+ official finishers were(14 of the 22):
That's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!