Monday, February 21, 2011


By John McKee

60+ Podium- Lang, Pettus & McKee

55+ Podium- Mike Birditt with podium girls(way cute)
Imperial Valley Velo has been producing the Imperial Classic for 6 years now and it deserves to be recognized as a top notch event. Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference- friendly volunteers, responsive promoters(Brian McNeese & Robert Perez), low local motel rates, community involvement, bonus vegetable and fruit bags to podium placers(9 lbs worth), and friendly people everywhere. Unlike Brentwood where residents go crazy if they have to drive a little out of their way. The drawback is that the location is hard to get to. It is a 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive from central OC for me. Even racers from San Diego County don't have a short drive. The solution that I see is to stay at the local Airporter Inn for $50 for a single or $60 for a double. Plenty good enough and right down the street from the race. The course is fine except one street(it is a short segment) is so rough it is like doing Paris Roubaix. The only 2 times I have been in Imperial it has rained and I guess it doesn't rain there that often. It did rain in the morning of this event but luckily the rain stopped by the time we went to the line to race at 9:30 am. The drainage in some of the areas on the course is less than stellar so on the next to the last leg of the course there were 2 big puddles running across the street. When we first went through the water it was at least 3 to 4 inches deep. Through the race Robert Perez was out there sweeping the water away. Not sure where but at least away from our path. By the end of the race it was down to 1 inch.
The course is a .8 L shaped course with a long straightaway heading back toward the start/finish line. It must be near 400 meters and is into the wind. The wind started to come up as we raced but wasn't near as bad as it was in the afternoon. Up to 30 mph then. I would also like to add that much of the proceeds of the race go toward the Cancer Resource Center of the Desert.
There were 22 pre regs in 55/60+. With a few no shows and a few same days we ended up with 21 racers. 12 55s and 9 60s. Both UC Cyclery and Swami's had strong teams with a few strong solo riders in Mike Gourley of Santa Clarita Velo and Thomas Gates of Team Grand Fondo from Tenn. Thomas use to live in California and race for Acme with Butch Stinton and Dale Luedtke. Thomas knows a good wheel when he sees it but more on that later.
The race was off on time and there was no rain but wwe had the puddles to deal with. Many of us did the Mothballs Crit in Goleta, Ca. so this was doable if that was. The first few laps were uneventful with everyone feeling out the course with the wet conditions and of course UCC and Swami's were keeping a close eye on each other. The first prime came up and I didn't know what it was for. I assume Mark Helvie did because he went for it and got it. Mike Gourley came after him and Mike Birditt did as well. They were maybe 25 to 30 meters ahead and I was thinking of trying to jump across the gap like I did at Roger Millikan but choose to wait. The 2 Mikes put their heads down and took hard pulls and the gap jumped to well over 100 meters and out of my range. They were moving pretty good and it was Mark's turn to pull through and Birditt asked him if he was going to work with them. Mark answered affirmative and this break was off. They worked together well and there was no one in the pack left to chase other than the 2 top teams. Swami's was super happy with Birditt in the break. Was UCC happy with Helvie in the break. Probably not. Mark is a very strong rider but his strength isn't his finish. In hindsight UCC should have probably chased down their own man and hoped for a better mix later but they didn't.
The pack churned along at a fairly comfortable pace with a few break attempts. Kal Szkalak made a go of it about mid way through the race and Rick Swanson was right on him. I don't know if Rick planned to work with Kal like at Roger Millikan or was just marking him but I saw this as an opportunity to jump across the gap and get in what would be a winning break for me. David Lang of Dare(60+ in 2011) wasn't having any of it and chased hard with Monty Pettus on his wheel and the rest of the pack not far behind. This effort was short lived.
In the mean time the 3 breakers were working together well and developed an insurmountable lead. The winner in 55+ was in this threesome but the winner of the 60+ category was still in the pack.
With about 9 laps to go Swami's strongman and climbing specialist Gary Shuey came to the front and started pulling hard. He kept it up for 3 laps and I was starting to hurt. When I saw 6 laps to go I didn't figure I could keep this up. Gary got tired and pulled off. The pace eased. Alex Collins was watching Gary for a solo move and it happened with less than 4 laps to. Gary caught Alex off guard and got a gap on everyone. Alex started a chase but didn't bring him back. Were 4 places gone now?
The 3 breakers came upon the last lap and continued to take their normal pulls. It was Gourley to the last corner but there was a long ways to go. Birditt didn't want to wait too long like at Roger Millikan but also didn't want to tie up in the wind. He timed his sprint perfectly. Birditt one, Gourley two and Helvie three.
Turned out that Gary Shuey was able to hold everyone off and finished a well deserved 4th place. Alex tried but gave up within the bell lap. Rick Swanson went to the front to help his sprinter specialist Dale Luedtke.
I knew Dale's wheel was hot so I got on it with 2 laps to go. Turned out his old teammate Thomas Gates also wanted it. We went back and forth but inside the bell lap I decided it wasn't worth it to take a chance on crashing and moved back on Gates wheel not knowing that he was also very fast at the end of a race. Monty Pettus was up ahead near Kal with David Lang marking Monty. Turning the last corner the sprint was on and the riders were all over the course. Gates hung on Dale and sprinted by him at the end to win the bunch sprint and take 5th place in 55+.  Dale and Kal followed in by Monty Pettus who won the 60+ category. David Lang started to tie up going into the wind and I came by him on his left side. McKee 2nd and Lang 3rd in 60+. Kimper, Longo and Daddy Pags followed Lang in 60+.
The purse was split down the middle between the 55s and 60s and all 3 podium finishers in each category got big bags of veggies and fruits. Overall it was a great event and yes Swami's got the best of UCC but there will be other races. That's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!
(Still trying to drum up a podium pic of the 55s.)

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