Tuesday, February 15, 2011


By John McKee

Near 75 riders line up

It is February 13th, 2011 and the date selected for the Roger Millikan Memorial Criterium. Velo Avanti and Canyon Velo produce this race and it has become one of the most popular races on the entire SCNCA calendar. I think it is a combination of early season enthusiasm, central location(Brea/Orange County) in Southern California, the course and the reputation of the event. There were 42 pre registered 55 and 60+ racers but the same day racers kept coming in and sold out the event at 75. This is a record for 55/60+ racers. Way to go guys! Definitely some new faces out there. There were 4 teams with great showings- Swami's, UC Cyclery, Santa Clarita Velo, and SBW. Great job!
Very early action in the race at turn 1
The race was expected to be a titanic battle between Swami's and UC Cyclery and this race was no disappointment. I will tell you right now that both teams were outstanding and it was a pleasure to be a part of the race. The battle though was just for the 55+ win. Both teams had many strong soldiers. Swami's was lead by Dale Luedtke and Mike Birditt. UCC was lead by Kal Szkalak, Paul Rodiguez and Alex Collins. The 60+ race was totally up in the air. Prior races have seen Kenny Fuller and John Rubcic but not this year. Paramount looked strong with Monty Pettus and John McKee. Bob Wright of Santa Clarita Velo was there and had been racing very strong. Richard Stahlberg of Ironfly was there but the unknown factor was Mike Marota of Simply Fit. Mike is from Bakersfield and just aged up to 60+. Mike had raced sparingly the past several years in 55+ and look very strong and I knew he was someone to watch. I tried to mark him throughout the race. I lost sight of him on the last lap. Doh! I told Monty about Marota the day before when we were reconning the course. The day before the weather warmed up fast and there was a Santa Ana wind blowing into the racer's face coming toward the start/finish line. Sunday the day of the race the weather for near perfect. The temp was warming quickly and there was no wind.
Kal Szkalak and Rick Swanson
The race was off near the scheduled start of 8:30 am with over 70 riders. Didn't look like that many. The first lap was lead by promoter Ed Keck of Velo Avanti as a memorial remembrance to lost rider Roger Millikan who would have been in our age group. I think I mentioned before that he use to date Monty's wife(before they were married of course-lol).
After the first lap the war was on. You knew UCC and Swami's would be sparring and feeling each team out. The first real break effort was taken by Swami's Rick Swanson and UCC's Kal Szkalak. Kal and Rick worked it for several laps until Rick pulled the plug. This was Rick's first race this year.
From R to L- Rodiguez, Baldwin, Szkalak, Hoblit and McKee
There were a good number of primes and many were cash awards. This kept the pace high but many riders went to the front to work the pace. For the most part it was a pretty fast race. The next major break was formed by Kal and Paul Rodiguez of UCC, 60+ rider Glenn Baldwin, and Fred Hoblit of SCV. I saw Kal and Paul in the group and mistook Fred for a Swami's rider and sprinted across the gap to join the break group. Fred didn't want to take a pull and without a Swami's rider the break was soon chased down by Rick Swanson and others.If there had been a Swami's rider, Birditt would surely have also come across the gap to even things out between the 2 teams.
After 30 minutes of racing it looked like it was going to come down to a bunch sprint. Swami's Dale Luedtke was in the pack with the most energy saved of all the favorite riders. There was some jockeying but nothing major occurred in the last 5 laps.

Mike Marota leading the pack late in the race
The bell rang with one lap to go. Fred Hoblit was curiously at the front pacing the pack. Birditt and Rodiguez were right on him. Luedtke lagging a little behind. Maybe planning a mini break ahead and a jump across.

One lap to go -From L to R- Hoblit, Birditt, Rodiguez and Luedtke with Szkalak on his wheel
Following sequence photo- make note of  Swanson between Collins and Lang- Marota in on Swanson(helmet in view)
Rick Swanson read the race correctly for Swami's and shot to the front. Hoblit wasn't going to pace forever and Birditt needed cover for the finish. The interesting part of this is Mike Marota keep on Rick's wheel and came with him. This was a great break for Marota. Otherwise he would have been in the same general area as 60+ riders-Lang, McKee and Pettus. Swanson also made the race safer by picking it up on the last lap. Nothing worse than everyone looking around at each other all bunched up very late in the race.
On the backstretch between turn 2 and 3 it is slightly downhill and of course fast. Swanson was leading with mystery man in the 2 hole followed by Marota,  Birditt, Luedtke, and Szkalak. Collins and  Rodiguez weren't far behind. I was a little further back getting a good draft behind Cameron Phillips(he rides too high) and decided I needed to move up. I went to Cameron's left and brought Pettus and Lang with me. I was in the wind but had to get in better position.
There was a lapped rider ahead(Canyon Velo) and he looked back to see what was happening. He made a bad decision as you will hear soon. Coming into turn 3 Mike Marota jumped hard out of the saddle taking Birditt with him. He jumped so hard there was a mini gap or maybe Luedtke was playing it cagey. None the less everyone was really flying going into turn 3. Well over 30 mph. Everyone was looking to take their mo up the hill between turn 3 and 4. It gets steeper the closer you get to turn 4. From there it was a false flat the line. Maybe 200 meters.
The lapped rider choose to turn the corner and fade toward the outside curb. He should have pulled into one of the parking lots or stayed in the elbow of turn 3. Marota, Birditt, Luedtke, Szkalak and Collins went to the inside(right) of the lapped rider and got by in good shape. Rodiguez took the corner fast and decided to go to the curbside(left) of the lapped rider but got pinched off(His race was over). This spooked the Canyon Velo rider and he faded a little to his right. I was following Kirk Freeman of Santa Clarita Velo and Kirk came in contact with said rider. Kirk went almost sideways but miracleously saved himself and many riders behind. I saw all this right in front of me and slowed dramatically and went right. I missed Kirk but lost most of my mo. Monty read this better than I did and swung inside with Lang on his wheel. It was chaos behind but no rider went down that I know of.
Up front Birditt didn't have any idea that the rider in front of him was 60+ and hung on his wheel going around turn 4. Marota sat going around turn 4 and got out of the saddle again to sprint to the line. Birditt thought he could sprint by him but to his surprise Marota hung on for an amazingly great last lap and race. Marota is in great form and everything fell into place on the last lap. Birditt did get 1st in 55+ with Luedtke soon sprinting in for 2nd and Kal taking 3rd. Kal was followed by Alex Collins in his new UCC kit and the totally unknown and unattached Nour Tillo. Tillo was followed in by Hensler(6th), Phillips(7th), Miller(8th), Rosenkrantz(9th)  Huber(10th), Carrico(11th) and Carr(12th).
In 60+ action Monty Pettus was sprinting for the line for what I thought was 1st place because I had lost sight of Marota. Monty actually took 2nd in his category. David Lang was tying up a bit but hung on for 3rd. I could see David slowing a bit and made an effort to catch him and was gaining on him but Lang got 3rd. Little did I know that SCV rider Bob Wright was between myself and Lang for a solid 4th place. I finished 5th with hard charging Richard Stahlberg taking 6th. Close behind were Baldwin(7th), Kimper(8th), Longo(9th), Richards(10th), Pags(11th-Pags was by far the oldest person in the race at 75-he did great) and Carvin(12th).
All in all it was a great race with a record field. UC Cyclery and Swami's put on a great show with great efforts by their riders. Everyone did well. It was a shame that the last lap was marred like it was and I am sure that the lapped rider feels badly. He was unfortunately made a pinball out there. Can't say anymore. Photos are courtesy of Jodie Borer(You can see all 99 by clicking on the link on the right). Video is the production of Peter Carlson. Nice job. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm7Pt4MNKygThat's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!

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