By John McKee
It's March 5th, 2011 and time for the Arco Criterium in Long Beach, California. The event is produced by Velo Allegro under the CBR license. Much warmer weather greeted the riders as compared to the previous weeks race in Ontario. It felt so much better. It was probably 20 degrees warmer at the start of the race then at Ontario. The pre race registration wasn't spectacular at 27 but in the end 49 racers came out to do the 55/60+ race at what everyone refers to as the "Hughes Course". The course is racer friendly with plenty of room to race on. There is probably 350 to 400 meters left to the finish line from the last corner. Good viewing on one side with grass berms for family and friends that come to watch.
The race in 55+ was looking like a three way fight between Swami's, Santa Clarita Velo(SCV) and the host team of Velo Allegro. SCV would be missing their hot rider Mike Gourley. No UC Cyclery or Breakaway From Cancer racers. In 60+ the Paramount team was to be challenged by Ironfly, SCV and SBW. Swami's has been very strong this year in 55+ as has Paramount in 60+. It looked like a tough day of racing ahead but those 2 teams were the favorite.
All the racers were off at the designated time of 7:45 am. The skys were overcast but the temperature was so much more body friendly. It didn't take long before the racers started heating it up with jumps off the front. The first move included Mike Birditt and Kim Bleuth of Swami's, Fred Hoblit of SCV and a 4th unidentified rider. I came across the gap to join. Fred Hoblit was doing most of the work and Mike spent most of his time looking back at the pack. 3/4 of a lap and that effort was over.
Throughout the race there were break attempts by Swami's and Velo Allegro with some action from Santa Clarita Velo. A lot of prime killing was going on with Mike Birditt getting the 5 BAR points. Steve Bernede must like coffee because the only time I saw some real spark out of Steve was a when he took off 1/2 way around on the prime lap going for the Polly's coffee. I got on his wheel thinking he was jumping across a small gap to a break group that included Mike Birditt but NOOOO!!! He went by them like they were standing still at the 3rd corner. Steve must really like his coffee. No contest on that one. I decided to unhook myself from his train at the break group before my heart exploded.
Gary Shuey of Swami's was there to animate the race and help the Swami's "closers". Gary because of his win at Callville, Gary had taken over the lead in 55+ Socal points in the SCNCA. Yours truly after the win at Ontario lengthened my lead in Socal points in 60+. This race though is CBR and they have BAR points and Dale Luedtke was leading going into this race in 55+ with his teammate Mike Birditt a close second. Rich Stahlberg of Ironfly was in 1st place in 60+ with Bob Wright of SCV also a close second.
Throughout the race small groups tethered off the front with little hope of success. Didn't seem like the breakers ever really put their full effort into getting away or the chemistry wasn't right. Don't know but no one ever got very far away. The course lends itself to high speeds. The overall pace of the entire race was 25.38 mph. A good clip but 2 mph slower than the 50s and 40s. The 40s were only a few clicks faster than the 50s per data collected my Paramount speedster Monty Pettus.
A bunch sprint it looked like when the 5 lap card came up. I believe all 49 riders were still aboard. The only real escape attempt late in the race was done by Kim Bleuth of Swami's. Kim stayed out there from 4 laps to go until fairly late in the race but was kept on a close leash. Swami's team was trimmed of a valuable leadout tool when Gary Shuey flatted with less than 2 laps to go. It was going to be up to Rich Swanson to do the work. The bell lap came and everyone but say one knew there was one lap to go. 60+ racer Ernie Hoffer flew across the line first thinking that the race was over. NO! One more to go, Ernie.
The final lap pace was slower than Ontario and definitely slower than Cattle Call. Rich Swanson took the pack half way around and then it was up their "closers" Dale and Mike to do the rest. Dale and Mike were comfortable in the mix up front. Velo Allegro had their leadout man Rod Mallory providing cover for their "closer" in Ricky Shorts. Nour Tillo was marking Dale closely. Nour had been vying with Velo Allegro's Don Denegal for Dale's wheel. The Paramount "closers" were on the outside where I was more comfortable. Longer to go but with the freedom to move up if necessary. Monty Pettus got on my wheel on the back stretch. After the 3rd soft turn I was behind Steve Bernede but since their wasn't any coffee given away at the finish I figured I needed to move up more. I got around Steve with Monty in tow just before the last turn.
The last turn saw Fred Hoblit make his move from a long ways out. Fred got buried a bit the previous week at Ontario so he figured he would try a different approach. Fred hit the last corner very hard hoping to catch the field by surprise. Once around the corner Mike and Dale jumped out of their saddles to get on Fred. Rod Mallory had deposited his teammate Ricky Shorts near the front and his job was done. Ricky wanted to latch onto Dale's wheel but so did Nour Tillo. I jumped once around the corner and tried to stay as tight as possible to the leaders. Monty didn't quite take the corner as fast and left a gap. He put it in overdrive and got back on my wheel.
Mike had gotten on Fred's wheel and as I had mentioned earlier it is a long ways home from the last corner. Mike waited to fairly close to the line and sprang to Fred's left. Mike is hot now and flew by to win the race! Dale also got by Fred for 2nd. Fred rolled in for 3rd. About 150 meters back from the line Nour and Ricky were clashing and I pulled my foot off the accelerator thinking they might crash in front of me but it wasn't as close as I thought. Now I had to get back out of the saddle and try and make it the last 100 meters to the line. Ricky came across the line next for 4th with Nour taking 5th. My legs started to tie up and Monty came around to my left for 6th overall and 1st in 60+. I was next across for 7th overall and 2nd in 60+.
Rich Stahlberg was the last podium placer across the line in 60+.
The race was pretty fast and fairly well animated. The favorites did end up winning. There was some aggressive play for Dale's wheel but nothing like the 50+ race. I understand it was quite crazy the last few laps there. Thanks to Velo Allegro for hosting the race. CBR did another fine job with this event. Placing are below. That's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!