Monday, August 15, 2011


By John McKee

It is August 14th, 2011 and date for the Ladera Ranch Grand Prix. The Ladera Ranch course is interesting and challenging but I wouldn't want to do it in a very big field. There are 3 fairly narrow corners and a power climb at the end which is not too steep. The field size for the 55/60+ race was about half of what we had at Brentwood. Ladera might even be safer than Brentwood so I am not sure why the big drop off. Location has to be a factor. Ladera like Brentwood has done a very good job making their event into a fun and exiting overall experience. Ladera does give out a winner's jersey to all cats though it is the same design as 2010. Only 13 60s signed up for the race and along with 26 55s made for 36 starters. I would have hoped for at least 45 to 50 to make our cats more saleable in the future. Can't sell no shows to promoters.
The race start time was 7:40 am for the 55/60+ race. The prior cat 5 race went off without a hitch with no crashes so we were able to start on time. Almost like at Brentwood but not quite as fast the race picked up quickly. UCC was full on with every rider that races on a regular basis there. Including the eclusive Paul Rodiguez. He needs the race miles since he is doing Natz in 55+ as are a lot of guys that were out there. Probably 12 or more for 55+, 60+ and 65+(Mr. Medicare{myself}).
Swami's was down to the bare bones and UCC was going to try and take advantage of that. Attack, attack and let's see. Oh yea, ATTACK! There were some mini moves and chases early but the first real move included Mike Mueller, Phil Richards, and .....(don't know right now). They were away for a number of laps but not that far. They were caught and per the pre race plan UCC would attack off a catch. In fact if they didn't like the make up of the break group that included a UCC rider they would bring it down themselves. I was right behind 3 UCC riders that did just that. Paul and Kal were 2 of them.
Mike Birditt was very active for Swami's. Chasing and getting involved in a few break groups himself. I actually saw Dale Luedtke out there chasing. UCC was taking Swami's to the ropes but was Swami's doing the infamous "Rope a dope". I really can't do everyone justice that was in a break because there were so many of you that were there. Pretty sure though that Phil was the only 60+ rider that was. Mike Marotta did pull the pack up toward a mini group. I believe someone told him there was a 60+ rider up the road but that was incorrect. All the 60+ riders were keying off of Mike and keeping him in their sights. Now whether that would matter in the end remained to be seen. John Rubcic did beat him at Brentwood but John was sporting some sore ribs. He took a tumble on his dirt motorcycle and landed poorly a few days before the Ladera race.
60+ riders Mike Fleming, Bob Wright, David Lang and Raphael Gomez with 55+ rider Steve Bernede
John's a tough guy. He wasn't pulling out.
In the middle of the race on a counter Paul Rodiguez took a solo flyer. He was away for 5 or so laps. Nice effort but it didn't last. UCC was pulling out all the stops. No stone unturned. Wear down the opposition and attack again. Mike Mueller and Mark Helvie were also very active for UCC. Kal Szkalak was mostly marking Mike Birditt of Swami's. Mike Birditt was in a break group that included Mike Mueller and Kal Szkalak but UCC didn't seem committed to this group and it failed. Mike usually would let a group get a short distance away and launch. Since Mike can accelerate better than anyone in this race it was a good strategy. Kal would chase him as would then everyone else. Others that were in break groups included Steve Hensler, Fred Hoblit, and Ricky Shorts. Rod Mallory put in a good chase at one point to help his Velo Allegro squad.
Paul Rodiguez on a solo break
Mike Fleming and Mr. Medicare marking Mike Marotta
The minutes were counting down. 40 minute race and 30 minutes had gone by and no break had stuck. We were suppose to see 7 laps to go but I had a hard time sighting the lap card. I heard Ralph say 3 laps to go. Before the 3 lap card though when Paul Rodiguez got caught Mark Helvie slipped away. Nothing seems to get by Mike Birditt and he filed this away. With Mark away another mini break group got a very short distance away and inside the 3rd to the last lap I thought I would jump across. I didn't know Mark was in front of this group. When I was half way across I turned my head I could see the entire pack was on me and was being dragged up to the break group which I closed. That was ok. I wasn't in that much  oxygen debt. 2 laps to go and Mike Birditt went to the front and took a look for the long lost Mr. Helvie. He could see him ahead. His duty in his mind was to bring Mark back late in the race. If he brought him back too soon, UCC might counter with Paul Rodriguez or Mike Mueller. The last lap came and Mike Birditt started to pull pretty good but not all out.
Mike Marotta was 3rd or 4th wheel and I right on him. At turn one John Rubcic came up and wanted his wheel bad so I gave it up and tried to stay on John. Shouldn't have done that but I did. Everyone pretty much stayed in line until between turn 3 and 4. Mike Birditt was gaining quickly on Mark Helvie. It was just a matter of when and where. The pace kind of slowed a hair or everyone else picked it up. Riders started coming around to my left and right. Dale Luedtke and John Wagenaar came around to my left. John started to lean on Dale. Don't know if he lost his balance or what. Dale leaned back and then there were some elbows and a little further up there were some more elbows. I got afraid and started moving to my right in case the worst happened which it didn't.
Once Mike Birditt had caught Mark he turned the corner and held to the right curb knowing he was totally out of gas. Another 55+ rider shot off and Mike Marotta got on him for a short spell and he started his own sprint for home which was uphill and a good distance away. Velo Allegro's Rod Mallory was setting up on the left thinking his teammate Ricky Shorts was on his wheel but Ricky was on the other side of the group. Poor team work there.
Mike Birditt charging off with Kal Szkalak, Ricky Shorts, Steve Hensler and Mike Marotta in pursuit
Dale Luedtke was taking another approach coming out of the last corner on the far left side and lots of riders to pass. Dale has a long sprint and it was going to be tested. Fred Hoblit had gotten himself in great position and felt like maybe this was his turn to win. Coming to the line it was Mike Marotta with a bike length or more on the field for the 60+ win. Mike creamed everyone. He seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on. He could be tough at Natz.
Fred Hoblit could now see the finish line and had thoughts of winning but alas it wasn't too be. On Fred's left a long buried Dale Luedtke came up on Fred's left and pipped him at the line with a bike throw. Yikes! In 3rd place was Kal followed in for the 55s by Cyril Hunte and Paul Rodiguez. All that work by UCC and they got 3 and 5. Tough finish for them considering all the work they did.
In 60+ John Rubcic beat Monty Pettus for 2nd with Monty taking 3rd and myself- 4th and Mike Fleming- 5th. Overall it was a very good race. Swami's was pushed to their limits and came out on top. UCC threw everything at them. In hindsight when Mike Mueller and Kal Szkalak were away with Mike Birditt they should have put more of an effort into it. They could have given him the old one two as the laps counted down.
No one went down though there were some close calls. Bob Wright got pushed toward the curb at turn 4 just before the bell lap and  bounced off the orange barrier on the left to stay upright. That is why Bob was last in 60+. There were 5 55s and 3 60s that didn't finish. It was pretty hard out there. Vid below.  That's all for now folks! Train hard and race safe!

55+ Placings

60+ Placings

60+ Podium- Pettus, Marotta & Rubcic

55+ Podium- Luedtke & Hoblit- missing Szkalak

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