This year’s Dana Point Grand Prix was part of USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar (NCC), a series of races showcasing the country’s top criterium-only events. Not only was this my first NCC race, it was also a first for my team, Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase (www.teammikesbikes.com). I was feeling optimistic going into the race considering the teammates I had around me. They included Daniel Holloway, former US Pro criterium champion, 2010, Eric Riggs, NorCal cagey veteran and former rider with the USA National Junior Team, James Laberge, 19 year old NorCal sprint sensation and Rainier Schaeffer, NorCal hardman and fixed gear legend.
Our team plan going into the race was to make sure we had at least one teammate in any dangerous breaks. Riders to watch were Ken Hanson, 2012 USA Cycling Professional Criterium Champion, Shane Kline and Ben Chaddock (current Canadian Professional Criterium Champion), Justin Williams and a few others. If the race came down to a field sprint then our ideal leadout train up would be Rainier, Eric, myself, Daniel and James. Daniel had just come off winning the last three weekends so we decided we would do all we could to get James the win.
The race started and it wasn’t long before guys were attacking off the front. This was to be expected for a race of this calibre. My teammates and I took turns marking these moves. James was the only one who was to sit in and wait for a sprint finish. As the race progressed and moves were brought back, I had a feeling it was going to come down to a bunch sprint. The L-shaped course with very little elevation change favoured this type of finish. As well, I didn’t see much action from race favourites mentioned above. To his credit, Daniel put in a few solid moves and stayed off the front for two to three laps each time, with nobody willing to take a risk to bridge up to him.
In the end it did come down to a bunch sprint. Coming into the last lap I was second wheel behind Tom Soloday, Ken Hanson’s teammate. We were on the right side of the road. Tom did his work and pulled off about 75 meters from the finish line, about half way up the small 3-4% ascent. I felt it wasn’t time for me to accelerate and continue leading because I didn’t believe Daniel and I could hold off the field for the entire last lap. I eased slightly and riders started coming by my left. Daniel and James were part of this group. I accelerated up behind them and told them I was there. We crossed the line with the bell ringing, signifying last lap. There were probably 7 or 8 riders spread across the road. This was my time to go. I saw a gap, dug in and took it. I went by James and Daniel and they hopped on my wheel. I was first into turn one. Exiting the turn, I stood up on my pedals and hammered towards turn two. Nobody was trying to come by our train. Around turn two and down the back stretch we went. I could start to feel my legs fatiguing. Daniel was repeatedly saying “Come on Dana, keep it going”. I made it through turn three and then onto turn four with Daniel still on wheel wheel. We went down a small descent and started up a short climb before turn five, the second to last turn. I sensed my speed was dropping so I moved left and to the outside. Daniel darted by me on the inside followed shortly by James and a few other riders.
I had done my job and was going to pedal into the finish. But just then I heard the terrible sound of pedals and handlebars scraping along the pavement. There was a crash right behind me. I looked back and there was a gap. So I accelerated again, went around the final turn and put my head down and kept pushing as hard as I could.
Up ahead, Daniel lead James into the final turn with the three race favourites right on his wheel. As they accelerated onto the final straight away, James started his sprint. The three riders on his wheel, Ken Hanson, Shayne Kline and Justin Williams, were able to sneak by him before the line. James ended up 4th, Daniel 5th and I was able to hang onto 6th. Eric ended up coming in 8th.
Bike racing is a team sport. The top teams at any level communicate and work well together. I was very happy to be part of my team, especially when we were able to have our leadout train come together on the last lap and finish with four guys in the top eight.