Only a few days late, here is my report from the 2010 Collegiate Road Race National Championships. If you don't want to read the lengthy cycling nerd-speak blow-by-blow, I will summarize: three guys from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wheelmen traveled to Madison, WI this past week and completely controlled and absolutely dominated the road race. Out of 160 starters, 68 finished, and topping that was Wheelman Blake Anton out of a two man break away. I followed closely behind in 3rd, and John Bennett closed us out in 20th. To quote an article from USA Cycling, " Cal Poly was the story of the morning’s men’s Division I contest"
And now in far greater detail, for those who care to read it.
The 5 lap, 72 mile road race course started and finished on top of Blue Mound State Park ( course map link ). Much to my delight, by putting the finish line at the highest point in southern Wisconsin, the organizers managed to lay out a hilltop finish in a state I thought was mostly flat. The weather was a horrendous 42 degrees and pouring rain, but after doing a few races in the snow and rain these past couple years, I was ready for anything.
After a quick neutral start down the steep finishing climb, we started on the 5 laps. Each lap ended with a mile long climb averaging 10-12% grade, so the plan was for Blake to cover for the climbers (John and me) as long as he could and then I would lead John up the final lap climb so he could open up his mean sprint on the final 300 meters at 20%+ grade. The first lap was uneventful and the whole group hit the climb together. John and I stayed near the front and made it over with a group of 30+. Nobody wanted to pull, so happily the majority of the pack came back together, including Blake. The climb on lap 2 shelled even more riders, this time leaving John and me in the front group of about 20. Again, Blake caught back on after about half a lap, but not before a strong break of 5 or so got away without any Wheelmen in it.
At the base of the climb on lap 3, they had over a minute on us, but by the top it was brought back to 30 seconds. I don't remember doing any pulling, but photos show me at the front on this lap... That time up the climb was the hardest (oops, my bad!), and I thought for sure that was the last we would see of Blake. But amazingly he worked his way back through the remnants of the field, and then hit the front of the pack as soon as he got there, putting in a BEASTLY half lap pull to bring back the break away.
This time there was no way Blake was going to catch back on. According to his mom (thanks for the feeds, Joan! We couldn't have done it without you), Blake was 40+ seconds back over the top of the mile long climb. John and I went over the top in a group of about twenty, and after the descent John instigated a break away with some strong riders from UCLA and Davis. At this point I had a free ride and got to sit on across the flat middle section of the lap. Blake amazingly caught back on yet again, and at the start of the lap 4 climb John's group had about a minute on us, which they maintained to the top. Once more Blake did not keep pace, and got dropped for the FOURTH time. And for the FOURTH time, Blake dropped like a rock down the descent and worked back on to the chasing pack!
At this point Blake and I figured the race was over and we would just hope for John to be victorious on the final climb, but a rider from Arizona made it his personal mission to pull the break back. I don't know who he was (number 30, I think), but I want this guy on my team. Essentially on his own he pulled back a break of 7 riders with a minute on the back, and with eight miles to go we were back together in a pack of 40+. Blake again went to the front, this time attacking multiple times to make life hard for the other climbers. After a strong attack from the same Arizona guy, Blake and a Colorado rider slipped off the front with 8 miles to go to the finish, presumably to force some work from the other teams and help John and me save for the finishing climb.
I figured I was sitting pretty to lead John out for the win, with the other teams forced to do some work to bring Blake back, but to my surprise everyone was toast and no organized effort was made to bring them back. I covered three or four attack, did some blocking, and watched the gap grow from 30 seconds early on to 1:40 with a mile and a half to go! To be completely honest I am shocked that 30+ of the supposedly strongest collegiate cyclists in the nation let two guys ride away with the national championship in the last 8 miles. Evidently everyone was really done for though, because when we hit the climb for the last time I went right to the front and marked the two guys from Fort Lewis College who were setting pace up the climb. Since my teammate was still up the road, all I could do was ride in their shadow so as not to pull them up to Blake. The whole time up the climb I was expecting to see Blake struggling up the climb with the other guy who went with him, but they had too big a gap at the bottom.
I rode the Ft Lewis train to the top of the feed zone, and then we turn for the final 300 meter 20% climb to the finish. The course leveled out for a moment before the steepest final 200m, and the lead Ft Lewis guy looked back at his teammate and said "stay on my wheel until I tell you to go". Instead of letting them carry out their plan, I shift down to the middle of my cassette and attacked, standing for the entire final climb before coasting in with a comfortable 13 second lead. As I coasted through the finish shoot, Blake's mom yelled from the side "Blake got it!" and I went absolutely nuts, celebrating like I never have before. Blake dramatically came around the Colorado rider with only several bike lengths left in the race, and took home Cal Poly's first national championship since 2005.
Friday was almost certainly the best day of my life so far. Not only did my teammate win, but I beat the entire field home, and John's 20th made us the top scoring men's team in the race. When I read all the accolades our team received for dominating the race, I was so proud to be part of history for the Wheelmen.
If I seem a bit frustrated in my report and interview, here's why. I have to be completely honest, coming from my mountain biking background I can't help but be a little disappointed in the way the race finished. Blake is one of my best friends and truly a beast on the bike and fully deserves the win, but it is frustrating for me to know that I was the strongest rider in the finale and then have to sit in on a climb that was made for me to win. It was an anticlimactic way for me to end my last collegiate road race when I was so ready to attack at the very bottom of the climb and rip the field to shreds.
At mountain bike nationals I turned myself inside out for two and half hours in order to secure the fifth and final podium spot, and here I honestly gave an 85% effort on the final climb, never led anywhere else when I could have blown the race to the moon on the climb on any lap, and just waited for the last 300 meters. After finishing the XC at mountain bike nats I laid face down in gravel for fifteen minute unable to move; at road nats I could have done four more laps at the same speed.
I am frankly appalled that nobody made any effort to bring those two guys back from what was meant to be a suicidal move to set up the climbers (John and me) for the finals. I simply cannot believe that thirty or more people basically let the national championship ride away from them. I have no problem playing good teammate, and wouldn't do anything differently if I were to go back and do it again, but it difficult for me to come to terms with the knowledge that if someone, anyone, had made any effort to reduce the gap before the climb I would be the one pulling on the stars and stripes. To repeat myself, so nobody gets the wrong idea, I am extremely happy for Blake and he completely deserves the win and everything that will come from it. It's just frustrating, that's all. Maybe that's just road racing, and I probably did everything right . But damn, it is frustrating.
Anyhow, now that that is out of the way, what an amazing day for the Wheelmen! I am honored and proud to be part of possibly the best day in Wheelmen road racing history, and can't wait to repeat or better the performance at the 2010 Collegiate Mountain Bike Nationals.
Next goals for: Marathon Nationals Single Speed Open and then U23 XC nationals
YAY for DIRT.
-Menso de Jong
edit: I just realized that I got the same place in the crit (30th) as I did in DH at collegiate MTB nats. SHWEET.
Blake wins the sprint
I take third
Victorious Cal Poly Wheelmen
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