What a difference a week makes… rain, wind and chilly weather gave way to clear skies and 70-degree temps as the Sho-air/Sonance Juniors took part in three events this weekend: Valley of the Sun (VoS) Stage Race in Phoenix, AZ (Feb 12-14), the Roger Millikan Memorial Criterium (Feb 14), and the Redlands Sprint Triathlon (Feb 14). Let’s get right to the stage race…
Valley of the Sun Stage Race – Fri-TT/Sat-RR/Sun-Crit
VoS marks the start of the stage racing season and gave our GC hopefuls an opportunity to test their early season form, and equally important the junior team a chance to try some team-racing tactics in a multiday event. This race doesn’t count for SCNCA points so many were using this venue as a tune-up event for The Callville Bay Classic stage race coming up in two weeks, which does affect individual and team rankings for Southern CA riders. Sho-air/Sonance had a total of 8 riders competing in the following categories: M15-16 – Dmitry Baer, Michael Shein, Jordan Hirschman, Kyle Torres; M17-18 – Kevin McQuaid, Chris Wyman, Hunter Grove; Cat-5 – Jason Lupo.
Time Trial/Prologue – Friday (Buckeye, AZ)
The general classification (GC) standings are set by each rider’s individual performance in the first stage so it’s important for a rider to obtain a good result in the TT if they have any hopes of winning the overall age category, and that’s just what Kyle Torres did.
Cat-5: Being 18 years young Jason’s only option is to race with full grown men in the Cat-5 group, but that didn’t deter him as he sat in the start house for his TT race. Sporting a loaner-disc wheel (thanks Matt!) he rode his Transition to a respectable 26th place finish, putting him right in the middle of the 50 man field. It’s worth mentioning that he was the first one off in the morning, so his early launch was beneficial when he returned to our camp and shared course conditions info with teammates who had start times later that afternoon.
M15-16: Out of the start house Kyle set a blistering pace, catching his 30 second man within the first two miles. He was able to maintain that effort throughout the 14.2 mile out-and-back course with 262ft elevation gain, to finish with a time of 32:31 (26.2 mph avg.) putting him in 1st place overall (3rd fastest amongst all juniors). Second place finished +1:06 back giving Kyle a comfortable lead in the M15-16 age category. The 15/16 competition was much tougher this year vs. 2009. Michael slashed exactly two minutes off his TT time from ’09 (36:48 vs 38:48) yet dropped from 12th to 16th compared to the previous year. Jordan also put in a good effort finishing 21st, and new comer Dmitry in his first ever stage race finished in 29th.
M17-18: The older boy’s category featured some tough competition especially with ‘Team Specialized Racing Juniors’ fielding three very strong riders. The Specialized elite factory team came to win and demonstrated it by placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the TT. Nonetheless our juniors were also there to compete and Hunter managed an 8th place finish; a very solid result considering he rode with nothing more than his regular road bike, while most top contenders brought their Ferrari-like TT rigs fully equipped with aero helmets and every wind-cheating upgrade you can think of. Also riding in their first ever stage race were Kevin and Chris who finished a little further back in 24th and 29th respectively. Chris’ finish was an impressive feat in itself considering his spindle bearings seized up and his pedal came unscrewed with 5 miles to go. With his pedal sill attached to his left shoe Chris was forced to pedal his bike with just the right, but still managed a 21.6 mph average. Next time you’re out for a spin try pedaling your bike for 5 miles with one foot… see how that one works out for you!
Road Race – Saturday (Gila Indian Reservation)
With the GC order set and the Friday’s TT winners now wearing their leader’s jerseys we headed down to the Gila Indian reservation just outside Casa Grande, AZ for the road race. Most of the juniors including the Cat-5s would be racing 2.5 laps of the road circuit for a total of 41 miles, but the M17-18 juniors would be doing 3.5 laps for 57 miles.
Cat-5 (8:15 AM): First off was Jason, his strategy was to stay out of the wind and conserve energy in the hopes of going on a break during one of the final climbs and improve his GC standing. However, staying true to their namesake (the Crash-5s) a rider went down just a few bikes in front of Jason and caused him to come to complete stop to avoid crashing himself. The injuries appeared severe and the rider would have to be air-lifted out due to a possible head trauma. By the time Jason got going again two thirds of the peloton were already a quarter mile up the road; he worked together with a dozen other riders to get back on, and with a lot of effort they regained contact with the main field just before the second climb. Hoping to catch his breath and recover a bit he positioned himself in the middle of the pack, but it was déjà vu all over again… another rider goes down and he has to stop to avoid hitting him! He worked his way around the traffic and another chase group formed. They worked to get back onto the main field, however feeling spent from the previous effort he begins to drift backwards on the climb. Just when he thinks its lights-out and he’s about to get dropped for good, someone reaches out and provides him just enough of a push to keep him in the group for another 15 seconds. Jason never found out who the other rider was, but it was all the motivation he needed to dig deep and stay with the group unto they reached the top. They picked up a few more riders and chased hard to try to reach the peloton. In the end they crossed the finish line only about a minute down from the main field, and Jason earned himself 28th spot in the road race… not bad all things considered.
M15-16 (8:25 AM): With Kyle in the leader’s jersey Michael, Dmitry and Jordan knew their first priority would be do what they could to keep him safe and counter attacks from the other teams. They weren’t about to repeat last year’s near miss where a rider over nine minutes down snuck off the front and was able to make up over five minutes on the field and move himself into 5th place overall. This time they wrote down the bib numbers of every GC contender and taped it to their top tube to make sure that nobody got away who could contest the leader’s jersey. With their game plan in hand Michael and Jordan rode close to the front and right away started chasing down attacks. Soon after Michael and Kyle were left to patrol the front of the peloton without the assistance of Jordan because he got caught behind a crash and spent almost half a lap chasing back. Finally, at the start of lap two Jordan regained contact with the main field and almost immediately a GC threat launched an attacked with two others; Jordan had no choice but to bridge across to the breakaway group and sit on their wheel. This disrupted their pace line rotation and effectively shutdown the attack, allowing the remainder of the peloton to close the gap. Having exerted a huge effort Jordan’s legs were cooked and he fell to the back of the main group on the final climb. Jordan’s work had been done and he finished the race in the second group in 19th place, +1:20 down from the main field. Michael stayed with Kyle and the two safely crossed the finish line in 8th and 9th places respectively, safely preserving over a minute of Kyle’s lead in the GC and moving Michael up a few spots to 11th… just one second out of the top ten!. The trio rode a smart, tactical race and later said it really felt like it was a team effort; Kyle graciously acknowledged his team mates and thanked them for their unselfish riding. Dmitri was a little overwhelmed by the level of competition in the 15/16 age group and after being dropped still hung in there and soloed his way to a 27th place finish.
M17-18 (12:00 PM): Last to race were Kevin, Chris and Hunter with a goal to try to do something to disrupt the top GC contenders; a tall order since the top three were riding for the Specialized factory team. The race was fast from the start with ‘Team Specialized Racing Juniors’ setting a high tempo that neutralized many would-be attackers. Hunter figured his best shot at a stage win, which comes with a time bonus, would be to ride close to the front and look for an opportunity to breakaway. All three Sho-air/Sonance riders rode patiently but the high pace didn’t leave many opportunities to launch an attack. Finally on the last lap it was the factory Specialized team itself that put the screws to the peloton and began to blow the main field apart. Hunter with two mountain bike state titles already to his credit would not be denied and hung in with the elite riders and got an impressive 3rdplace finish, just behind the GC leader. The effort earned him a -4 second time bonus, subtracted from his overall time. Kevin and Chris fell off the main group and finished 17th and 26th respectively, a good result considering the level of talent in the race.
After a day of hard road racing there were no major shakeups in the GC standings, as the leader’s teams had done what they needed to do to maintain their overall positions.
Criterium Race – Sunday – 30 minutes (Downtown Phoenix, near AZ State Capital)
The final stage brought another change of venue as riders and families made their way north to downtown Phoenix where racers would compete on a flat 1-mile figure eight course that features the always-fun raised street buttons or ‘Bott Dots’… a favorite when moving down the road at 30 mph with skinny tires. Due to a last minute change the M17-18 and M15-16 groups were given the same start time, rather than the usual 1 minute separation. This combined the two groups into one 60+ rider field, but worked in Sho-air/Sonance’s favor as they’d be able to ride as one large team that could more easily cover attacks and protect Kyle’s top GC spot. Note, while riding back from the M17-18 race the day before, Kevin’s seat unexpectedly collapsed, he lost control and took a flyer over the handle bars and landed on his face… a freak accident no doubt. Kevin was taken to the ER, treated and released, however preferring not to press his luck he chose not to start the Crit the next day.
M15-16 & M17-18 (7:40 AM) Being the third and final stage, other teams were vying for a podium spot knew this would be their last opportunity to upset the GC standings so the race was fast right from the start. While there was a lot of action in the pack, the Sho-air juniors where able to ride together and protect Kyle’s position in the group. The peloton shed a few riders but the bulk of the field stayed together making for an interesting field sprint where there would be two groups contesting for a first place finish each. The whole team worked together and in the end Jordan, Kyle and Michael finished 9th, 11th and 12th respectively to preserve Kyle’s lead in the GC standings and give him the overall win for M15-16. Not to be outdone Hunter also rode in support of Kyle throughout the race and finished a solid 7th place with Chris just behind the pack in 25th spot. Hunter’s final GC standing stayed at 8th… great job everyone who cracked the top 10 and those that rode in support of a teammate.
Rounding out the final GC results, Michael did actually beat the 10th place rider by over two seconds in the crit finish, but as we all know everyone in the pack gets the same time so he had to settle for 11th overall in the GC. The final GC placement for Jordan was 17th and Dmitry 27th in the 15/16s, and Chris finished 25th in the 17/18s. Genuinely a great team performance by all our riders, we can all be very proud!
Cat-5 (8:45 AM) Still on antibiotics for a lingering sinus infection Jason hung in the adult Cat-5 race the best he could. The good news was that there weren’t the usual crashes, however the pace was unusually fast and Jason did his best to stay with the main field. In the end Jason finished the tortuous crit in 35th place, and a respectable 31st overall in the GC. Great job Jason…!
Roger Millikan Memorial St. Valentine’s Day Criterium – Sun (Feb 14th)
Back in Brea, CA the 23rd annual Roger Millikan Memorial Crit was taking place on the ¾ mile, semi-rectangular course, with a muscle-burning false flat just before the finish line. In past years this event hosted several junior age groups, but this year those were gone so any junior wishing to race the event would have to compete in one of the category races with the adults. Doug Hall couldn’t make the trek out to Phoenix so he showed up representing Sho-air/Sonance Juniors in the Cat-5s.
Cat-5 (8:45 AM): This would be good pack racing experience for Doug since the field easily reached the 50 rider limit, while most of the junior crits seldom have more than 20 racers in the M13-14 age group. Though he was the only club Junior in attendance he wasn’t the only Sho-air rider in the race. Fellow Velosport Club member Vladimir Popovic (some 25 years his senior) also signed up for the crit, so Doug and Vladimir knew they had each other to work with if the need presented itself. Doug received some final tips from his dad who raced velodromes back in the 80s and rolled out for his warm up lap. The race began with a neutralized memorial-lap for Roger Millikan and after the pace-rider pulled off the front the race was on. Nervous with energy the pack jockeyed for position with riders mindlessly crowding the front on the straight-aways, only to be squeezed out when they darted into the turns. This can’t last for long without a mishap and sure enough on turn-2 of the third lap two racers from another team touched wheels and one of them slid out on the asphalt. He was OK and miraculously didn’t take anyone else out, but it did cause a number of riders to get gapped from the main group; among them were Doug and Vladimir. The two rallied together with other racers to get back onto the main field. As they buried themselves to catch the peloton the small pack started shedding riders and at the same time picking up new ones who had lost contact. Slowly Doug’s chase group was reduced to just himself, Vladimir and one or two other riders, and eventually Doug proved to be the strongest among them as he dropped the chase pack and began picking off riders by himself. Riding in the drops, completely calm and poised throughout the race, Doug’s 5’11” frame held a classic riding style reminiscent of American road champion George Hincapie. Well as 25 minute Cat-5 races go this one went pretty quick; before you knew it the bell was ringing for the final lap and the surviving 20 or so racers in the main field jockeyed for position in the bunch sprint. Doug kept working and crossed the finish line in 22nd place, a good result by any measure. More than anything the experience gained in the pack race counted more than the results, as well as getting one race closer to upgrading to Cat-4. Fine racing Doug…
Annual Redlands Triathlon (R5k/B10m/S100yrd) – Sun (Feb 14th)
Over in San Bernardino County they were hosting the 11th Annual Redlands Triathlon/Duathlon sprint combo. Every race has its share of drama of course, and this one was no exception as it left Sho-air/Sonance Junior, Blaine Walsh, as well as other racers scratching their heads at two puzzling results. Blaine raced well and ended up 4th in the M11-14 age category, however there were two questionable 13/14 year old racers (two brothers of course) who took 1st and 2nd in Blaine’s age group, but also placed in the top-15 overall amongst all elite triathletes. Could they be future Kona champs in the making? Maybe they’re naturally gifted time-trialist, or maybe they only did two laps instead of three… guess we’ll wait to see how they do in their next race when everyone will be watching closely? While their result was questionable Blaine and his folks were proud of his finish… way to honorably represent our team Blaine!
Thanks again to all the juniors who competed and proudly represented Club Velosport and all its sponsors this weekend, and all the parents who supported their kids at the races. A special thanks to Jeff Shein worked tirelessly to make sure everyone’s bike was ready to go, and even replaced an entire groupo at the last minute; also to the Baer’s who let several juniors and parents stay at their guest house in Phoenix; to John Torres who graciously lets the juniors use his RV as the team headquarters at the race venues; and to Nathan Rico (still nursing some road rash sustained at Mothballs) who couldn’t race but insisted on trekking all the way out to AZ to support his team mates in any way he could.
Contributions from: Jeff Shein, John Torres and Marty Walsh