Cat’s Hill Classic Criterium
It was another outstanding day of racing in Northern California as racers from “down-under” secured the podium in the Women 1-2-3 event. Meanwhile, Team Mike’s Bikes took on the role of Darth Vadar and the Empire to win the Mens Pro-1-2 event.
A mischievous rivalry has emerged following a blog post about the Wente Crit by Chuck Hutcheson (Marc Pro-Starva). Hutcheson, tongue-in-cheek, equates himself to Hans Solo – a lone rider bravely taking on, and Team Mike’s Bikes whose black/white uniforms and endless numbers have made them seem like minions of the large “Empire”. Team Mike’s Bikes embraced the roll, and carried on the repartee by “costuming” Darth Vadar for the call up to the Men’s Pro-1-2 race. Despite their deep wardrobe and comedic antics Team Mike’s Bikes does seem to have put together a deep and talented roster that enables them to employ a multi-pronged strategy at races. NCNCA fans can look forward to Marc Pro-Strava and California Giant/Specialized making this a racing-rivalry worth following.
The Women 1-2-3 race featured three teams with deep rosters. Metromint Cycling and Vanderkitten-Focus each had six-a-piece while seven Steven’s Bikes p/b Pactimo riders lined up at the start. Bill Nicely revealed privately before the race a strategy of attack and counter-attack, with the steep Cat’s Hill 23% climb featuring heavily in Steven’s Bikes plan to take on the field.
Rebecca Werner (SportVelo Racing) took charge in the early laps and monitored or lead the race near the front. Heather Van Sickle (Steven’s Bikes p/b Pactimo) also took a turn as an early leader at one point. The first breakaway came from Jasmin “Jazzy” Hurikino and Emily Collins, both of Vanderkitten-Focus. The pair were joined later by Marley Smith (Steven’s Bikes p/b Pactimo) and a third Vanderkitten-Focus racer, Kate Chilcott. This dangerous break with the three Vanderkitten racers was killed. when first Chilcott dropped off and then the field caught up to the remaining three in the break. “It just happened by luck that my team mate Emily [Collins] and I got away and a Steven’s girl [Marley Smith] bridged with another team mate Kate [Chilcott].” said Hurikino, “I personally thought we’d stay away but we got caught.”
Kira Prokopakis (Los Gatos) led the charge back to the break. Then, with three to go, Jennifer Reither (Vanderkitten-Focus) put in an attack. This lasted a little more than a lap as she was caught by the field going into the first turn. With spectators at the finish line looking expectantly, it was Hurikino that first appeared past the final corner. It was also with an insurmountable gap for this race. “I attacked on the last climb.” continued Hurikino, “It was always the team plan for me to give it my all on the last climb. That’s how I won the race 2 years ago.”
Hurikino crossed the finish line for a comfortable win. The sprint for second place behind her went to the Kiwi, Collins, with Werner taking third. The first USA racer to cross the finish line was Marissa Axell (Touchstone Climbing) in fourth followed by Nicole Justice (Steven’s Bikes p/b Pactimo).
With three delays throughout the day for medical emergencies, the Men’s Pro-1-2 race started over 30 minutes late. This allowed temperatures to drop slightly and shadows from the trees stretched well across the course. For much of the race, there were attacks and different leaders but the field stayed together, apart from attrition off the back. Half-way through the race, it was clear that nothing was easily getting away.
Alton Dunnigan (Fremont Bank Cycling Team) put in a late break and continued to stretch out his short lead until seven-to-go. John Wilk (Webcor/Alto Velo) was next on a solo breakaway but he too was caught. At four laps to go, the field stretched single-file from the finish line to the first corner. It was vastly more compact at two to go. At this point, Team Mike’s Bikes were audibly agitated and heard shouting for each other to line up their positions. Their ability to control the race with numbers looked dubious at this point.
The race came down to a field sprint and rounding the final corner up front were California Giant/Specialized team mates Jared Barrilleaux and Benjamin Swedberg, James LaBerge (Team Mike’s Bikes), and Chuck Hutcheson. LaBerge had the advantage and sprinted across the finish line in first; arms raised and slightly leaning back, LaBerge’s winning pose is becoming all-too familiar to NorCal racers and fans after winning his last three races. “We were all sitting around the same area,” explained LaBerge, “but we weren’t connected together in a line and taking control of the race. Luckily it came down to the end and we were able to keep it together. It’s all about getting into position and getting into that last turn.”
Swedberg was able to take second place with Barrilleaux finishing in third. Hutcheson was also in on the sprint and came home in fourth. LaBerge was joined in the top-five finishers by team mate Tyler Brandt while the team placed six racers in the top twelve.
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