By: Heather Nielson
Project sport certainly knows how to put on a bike race. It’s not just a sporting event, it’s a celebration of athleticism of military proportions. Ok I might be exaggerating just a bit but seriously, is there any other promoter in Northern California who compares? Personally, I wish they’d put on more races. Also, they never fail to offer equal prize money to the pro men’s and women’s fields. I’m sold. Although San Rafael is not on either of the National Calendars, it still holds a reputation for attracting some of the best professionals in the United States.
NOW-MS was represented by the multiple Irish Time Trial champion Olivia Dillon. Specialized Lululemon had their top-notch sprinter Loren Rowney there and Vanderkitten had the largest pro team roster there. Exergy, though lacking previous years’ winner Coryn Rivera, had 5 riders from their roster and it was generally believed that they intended to take first again…..but how? There were also a few local notable sprinters like Mary Ellen Ash and Martina Patella. The pace was furious from the beginning and if I remember correctly, had all of one very slight lull during which I’m pretty sure half the peloton took a drink at the exact same moment. Constant attacks combined with primes kept the pace fast and consistent which made it difficult for any breaks of significance to succeed. There were a few early attacks of small groups but none of the breaks lasted for more than a lap or two. Having sat in for the majority of the race, Heather Nielson attacked with 6 laps to go in an effort to entice the likes of Exergy or Lululemon to join in a possible winning break. Her gap grew very quickly & was quite significant, and although Exergy tried to bridge, they were quickly re-absorbed into the pack. Exergy still had one final card to play and intended to win…..solo. Unable to maintain the significant gap that she had, Nielson was caught by a fly-by Starnes with a little less than 3 laps to go. This solo effort was perfectly timed and culminated in a win for Exergy; again repeating their dominance at this race. The pack sprint was (expectedly) won by Loren Rowney with Antonneau and young Winder, fresh from her European tour across the pond, rounding out the top four.
The men did a 75 minute criterium (only 5 more minutes than the pro women?) Not sure I’ve ever seen that ‘equal’ time period given pro men and women at a criterium. Project Sport is all about equality. Yep, I’m sold. Moving on….
For the first 20 minutes of the race the field was more or less consistently strung out to nearly single file. At 25 minutes a break went that included the eventual first and second places: Eric Rigg’s of Mike’s Bikes & Jared Barrilleaux of Cal Giant. The group maxed out at 5 riders and 20 seconds before the group started to break apart. Three riders were stripped from the break-away and Riggs & Barrilleaux would work together for the entire rest of the race to eventually lap the whole field with around 15 minutes left of race time. Cal Giant & Mike’s Bike’s did an incredibly good job controlling the front of the field to ensure that this break-away would succeed. There were several ultimately unsuccessful lone-man flyers, then after Rigg’s and Barrilleaux lapped the field Bissell and Kenda made a strong appearance, if only briefly, at the front of the main pack. (I’m not really sure why a few more breaks were attempted at this point unless a large portion of the pack was unaware that they had already been lapped). With 5 laps to go, riders started popping off the back of the field like flies as the pace increased. Notables like Chuck Hutcheson, Andy Jacques-Maynes and Rahsaan Bahati secured their top 10 placings by staying near the front for the remainder of the race. Despite Mike’s Bike’s already securing first place and the team spending a large portion of race at front of the field, they still pulled out the pack sprint with James LaBerge taking the last podium spot at third. Impressive…..what were the other team’s excuses? What do I know, I only race with women.
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