All I knew about Merco was that it was “like Snelling.” Snelling is one of the only road races that I ever willingly put on my calendar and I had a rest week this week, so why not test the legs at Merco and see if Naveen, Bangor, and I could make up for our bad positioning at Snelling. Bangor told me the course was similar, but there was a bigger roller and little rise before the sprint. Alright…I think I can handle that. We got weird in the hotel room Saturday night, DNFed the toilet Sunday morning, and lined up with what looked like ~50 back in the same almond orchards as last weekend. The Bear Development Team, Data Driven Athlete, AVDT, and a few other Masters teams had fairly good representation in the field.
The pace was pretty easy on rollout so I dumped it to an easy gear and hung out at the front. Attacks started to fly right off the bat, but nothing would stick for awhile. I’m not sure when the move that stuck went because I wasn’t trying to go with anything, but at some point there was a group of five or so up the road gaining some time. We rode the first lap and I got the feeling for the course. Since it was similar to Snelling, even sharing some of the same road but in a completely different direction (and with a bunch of turns), I was totally turned around. The only way I knew how to figure out where I was, was to landmark the course features. There was a section of real beat pavement where the group had potential to split up. There was a bridge into a climb where I could easily pass on the left. There was a bigger roller than the rest that sort of tapered off and kept going further than it looked. There was the Snelling right to left where it always breaks up. Lastly, the rise to the finish where the 200m sign and slight downhill sprint was. We finished the first lap strong, still with no chase groups sticking, and I was still up front. Naveen, Bangor, and I did a great job staying up and staying close.
I knew Bangor and some Squadra guys wanted to get a chase going so I started to shadow him and watch for their move. I saw Squadra jump in the small roller section so I jammed on to Bangor’s wheel then let him go. I did my best to sweep the front and block, but 1 against 40 aren’t the best odds! I think I slowed some people down but there were still counterattacks flying off the front. Naveen also saw the move and made it up there for a second round of blocking before we were sucked back into the group, now chasing them down. After that nothing would be allowed off the front. The Bear Dev kids kept chasing everything down. It didn’t feel like our pace was increasing though and the break was gaining time. I think I heard they had 90 seconds at one point. Going into the last lap I went into conservation mode and focused on working as little as possible, drinking my water, and staying safe.
Working as little as possible ended up not being in the cards as the pace picked up on the last lap. We had the break in our sights so everyone got motivated to pick it up a little bit. I rode with the pack until we caught them, but it wasn’t easy. The efforts out of the corners were starting to take their toll on me, but I knew if I could make it over the roller I could do something at the finish. Naveen, Bangor, and I were together once again mid pack getting some last minute food and strategy going. We decided that Bangor was going to hammer on the rough section and try to string the race out before we hit the big roller and then the finish. Faster and strung out is safer right? Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, he flatted and we had to switch gears. Right after he flatted we had our first bad carnage of the day as someones front wheel got taken out. Naveen and I were in front of him, thankfully, but from the noise it was a bad one. Naveen yelled at me, “Just keep pedaling!!!”
From then on the pace kept steady (high) but I wasn’t doing too well. I made it my goal to pass someone every time we went up a roller so that I wouldn’t let myself fade out. They got harder and harder, and by the time we hit the longer one Naveen was way up where he needed to be and I was struggling to keep on. Luckily I hit it on the downhill and through the next turn and got myself neatly into the pack. I started to make up wheels to get back with Naveen so I could set him up. My legs wanted to stop, but I had to shut it down in my mind and just keep rolling. It could have just been in my head due to fatigue and slight crazy eye, but it seemed like EVERYONE was riding super sketchy. Lots of lateral movement, lots of sketchy wheels, sprinting up the gutter where there was questionable pavement, etc. I went into crit mode and protected myself and my position as best I could.
We came in hot to the Snelling right-left and I knew people would hit on the gas going into the final stretch. This is where it all went bad. I pedaled through the left turn full-on with Naveen a few wheels up. A small enough distance for me to close before the rise to the sprint. Unfortunately I wouldn’t make it up to him. I don’t know exactly what happened, but there was a huge crash. All of a sudden there was smoke coming off the road as racers shredded through tires brakes jammed at full speed and ran off into the dirt to the left and to the right. Bodies and bikes were flipping in front of me. People were yelling and screaming on the ground. Somehow my instinct saved me and I made it through untouched, but I went right through the middle of it. I looked up and the lead group was gone. There was no way I could close that gap and have anything left to contest the sprint. The crash shook me up and I decided that was it. I spun it to the line with the other survivors and ended up having a little friendly sprint with Magnus from AVDT, possibly for second to last place and DFL. I didn’t get DFL.
I found Naveen past the line and he had been run off the road by another crash with only 500m to go. Somehow he nose wheelied into a dirt berm with one foot clipped out and rolled it. Needless to say, he wasn’t there to contest either. We were both annoyed, but it could have been much worse if either of us really went down in the wreckage.
On the upside, just by finishing today, I’ve now beaten my road race record for all of last season (4.5 lap break to epic bonk at Windy Snelling + double flat out of Dunnigan on rollout). Also, Benford did really well in the brutal Master’s 1/2/3 field placing in the top half (25th overall?). Good job dude!