By Brian McCulloch
The San Luis Rey Road Race has been a fixture in the Southern California cycling season for over 25 years. The course has changed over the years as the area has become more populated, but the competitiveness of the field has never diminished. The race course features varied terrain with a solid climb to the finish as well as plenty of rolling windy sections to create an event that is very challenging and selective for the racers.
It has been a few years since our team has sent a full squad to this event due to travel conflicts with other events. However, for 2014 Team KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO was back and we lined up ready to race hard from the outset with five team members clad in our vivid yellow and blue kits.
The team strategy was simple. Make the race hard. Ensure that a break-away would roll early in the race and strengthen it with teammates. Then give-it-hell in the final to bring home the bacon…or in this case the bottle of wine that was awarded to the winner. I can tell you that we completed our plan as outlined, except for the final result, but that is where the story begins.
The energy in the peloton was palpable as the Race Referee/Chief Commissaire could barely keep the attention of the collected peloton. After our pre-race instructions, we were on our way on the open road. With my favorite partners-in-crime, David Santos, Fabrizion Von Nacher, Cory Williams, and Steven Davis we set out to make the race hard. As if the 103 miles somehow would not already be challenging enough. It did not take but a few minutes and the attacks were already coming fast and thick, each time with a KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO rider present. The peloton was moving fast and we covered a lot of ground while the inevitable rubber band effect of attacks, accelerations, and then regrouping of the peloton took place.
It was not too long, maybe ten miles or less into the race, and a break-away had already established itself off the front. It was a sizable move with nearly ten riders, We had two riders in the move with David Santos and myself representing our team. The break-away group quickly gained a gap that would prove impossible for the chasing field to close down. But not before the break-away was strengthened by one more teammate, Fabrizio Von Nacher. With my two capable teammates, we set about to ensure that this break-away stayed away from the peloton.
We worked hard to get the gap established and fortunately for us, the entire group worked really well together. This was an unexpected bonus and something that helped solidify the race early. The race winner would most certainly come from this group.
As the race went on, probably about fifty miles into the race, our Team Manager instructed us to split the break-away down in order to increase our odds of winning. Some of the riders in the break-away did not make the selection and the break-away was trimmed down to seven.
The unfortunate reality of this selection left one rider off the front of our reduced group with only two laps to go in the race. This would prove to be a tactical error for our team, while at the time it seemed that one rider off the front was not a huge threat, that rider did a great ride to hold off our chasing break-away.
Before we could organize a chase and control the gap, our competitors used some accelerations on the climb to further reduce our group in numbers. This left only six of us chasing the lone leader with one out-and-back lap remaining. It was crunch time. By this time our representation in the group consisted of myself and Fabrizio. I knew Fabi could win, but I had to be willing to bury myself to give him a chance.
We have made mistakes in this scenario in the past, having not committed to the chase. That was not going to be the case today, or so I thought. We began chasing hard and reduced the gap steadily, but the leader was fighting hard, it was going to be a tough battle. With just under 10km to go in the race, our break-away split down further under the pressure of the chase. This left Fabrizio and another rider chasing the lone leader with me and two other riders chasing the three ahead.
In the end, Fabi was able to take over a minute out of the race leader in the final kilometers of the race, but it would not prove enough. We had waited too long to chase. Fabi took second in the race and I was able to keep my composure and earn 4th in a sprint to the line.
Earning 2nd and 4th was not necessarily the goal at the start of the day. But we had executed a great race and really pushed ourselves hard. Certainly there were things we would change in hind-sight, but I must say that I am proud of the way that Fabrizio took 2nd and being in a break-away for nearly 100 miles is always a good way to spend the day! I am proud of our results on the day and being as this was my first result of the season, it is a good confidence boost for the goals ahead.
I must conclude with this, spending the day racing my bike hard with my teammates is a very rewarding endeavor and I am very thankful to have the support of very generous sponsors. The KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO team is supported by many great partners and I thank each of them for their role in our successes, without this support the pursuit of racing excellence that we are striving for would not be possible.
Thank you to everyone!
Until next time be safe, ride hard, and have fun,
Thank you KHS, Maxxis, JAKROO Custom Apparel, Shimano, Serfas, Hammer Nutrition, Rudy Project, IRT Wheels, Xpedo, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Rennie & Associates, Q2, Bike Religion, Chamois Butter, WD-40 Bike, Bicycle Blue Book and the Management of IPA sports.