For a born and bread SoCal bike racer, the Tour de Murrieta has always been an event that offered the opportunity to get in three days of intense racing. All without the typical challenge of stage racing known as travel. The event has a unique flavor because it is an Omnium rather than a pure Stage Race. This means that not every racer has to enter each event. This allows the time trial guys to tune specifically for that day, while offering the same opportunity for fellas that fancy themselves as crit riders. It is also an chance for those who want to get a longer Circuit Race effort in their legs for the upcoming races such as San Dimas Stage Race and Redlands Bicycle Classic.
I have always enjoyed this format because it makes each stage tactics complex. Some riders are racing for an Omnium/General Classification result, while other riders are looking merely for glory on that stage. Our team won this race overall with David Santos in 2012, and came to the 2014 event knowing that a stacked Jelly Belly team would make a repeat of this performance difficult. However, myself and each of my teammates had 100% faith that given the opportunity, our man Santos could pull off an upset, but it would take plenty of luck and smart racing each day.
Unfortunately that hope was almost certainly dashed as, having completed my TT and waiting for my teammates, I saw Santos come to the line with a mechanical issue. A puncture from one of the many rocks that littered the dirt road ascent to the finish line had sabotaged a stellar effort. Santos being the champion that he is, dug deep all the way to the line and still managed a respectable result for 10th place.
A brief side-note about the TT. Although short in nature, this course features the added bonus of a dirt road climb after a short punchy ‘roller’ section. This dirt road is one of the coolest and most unique portions of the event and although it was not kind to our main GC rider, it was, as always, very challenging.
After the realization of our TT misfortune, our team decided to change tactics and approach the rest of the two stages as individual stages for results and abandon the GC. This meant that we needed to be aggressive and smart in the downtown criterium as well as the circuit race on Sunday. The sizable peloton, as well as a nearly 2-1 ratio of Jelly Belly riders to our team, meant that our best chances for success were going to be formulated around getting our sprinters Fabrizio Von Nacher and Cory Williams either in a select group to sprint from, or into position for the final gallop to the line.
There were multiple break-away attempts and the Saturday Downtown Criterium was very animated, it soon became clear that the race would come down to a field sprint in the end. We were out-numbered and we could not assemble a proper lead out train and take control of the race, so this meant we had to be patient in the closing laps. It should be noted here that the final laps of a technical crit are very chaotic and keeping a team together, let alone, waiting to pounce an established lead-out train is more than difficult. Sometimes skill and a little luck are required to complete the task.
As we entered one-lap to go, we were in position to overtake the lead-out train of the race leader (given the opportunity), but we had to wait. Half way through the lap we had our chance with a small opening in the gutter on the left side of the road. The opportunity presented itself and I began sprinting all out with Santos on my wheel yelling for me to roll faster…faster!!! As we (myself, Santos, Cory and Fabrizio) overtook the lead-out train, the peloton swarmed the front of the group from both sides. Our positioning on the inside of the course allowed us to control the road, we put our sprinters into position to exit the final turn at the very front of the group. The result was looking inevitable…
With two short turns and then a long drag to the finish remaining, our sprinters Cory and Fabrizio, looked well placed. But it was some last minute adjustments that made my post lead-out haze a bit more ‘panicky’, if I may use the term. Something happened to Cory heading into the final two turns and he had to pull some ‘evasive maneuvers’. I watched in disbelief as he jumped the curb on the outside of the road (thankfully no one was walking to the local Liquor Store on the corner!) at over 30mph. Cory quickly regained his composure and jumped back into the race only losing three spots, slotting right back into a great spot to sprint from. He did this ‘off the road, onto the sidewalk, and back onto the course, then into the race’ effort with zero disruption to the speeding peloton, it was both impressive and nerve-racking in the same moment.
I was not at the front in the final sprint, I came across the line to hear the news that Fabrizio had done an impressive sprint to cross the line in 3rd place and Cory finished 4th. Fabrizio had also garnered some valuable Omnium points with his 3rd place finish. The guys always race to win and as a sprinter, being the fastest, is the only goal, the guys did a good result and we were happy with the days efforts. I should say we were ‘satisfied’, but not happy. We came there to win and had given all our effort to do so.
Criterium Podium: 1st Sean Mazich – Jelly Belly; 2nd Rahsaan Bahati – Bahati Foundation; 3rd Fabrizio Von Nacher – KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO. Photo Credit: Danny Munson.
After the criterium was completed, we saddled up for some extra credit that included some hard work and climbing up the Ortega Rte. 74 pass as well as some attacking/counter-attacking intensity. This made for a full day of hard work on the bike, sore legs, and hungry teammates!
The Sunday Circuit Race was another opportunity for my KHS/Maxxis p/b Jakroo team to race hard and hunt for another victory. After the results of the crit were tallied, we found ourselves with Fabrizio in 4th place GC, although 4th is not worth defending, fourth place can quickly turn into a podium place or possibly a leaders jersey if played right… so you know what we did.
Again, we decided to race hard and smart. We had riders in some promising moves which were bolstered by individual riders in the field chasing their own glory as well as the help of the Predator Components team. We love this kind of aggressive racing and were happy to be animating the race. A ‘break-away’ was finally established on the rolling and windy course that was sizable with myself and about eight other riders. Of course, this is not exactly a favorable move for us, especially because the 2nd place GC rider was in the move with a teammate. That gave me a free card to do minimal work as my hope was to see Fabrizio come across in the waining laps of the race.
My desire was satisfied as after being in the break for 50min. Fabrizio came across with a small group of riders. ‘Now it is time to go to work’, I thought to myself. This is when the racing gets really hard and I enjoy my time on the bike the most. Little did I know that the race was still being hotly contested behind the breakaway and some chaos in the field had split up the group into one a chasing frenzy.
Eventually, despite our best efforts, the peloton reabsorbed the break-away making a field sprint inevitable. As we looked to take care of Fabrizio and Cory in the final of the race the chaos and tensions were high. The course was narrow and nearly every rider in the peloton wanted to be in the front on the last lap, but there was only room for a few. We fought hard to keep our composure and deliver our guys with the best possible chance to sprint for victory.
As we rounded the final corners and approached the crucial headwind section (the area to fight for final sprint positioning) energy was high. This headwind straight ended in a fast left turn that signaled about 600 meters to go to the line. Fabrizio and Cory rounded that turn in good position and even opened up the sprint a little early to hold their position in the aggressive final.
The efforts proved to be ‘worth it’ as Cory exited the final corner in the top five and sprinted to 2nd place, having been jumped by Rahsaan Bahati.
Tour de Murrieta Circuit Race Podium: 1st Rahsaan Bahati – Bahati Foundation; 2nd Cory Williams – KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO; 3rd Sean Mazich – Jelly Belly. Photo Credit Danny Munson.
We did not a stage or the overall race, but we did come away with two podium places (on stage two and three) and a bonus of seeing Fabrizio take 3rd place overall in the GC, so our GC hopes had been vindicated by hard racing.
Omnium General Classification Podium: 1st Sean Mazich – Jelly Belly; 2nd Ian Burnet – Jelly Belly; 3rd Fabrizio Von Nacher – KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO. Photo Credit Danny Munson.
The 2014 Tour de Murrieta proved to be another good test of our legs as well as our tactical ability with. With Fabrizio emerging as a formidable stage hunter and overall threat, we now have two riders for the GC (including Santos), a good support cast, and maybe most importantly we can see that Cory is on the verge of a big win. I know I can speak for each of my teammates when I say that I am ‘chomping at the bit’ to give him that opportunity. I want to see him climb that podium to the top!
In conclusion, I would be remise not to mention the efforts of my lovely wife, Joy. She had a fantastic race and while racing without teammates in a field full of organized teams (actively trying to stack the deck in their favor rather than hers!) she earned a well deserved 7th overall in a field of women that was over 75 strong. With a great 6th place TT performance and solid results in chaotic stages 2 & 3 she earned herself a little bit of pride on a job well done. It was fulfilling to see her achieve this result for me and the rest of the guys as well!
As always, I must close with a ‘thank you’ to all the folks that made this weekend possible. Thank you to Greg and Lisa Hayes for hosting our team for the weekend, you two are so generous and kind! Thank you to the generous sponsors that back our team with 100% dedication, KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, Jakroo, Shimano, Velo, Rudy Project, Rennie & Associates, Xpedo, Hammer, Chamio Butt’r, WD-40 Bike, Serfas, and iRT Wheels.
I would also like to thank the tireless efforts of the support group that makes our racing possible. Without the passion and dedication of Oren Mitz, Gary ‘The Enforcer’ Rennie (and his lovely wife Angela), Paul Abrahams, and all the other folks behind the scenes making each race weekend possible and successful this team would not be successful and a privilege to be on! Thank you to everyone for all you do, I am both thankful to be a member and proud to work with and for you!
Until next time, be safe, ride hard, and have fun,