Gold, Silver and Podiums for Interface Athletes @ Masters Nats - race report from m45-49 criterium
Photo: Nick Theobald
1 - Charon Smith; 2 - Miles Billings; 3 - Chad Cagle; 4 - Marco Aledia; 5 - Scott Cox
RACE REPORT - 2021 USAC National Road Championship Criterium m45-49
We were fueled up for an evening nationals crit with Peet’s Big Bang Medium Roast Coffee. Top of the line, beautiful and finely tuned race machines were primed to go thanks to Véloro Bicycles. Altitude acclimation and pre-race opener rides were fueled with our go-to GU Roctane gels and drinks followed up with GU Roctane Protein Recovery Drink Mix. Pre-race coffee was already on board and the caffeine-free GU Roctane gels were perfect for the evening races. We were looking and feeling sharp in our Cuore kits which also just happened to be the sponsor for the national champion jerseys that we were targeting. We were ready!
I had one teammate in the 45-49 race with me - Jonathon ‘Boots’ Eropkin. His all-around ability reading and riding the race combined with his big engine and calming nature is a huge asset. I knew he would be looking out for me. It is a huge boost when a teammate has and expresses confidence in you. Thank you for all the support and work in the race!
I just watched Peet’s Coffee Racing p/b Véloro Bicycles teammate, Kyle Glerum, pull off an amazing win in dominant fashion with a blistering solo last lap attack in the m50-54 race. Teammate Nick Theobald was a huge asset and part of that success. I’m probably always some combo of racer and coach unless in the last lap of the race. I was 100% coach and teammate riding that high as we staged for the m45-49 race. I was trying to get my head right to race and started in a bit of euphoria as Kyle and I shared a goal for him to win a national championship in 2021. We had been working together towards that goal since November 2019 and he had a near miss outstanding Silver Medal performance in the road race the previous day.
That euphoria came to an abrupt halt when the rider in front of me dropped his chain right after the whistle blew and all hell broke loose. Crap! - now I am too far back for the first few laps of mayhem of most big races. Patience. I was able to move up without too much stress thanks to intel from teammate Larry Nolan. He just happened to pull the three-peat earlier in the day winning the m60-64 race from a 3 man break and a LONG sprint for a 3-year reign as national crit champion.
Things were going smoothly as I moved up until a two wheel slide out of turn 3 from the rider in front of me snapped me into full race mode. Luckily, I got ahead of that and then was where I wanted to be near the front without burning too many matches a couple to few laps into the race.
I was finally near the front just in time to see Jason Grefrath (Thirsty Bear) promptly attack. I believe Jerod Ridge (Blackswift/Cycleton) followed and they quickly had a gap. Gutsy move going long. Alarm bells went off as the field knew this was a dangerous break and Andrew Messer (Texas Roadhouse) went to the front. That confirmed Texas Roadhouse was racing for highly marked sprinter, Marco Aledia. I also noted Tori Gillett (Team Simple Green) go to the front to aid in bringing things back. I recall him in a Methods 2 Winning kit at Tour de Murrieta earlier in the year. The favorite for a field sprint, Charon Smith (Methods 2 Winning), also had a capable worker and I thought the odds of a sprint were very good with 3 strong riders willing to chase the 2 man break once Eropkin was factored in to the equation.
Right on cue, teammate, Eropkin, made a nice move through the S/F to bridge and that also sent alarm bells ringing to keep the break close. The chase was on by many. That made me feel comfortable sitting back and watching for a while thinking I may need to bridge at some point. I needed to keep an eye on friendly rival and threat in any race, Jeromy Cottell (Touchstone Racing), Carlos Casali (Franco Factory Racing), Mark Tucker (Velo Kings Racing), and SuperDave Koesel (Monster Racing Team) and others to look to bridge. The break was riding very strong, but I also thought there was still too much horsepower in the field for a 2 man break to make it without reinforcements. I felt the break needed at least 4 riders and 2 of the above-mentioned riders would need to get involved.
The chase to the break kept the pace fast and often single file. I noted many contenders pulling through – some hard, some rolling it. The wide open course was fun as I could see Grefrath driving the break as well as Casali attacking to try and get across with an always active Cottell in the frame, too. I love downtown crits, but the buildings block some of the action and I found this exciting to see while racing on this course. Eropkin took several appreciated strong pulls in the chase. I thought the lack of wind made it too difficult for the strong riders looking to bridge to get clear which ultimately helped the chase. I heard the time gaps to the break coming down with what I remember to be about 8 to go and felt it was time to get ready for a field sprint.
I had been staying close to Marco, Charon and Chad Cagle (Team Topeca) most of the race. I do not recall seeing Miles Billings (545 Velo) the entire race, but that was probably because I was focused elsewhere. Another very strong racer now on the radar. Cagle won the road race from a powerful 3-man selection with Jonathon Baker (Touchstone Racing – Did Not Start) and Michael Olheiser (Monster Racing Team - DNS)) the day before and I knew he would be in the mix.
The break was absorbed - Grefrath ended up hanging on for an impressive 11th - and the pace stayed mostly high with some swarms I was able to navigate. I did my best to get ahead of Charon and Marco when I could, and they also improved their positions as we played leapfrog in the final laps vying for the best position. I remember Cottell and Cagle being in this mix as well.
5 to go, 4 to go, 3 to go, 2 to go and I am still in position and know I am in the game. I hear teammates Kyle and Nick encouraging me through the start /finish line and I tell myself that I have got it - if someone is going to win then why not me. 1 to go and my legs are stinging, but I’m in the game. We entered the headwind section out of turn 5, and I am about 6-7 back. It is a little fuzzy here riding at my limit, but I recall feeling the need to start moving up and the top 4 opened up the sprint for the final corner. There was a slight gap behind the 4th rider in line - Marco. I was not able to close the gap or match Marco's strong jump prior to the initial and sharpest sprint to the final turn by the first 4 riders. Charon Smith took the well-earned win using his exceptional handling skills and power coming from 3rd wheel out of the final corner with room to spare. I believe Cagle led out the sprint with Billings on his wheel - both very impressive performances as there were strong attackers off the front on the last lap. I sprinted to 5th.
Thank you USA Cycling and the city of Albuquerque for hosting another fun nationals. Thank you to our sponsors and congratulations to all the competitors and champions. Thank you to friends and family for all the support. Thank you to teammates for the fun on and off the bike.