Monday, August 25, 2008

45+ Colorado State Criterium Championship: The Streak Continues!

The Boulder Masters Cycling Team has owned the 45+ state criterium championships for a number of years now, and Mike Newsome, Joe Paulson, and Bill Simmons ("fresh" from his bronze medal performance in the 55+ championship) lined up in a field of 51 racers on Sunday, August 24th, hoping to keep the streak alive. The 55+ Subway squad had already successfully defended their criterium title with a total team effort, so the pressure was on.

As one of the smaller teams with only 3 riders entered, it would be impossible to cover everything, so it was decided that only moves by the biggest danger men would be followed, with Mike on Jim Dickerson, Joe on Karl Keister, and Bill tracking other strong guys like Bill Kellagher and Jimi Gibson. The action started on the first lap of the rolling 1.4 mile business park loop, and Mike was soon at his familiar place at the sharp end of the pack, shutting down moves. Bill joined him at the front, and they had their hands full as numerous riders tried threatening moves.

In the meantime, Joe was in the back watching Jim and Karl, and finding that rest days had left his legs flat and unwilling to respond to his attempts to urge them into action. Trying to find easy lines to move up proved difficult; riders in the back were mixing around like socks in a dryer, and Joe lost track of the Great Divide strong men.

In the front, Mike covered yet another attack on the start/finish hill, then yelled for help as another was launched. Joe saw a Mob rider off with a Great Divide rider, with a Mob teammate bridging up, but was pinned against the inside curb and unable to get out. Looking around desperately, Joe wondered where Karl had gone........perfect: Karl was up the road with Derrick Nickel and his teammate. Talk about blown coverage. With his legs still protesting, Joe watched in horror as the three podium spots slipped up the road. Mike and Bill led the pursuit, but with little assistance from the other teams. The next trip up the start/finish hill offered an opportunity for a desperate bridge, but Joe got boxed in again....perfect.

The laps counted down, the break still had a large gap, and the pack seemed to be accepting their fate. The prime bell rang at 5 laps to go; perhaps that would light a fire under some racers. But no, the pack was still lumbering along half a lap later, so at the top corner Joe sprang out of the group and charged down the hill, hoping for something, anything to get going. Great Divide was all over that, and Joe found himself towing the field across the finish line and up the hill. At the top, Dickerson counterattacked, and Joe latched on, with only Bob Pinkerton coming across with him. Maybe this was the chance- Joe put his head down and pulled through, flicked his elbow, and....nothing. Jim and Bob didn't want to play. With 3 and a half laps remaining, Joe was on the front, totally blown. Really perfect.

Bill and Mike took up the chase again, but suddenly some other teams were willing to play (Mike's pointed vocal encouragement may have had something to do with it). A rider dropped from the break, giving further hope. The speed ramped up, the field strung out, and Joe hung on, still cross-eyed from his ill-conceived attack. One by one, the leaders were reeled in, but just as it looked like the field was going to be back together, a couple more riders flew off the front. After some hesitation, they too were chased down, and the group came together through the start/finish with 2 to go.

Riding up the hill, Joe noticed Bruce Whitesel moving quickly up the inside with an opportunist tucked in his wake. Remembering Bruce's bold bid for victory at last year's championships, Joe jumped on the train. As they approached the front, Bruce squeezed through a gap in the gutter with the other rider still on his wheel, the door slammed shut, and they were gone. Perfect. Just perfect.

Bill and Mike took up the chase again, but Bruce had gotten a good jump, and was still away when he shed his companion and charged across the line on the bell lap. Now the pack came to life, and throttled up. Boxed again, Joe was way too far back at the top of the hill. After doing everything wrong for most of the 50 minute race, however, everything suddenly started to go right for Joe, giving him a last chance to reward his teammates for all their work. Bill K came dieseling by, so Joe boarded the Bill K railway, and rode it down the hill and into the top 10. Bill Simmons was nicely positioned on the outside, so Joe jumped behind him for safe passage through the next corner, then jumped to Dickerson's wheel as he churned to the front, with Bill covering Joe's left flank so he couldn't get boxed again.

Jimmy D started to run out of steam, and the pack surged around on both sides, but Bill's cover gave Joe the opportunity to squeeze through a closing gap and toward the rear wheel of Keister (Joe finally found his man!). Only problem was, Christopher Stout knew a good wheel when he saw one, and didn't want to share, so Joe tucked in behind the speedy sprinter as Keister hit the front and rounded the top corner. Charging down the hill in 3rd, Joe recalled his pre-race vow to be first through the final corner. Fearing another wave, Joe went early and surged to the front just before the left hand sweeper, and ramped up his speed to hold position into the final right hand corner.

Jumping out of the saddle, Joe sprinted up the hill on the shortest line he could find, and crossed the line for the gold just before Stout and Pinkerton overtook him on either side for silver and bronze. Perfect!

The big teams of Great Divide, Vitamin Cottage, and ColoBikeLaw each fielded 8 or so riders, and each rode well to place 2 riders in the top 10, but even after neutralizing attacks all day, all 3 Boulder Masters finished in the top 8 to cap off a great road season.

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