...But Not Faster Than Bob Dahl...
Representing Vic's Espresso/Peerless Tire in the 45+ open race at the inaugural Sandstone Ranch Criterium east of Longmont were Jerry Greenleaf, Joe Paulson, Bill Simmons, and John Talley. With rain/snow forecast for the afternoon,the Vic's racers were pleased to have partly cloudy and chilly but dry weather for their 12:30 start time. Black clouds loomed over the mountains to the west, but they appeared likely to stay away until after the completion of their 45 minute timed event.
Pre-race strategy discussion centered on being watchful for riders from the Skins team, who had driven successful breakaways from the gun in the last two criteriums they had contested. However, as the blue boys took a couple of warm-up laps on the long rectangular course, it was the sight of Excel Sports rider Bob Dahl who had Joe most concerned, due to his dominating sprinting ability and impressive list of criterium wins in the 35+ ranks he had graduated from last year.
The race was animated from the start, with various riders trying excursions off the front. The blues stayed attentive, but patiently let the larger teams pursue breaks in which their jerseys weren't represented. Great Divide rider Jim Dickerson is legendary for his long breakaways, and when he tried one early on, the Jet quickly hopped on for the ride. JT, Bill, and Joe, moved to the front with the Great Divide riders to discourage an immediate pursuit. Contributing just enough to encourage Jim to keep it rolling, the Jet let Jim power the two of them around the course while remaining within striking distance of the field, which eventually pulled them back.
About half way through the race, three strong riders from different big teams got up the road, setting off alarm bells in Joe's head. Picking his moment when the field hesitated on the front straight, Joe launched from mid-pack to try a solo bridge. Half way across, he glanced back to see that Christopher Stout had jumped on board, and made it across with Joe. After a bit of recovery, Joe started to rotate through with the initial three escapees, but the gap to the field started to come down.
As the field got close, other riders were able to jump across, swelling the break to eight riders. To Joe's dismay, he saw that Bob Dahl was one of the late arrivals to the party. JT almost made it across with another rider, but the break got more organized, and pulled away for good. At four laps to go, the cohesion went back out of the group, and only about half of the riders were continuing to work. Anticipating the inevitable attacks, Joe worked his way onto Bob's wheel in the rotation.
Fed up with the limited contributions from other riders, Jimi Gibson set out on his own, but was reeled back in. At two laps to go, Jim Dickerson jumped out of the group, and the other riders looked at each other to see who would blink first. The duty fell to Jimi, who took up the front again. Jim's gap was getting dangerously large, so Joe pulled through hoping to re-establish a rotation to assist Jimi. No one followed though, so Jimi was soon back on the front, taking it as a personal challenge to try to pull Jim back on the last lap.
With half a lap to go, a rider launched up the side, and the end game was on. Joe fought for Bob's wheel as they approached the second to last corner, where being positioned in the top three was going to be key. Bob jumped as Derek Nichol came to the front, and the two riders fought for supremacy into the turn, with Joe right behind. Coming into the final turn with 200 meters to go, Bob and Derek were bouncing off each other, and Joe backed off in case they went down. Everyone stayed up, but Bob now had a little gap, which opened up as he accelerated out of the turn and down the home straight.
Joe left Derek behind as Bob hunted down Jim (remember Jim?) who was giving everything he had left to hold on for 100 more meters. Bob passed Jim, then Joe passed Jim in the last 50 meters, but no one was going to pass Bob, who crossed the line for the win with Joe now a few bike lengths back in 2nd. Jim held on for a richly deserved 3rd and final podium spot, and JT took the field sprint for 9th, followed in by Bill in 15th and the Jet in 21st.