This was my number one race on the calendar from the moment I finished the 2015 edition. I fell in love with the gradual HC climb to start, the stunning views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Bay Area, the wicked technical descent that always breaks a few bones each year, the kickers, point-to-point, the finish, the whole shebang. It requires competency in so many skills which is perfect for me because I’m not amazing at anything, just really good at a lot of different things on the bike.
In 2015 I’d never ridden the backside descent of Mt. Hamilton ever before. Talk about an eye opener. For those local Santa Barbarians, it’s akin to bombing down Painted Cave – trust me, I’ve done that before and it’s no exaggeration. That is what it takes to make the front group at Hammy.
Luckily, this year I got to ride it again only a few months ago. I thought ahead that day to May 29th and knew I wanted to win yesterday. It’s amazing that the power of intent and positive thinking can have an affect on the outcome, but I’m sure that was the case with yesterday.
Our race weekend started with an awesome team ride around Pebble Beach, an entertaining coffee stop and awesome team dinner – watching the Warriors win and force a game 7 was icing on the cake! It was also a bit inspiring.
After the game we had a brief Strava course recon and impromptu team strategy meeting. With Dolce Vita bringing 6 strong riders that we’ve all competed against before, we knew to keep our eye on them. Based on our success this season, we also knew that we weren’t an unknown anymore. We had a target on our backs, but there was nothing anyone could do.
The plan was executed to a ‘t’ from the moment we lined up. Bobby was ready to attack from the gun. And attack he did. As soon as we made the right hand turn onto Mt. Hamilton Road from Alum Rock, he went. Within a minute he was back, but the tone was set. Shortly thereafter another solo rider rolled off the front and Bobby went with him. They slowly gained a gap and went out of sight. This forced exactly what we wanted; Dolce Vita to use energy to keep the breakaway within reach. Everyone knows a big gap on the climb can be sustained to the finish if the riders off the front can descend.
David, Brandon and myself stayed easily in the top 15 for both pitch one and two of the climb as Bobby inched away and Dolce Vita burned match, after match.
After the long swooping left hand bend leading into the third and longest pitch of the Mt. Hammy climb, Bobby and his breakaway compatriot came into sight. The tempo picked up as we gradually pitched into the six mile finale to the peak. I quickly recognized the increase in speed and moved as close to the front as possible following another decisive wheel. Right before the catch happened, a Dolce and unaffiliated (who can always be dark horses) bridged up to the break and pushed on. My friend and fellow competitor since nearly day one of my racing career, Chris Zappalà, started crushing and Brandon quickly grabbed his wheel.
This was the deciding moment of the race.
As the hecticness of the climb continually reshuffled over the next few miles, Brandon and Chris’ gap grew to a minute thirty over the top. I came over the summit in the second group featuring two Limitless juniors, one Muscle Milk-Specialized, one Team Illuminate (who was in my breakaway in the 3s last year), our unaffiliated friend on a Santa Cruz disc bike with ‘cross gearing and one Dolce rider close in pursuit.
Photo by Alex Chiu
I came to the front to push the pace even higher over the top knowing we could pop those who sat up across the false summit and also to be able to lead down the descent – which I did. Erik (in the black who came over the top with me last year and stayed in the break as well) and I shared duties leading down the descent featuring gravel, 180 degree hairpins, cattle guards and bumpy tarmac. We kept it safe and fast as we lost the two juniors and Muscle Milk rider.
We collected our neutral feeds and took a breather as Chris fell back to our group, “Your teammate was an animal on the descent.” Yeah, I know he is a beast – I still remember the Century. I quickly realized Brandon was solo off the front at a minute plus and as Cooper from Dolce bridged up I had a free ride from a group of my four breakaway compatriots. So, for nearly 45 minutes I sat on fueling/hydrating and just enjoying the view as I watched four very organized racers rotate through. I’d never been in a position like this in a group. I’m always working and instigating. But in this particular position, everyone was just jealous of me. I was saving precious energy that I would use later.
At this precise moment I realized I was going to to win this race.
We caught Brandon at the start of the second kicker about 20 miles from the finish. My free ride lasted nearly 20 miles…I gave Brandon a big smile, took an extra empty bottle from him and asked how he was. Good, as always. I gave him a few minutes to recover and then I attacked, bringing Cooper with me and forcing Erik to chase with Brandon sucking his wheel. Chris and Adam (unaffiliated) were dropped instantly and our group was down to four. FMBR now had a 50% chance of winning.
The last hour of racing was finishing my second bottle of Skratch, always Matcha for a caffeine boost at the end. I don’t do caffeine until the end of the race. I also thoroughly enjoyed having two more UnTapped syrups – this stuff is a natural boost of energy that is high in electrolytes, easy to digest, not sticky like traditional gels and gives me a huge kick of energy.
All four of us rotated fairly cohesively with a few little mini attacks as everyone started to think about strategy. It was one of my most enjoyable racing experiences being able to talk with Brandon, gauge how he felt, give him info of time, mileage and terrain to go. As we approached the final technical and quick descent Cooper jumped hard and Brandon covered his wheel. I told him not to loose it because we were so close. Stretched out, but together we came into the flat lead-up to the finish and then it all slowed. Erik came to the front and announced he wasn’t going to sprint – that makes our life easier. We now have a 66% chance of winning. I forced Cooper into second wheel with Brandon behind me. At the 200k meter to go sign, right after Cooper looked over his left shoulder and as soon as his head was facing forward, I jumped as hard as I could over that side, Brandon followed and we went 1-2 with relative ease.
Photo by Alex Chiu
This was easily the most enjoyable, beautifully executed and memorable race I’ve ever been apart of. Not to mention giving me my first two win season ever! Thanks again go to my teammates Brandon, Bobby and David for being apart of some #FigFast magic.
I went to bed the night before thinking I could win, I woke up believing I would win and as I sat on the back of the group bringing back Bbakes I KNEW I was going to win. #WeAreFigMtn