The season is off to a roaring start! Recycled Cycles Racing News caught up with the winner of the season opener, our very own Luke St. Clair.
RCRN: So Luke, it was time to get off the couch and put the winter training to work, eh?
LSC: Exactly. Predictably, I picked Mason Lake as the first race year. It’s funny how it is one of the best attended of the early season races. Sort of odd, considering there are no prizes, but everyone’s usually ready to put their winter training to good use.
RCRN: Ah yes, the Mason Lake World Championships of March.
LSC: (chuckles) Right, but remember, it’s the first chance everyone has to gauge where they stand relative to everyone else at the start of the year. The downside is that it’s usually a pretty sketchy experience. The final kilometer has a sharp downhill, slightly narrowing roads, and a sweeping 90 degree turn. In previous years, I’ve just ridden this race to get in some early racing miles. This means I’ve ridden at the back since I’ve been too nervous to move myself up, and missed taking part in the sprint entirely.
RCRN: Looks like you might have had a change of heart?
LSC: This year, I had only one goal: don’t ride at the back, ever. I shouldn’t be back there and I’m fast enough to be at the front. There’s really no excuse not to learn to throw my weight around a bit and hold my position in the top third. So as the race got underway, I took the first opportunity I had to move to the top 10 and waited for a bit for the race to develop. I didn’t particularly want to be in a long breakaway, and I had a couple of teammates who were probably better suited to it than me.
RCRN: Breakaway. We always like aggressive talk here at RCRN. How did that go?
LSC: A couple of riders from other teams got off the front in the second lap of five, and Eric Peterson and Mike Brown attempted to bridge up. The gap was a little bit big however, and they came back to the group. There wasn’t much to do at that point but sit and wait for the field to come back together for the sprint.
RCRN: Okay, we knew how this story ends, so how did it all come together?
LSC: When the field started to set up for the sprint, something sort of weird happened – the field slowed up enough that the four riders in the break stayed at or near the front. This, coupled with the fact that no one wanted to use up energy before the sprint (no one who could put down a serious attack, at least) meant that the last lap was really, really slow.
RCRN: Uh oh. When the pace slows down, bad things can happen.
LSC: Right. It fanned out across the road and no one could move up. It also meant that people had a chance to recover and fancy their chances in a sprint. So the front of the race is going slowly, and the back of the pack is compressing quickly, and there’s no room left in the middle as everyone goes for the same spot.
RCRN: We’ve seen some pretty wild things at Mason Lake. Did the front of the pack stop completely for a coffee break?
LSC: At that point, I think I would have loved to stop for coffee, but we kept on sort of racing. This is the part of the race where I usually lose spots, but this time, I held my ground as people started bouncing off me, which is annoying, but not so much an issue I found. Things stayed pretty slow until 1 kilometer to go, when the first few guys hit the gas – in the middle of the field.
Folks ran right into the back of riders going slow and our field had the biggest pileup I’ve heard about in the Cat 3s. Between 15 and 25 people went down right behind me. Could have been ugly, but I felt calm, strong, and ready to go. In fact, I had to keep myself from starting the sprint too early I felt so good!
With about 250 meters to go, a huge guy (6’6?) wound up his sprint, and I got on his wheel. Unfortunately, his sprint ended at 50 meters later, and I was a bit stuck. There wasn’t really enough distance for me to tuck back in and wait, but 200 meters at Mason Lake is a long, long way for me to sprint. Didn’t have much choice though, so I went for it. When I looked back at 100 meters, I thought I had gapped everyone, but JD Fette from HB was behind me, and almost came around, but he couldn’t complete the pass.
I was pretty excited about this win – it was the first time I’ve been able to mix it up at the front of a really jostling group, and my first participation in a bunch sprint. I’m really looking forward to seeing if I can get myself into the front for another – it feels like I should have a pretty strong shot to take some of these if I’m near the front with 175 to go.
Also found out that I had easily enough points to upgrade to Cat 2 for 12 hours, until I lost my points from 2009 Tour de Dung #1 (USCF upgrade points disappear after 12 months). Ha.
Well that smarts! Keep an eye on your results logs folks, and tune in soon for early season finish line updates from the Blue and Gold!