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Berkeley Hills – Another 1-2 punch in the 35+123s

Date: May 8, 2011
Event: Berkeley Hills Road Race
Category: 35+1/2/3
Field: 37 (32 finishers)
Racer: Ken Gallardo
Placing: 1st
Best Teammates/Uber-Domestiques on the PLANET!: Phipps (2nd), McQuaid (6th), Dyrwal (7th), Coughlan (15th), Osborne (27th), Daly (DNF)

After snatching 2nd place at Wente, I finally felt confident enough to tell my teammates that I wanted to win this race.  Last year, while on different teams, Paul and I took off together for the final two laps and were about 600 meters from a 2-man sprint for victory when the shattered remnants of the field caught us on Papa Bear.  This year, everyone on the team believed that I could do it and stepped into their roles admirably.  I can’t wait to repay their kindness and hard work this season.  And now to the action…

I did a nice easy 63 fairly flat miles on Saturday and got to the race with plenty of time to get ready.  Phipps even remarked that I made it to the race early (having seen me scrambling to get ready at the start of Wente) as we stood in line at registration.

The first lap was fairly uneventful, though Phipps threw in a nice attack right after we got onto the main road and the race started.  After we all burned out the cobwebs chasing him down, one rider did manage to break away but the pack seemed completely unconcerned and let him get out of sight within the first few miles.  Some people even joked that he was an ex-pro and we might not see him again until the finish.  Well, we cruised along and the pace slowly picked up as we made our way towards the climbs and we caught Mr Solo as we hit Mama Bear for the first time.  Chris set a fast tempo up Mama Bear and I could tell that I was feeling good – no difficulty at all.  I could see my other teammates were similarly strong and I knew that it would take a lot of work by the other teams to stop us from winning today.  I kept an eye on the guys I knew would be dangerous – Brian Choi, Nathan Parks and in particular, Jonathan Eropkin from Safeway.  He was off the front solo over a lap last year and went on to win the race sprinting out of the field, so I made sure that I was on his wheel whenever he was near the front.  We caught the Cat 3 field at the top of Mama Bear and kept the pace fairly high until after we went over Papa Bear.  There were a couple of break attempts but the pace was still fairly high until we passed the start area.  This lull led to Chris Ott of Lombardi attacking and once again, the field had no interest in chasing.  Then, from my left, Phipps took off in pursuit and I quickly stuffed my energy bar back into my pocket in preparation for the pursuit I expected to follow him.  However, nobody took to chasing him and by the time anyone decided to even try to bridge, the Chris and Chris show was up the road.

Daly, Dyrwal and McQuaid had all been clustered close by and unknown by me until later, Coughlan and Osborne were watching the strong guys behind me, so the IDTB team was ready for what we hoped were bridging attempts we could use to our advantage.  Very few attempts were made and it took a lot of encouragement by Specialized to even organize a chase.  I found out later that Phipps had managed to get away without all the strong guys knowing it, so Safeway wasn’t interested in chasing Ott and an IDTB rider knowing that it would simply bring Phipps and I closer to victory.  About this time, the Cat 3’s decided to race their bikes and a 2-man break went by us on the false flat before Mama Bear.  I thought that might inspire a higher speed from the group, but again it appeared that our reputation and numbers meant that the rather mellow pace would continue.  Of course, the Cat 3 field caught us about a mile before Mama Bear, which only helped the Chris-Chris break, but we caught and passed the 3’s at the top of Mama Bear and by the time we reached Papa Bear, Ott was coming back to the field and Phipps was out of sight.

Around this time, a couple of the guys asked me if this changed our race strategy.  No, I replied, this is perfect.  The other teams have to chase if they want to win, Chris has the strength and saavy to meter his effort so he can go the distance and even if he gets caught, can rest up and still be strong.  We continued as planned – follow break attempts to try and get me away and up to Chris.  Well, the 3rd lap was similar to the 2nd, except that the 3’s caught back up to us before the descent after the reservoir AND the 45+1/2/3’s caught us!  This was great for me – I needed a nature break.  After that, I felt great and the lull in racing allowed Alex to catch back on and I followed him to the front of the field.  We caught the Cat 3’s at the bottom of Papa Bear but their break was still in front of us at the top.  And then, the worst possible thing – riders from fields that had finished were slowly riding back to the start area and were spread out all across the roadway!  Despite a lot of yelling for them to get out of the way, to my right I heard someone yell and glanced over to see a teammate go down hard.  At first I thought it was McQuaid, but it turned out he was near the front with Dyrwal.  That meant it was Daly – ouch!  I sure hoped he was OK, as I knew he’d been working his way back from injury and was finally feeling strong again.

The final lap saw the Specialized guys finally browbeating a couple of the other teams into helping them chase.  Safeway also made the effort because Eropkin had come alongside me on the 3rd lap and asked if Phipps was up the road.  I’d been a little vague with my response since he’d had a teammate (Martin) up the road at Copperopolis and nobody in the field seemed to know that.  However, he assured me that had I asked him who was up the road, he’d have told me.  Mostly because there was nothing that could have been done about it anyway!  So, I told him, yes, that’s Phipps out there by himself.

Anyway, as we started the false flat leading towards Mama Bear, Specialized was driving the chase and everyone was on their wheel.  Dyrwal was right in front of me and McQuaid was watching my back as we started up Mama Bear.  There was still a lot of jockeying for position but all I had to do was follow Paul and Greg – they were making it so easy for me.  As we descended towards Papa Bear, I was perfectly positioned to follow attacks and once again was in a good position near the front as the field surged towards the feed zone and the final climb.  I dodged a few wheels and then found Paul in the middle of the melee and followed him towards the front, where John Hunt of Cal Giant had taken over and was driving the pace up Papa Bear.  There had been a fairly strong cross-headwind and it was still there, so we formed an echelon on the climb, with Hunt leading Dyrwal, then me and McQuaid just behind me to my right.  As we approached about 300m to go, I knew I had to launch my attack soon or I’d be swarmed.  There was a rider from another field swerving around in front of us, but he finally straightened out and I hit the gas.  I immediately opened about a 25m gap and just kept the pressure on, looking back to make sure nobody was on my wheel.  As the grade started to level towards the top, I notched up another couple of gears and kicked again when I saw there wasn’t anyone right behind me.  As I approached the finish, I could see Phipps standing next to the finish line official cheering me on as I passed the line, thinking I was 2nd.  Chris rolled across behind me and came up alongside and said Congratulations Ken, great win.  Huh?  I hadn’t even considered this, but Chris had actually stopped before the finish line and allowed me to cross first since I had enough of a gap to be the clear winner from the field.  He’d rolled across in 2nd!  Greg and Paul duked it out for 6th and 7th, making it 4 IDTB’s in the top 10.  Duane took a great finish at 15th and Alex hung on for 27th.  We heard later from Brenon that while he had quite a bit of road rash and some damage to the bike, he had no broken bones or head injuries and hadn’t re-injured his back.  I hope he recovers quickly and can get back into the races soon.

What can I say – I have the most supportive and AMAZING teammates who sacrificed themselves (and in Chris’ case, his own hard-earned win) to make sure I was the day’s winner.  It was a great feeling to be able to call my mom and wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and tell her that she’d inspired me to win and that my teammates had worked so hard to make it possible for me.  This has been an absolutely fantastic racing season and I’m really looking forward to the next races – Mt Hamilton, Mt Hood (where I will be burying myself to see that Phipps comes away with at least the climbing jersey if not the overall win) and the later races in the season like Cascade, Cal Cup and Nationals.

Ken G

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