Roll Through Wine Country
Napa, CA - June 24, 2001     R   S  
San Diego Street Elite

Napa to Calistoga (June 24, 2001) – The conditions for what turned out to be the final Napa to Calistoga race could hardly have been more perfect (Future races are planned to run from Calistoga to Napa with full closure of the southbound lane. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!). The morning started with slightly cool temperatures, a bit of a cross breeze and beautiful skies. The field was kept small to avoid the necessity of permits, police supervision and those dreadful cones that never seemed to stay between the bike lane and the traffic lanes (i.e. – They always ended up in the bike lane. Go figure…!).

The SDSE/IR contingency was made up of Anjanette Comer, Leondra Baker, Howard Yeh, and myself (Brandon Thorsten). With no cones to trip us up, we managed a mass start like a race should be. Leondra must have been feeling especially energetic that morning as when the whistle blew and the pack started moving, not only was she in the lead, she had everyone gapped by about 10 feet! I couldn’t help but think, “What the heck is she doing up there???” We soon organized the pace line into appropriate order (you know, the fast guys pulling, me milking the draft for all it was worth…) and started picking up the pace. Howard was skating in front of me. I knew that Leondra and Aj were behind but I had know idea where. A full rotation and maybe five miles later, Jim Brady broke from about third position to shake things up. The pros (including Howard) went with the break. I struggled to get around Dennis Cummings and bridge the gap. I must have been the last one to chase as I could no longer see any shadows behind me. (Yup, I was still milking the draft. Oh, alright. I was draft-sucking. But, hey! I was just happy to be there!) I was hoping that after the break, the pace would ease up a bit but the hard pull continued up the first real hill and I elected to conserve energy for the rest of the race (Yeah, ok. I got blown out the back door! At least I tried!).

I skated about the next mile or two alone waiting for the “B” pack to catch me. With me in the pack, I think we numbered five. We were working together pretty darn well – the pace was kept high and we all rotated pulls. The pavement was smooth and the wine country scenery was beautiful. I just doesn’t get any better than that. Not having done too much skating in the last 6 weeks, I wasn’t sure how long I would last. Sure enough, a hard pull and a decent hill right at the halfway point sent me back into no man’s land. After about 7-9 miles of skating solo alternately thinking about my sore back and all the great wine that I had…ummm…enjoyed the previous day and was planning on enjoying later on, I smelled somebody starting to close in on me (Dennis and Leo, don’t take that personally/literally. I meant that in a sixth sense sort of way…;~) ). I started stealing glances behind me to see how much trouble I was in. On long, straight stretches, I could see that it was Dennis Cummings shadowing me through the hills and trees. I didn’t know until after the race that Leondra was working with him. Since we were still 4-6 miles out, I slowed the pace a bit hoping they would catch me so that I could rest a little bit. However, it seemed to be a bit of a cat and mouse game. They would gain. I would pull away. They would gain. I would pull away. We got close enough to the finish that I no longer wanted them there.

I hit what I knew to be the start of the final hill just as a beautiful headwind slammed into me. “D,” I’m not sure how you arranged for that but it was a really nice touch…;-P I really wanted to stand straight up and start whining loudly about it (I didn’t care that no one was around to here me!) but I knew that Dennis and Leo had closed some serious distance in the last mile or two (turns out, Dennis was only about 10-20 meters behind me!) The cones that signaled the end of the race came up much faster than expected (thought I still had another quarter mile to go…) and with Dennis closing, I thought, “Oh, know! Time to sprint!” (Well, you know what I really thought…) the 10-20 meter gap held and Leondra finished a very short distance behind that.

Howard took third overall. I think I finished about ninth overall. A huge congratulations to Leondra who won the women’s and to Aj who took second! A clean sweep for the SDSE ladies!!! Overall, it was an absolutely wonderful experience – especially for a race that almost didn’t happen. Thanks to “D” and Rose Miles and everyone who helped put on this spectacular event. I’m definitely looking forward to skating the downhill version next year!

Brandon Thorsten

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