What an awesome event attracting many of the nation’s top crit riders right here to Alabama’s only NRC ranked race! The Sunny King criterium is awesome. The traditional break that laps the field never materialized — although there was a large break with a gap hovering between 10 an 20 seconds for a large part of the race. The smoothest part of the race was after the break established itself and Kelly Benefits set into a tempo to gradually bring the break back. With about 20 laps to go we had closed to within a few seconds of the break and the attacks in the field started again. I had worked my way to a good position near the front and tried to go with one or two attacking riders, but the riders were just advancing their position closer to the front. After a few laps, a break of four with Karl Menzies (OUCH presented by Maxxis) and Kyle Wamsley (Colavita Sutter Home) and two Bissell Riders (Andy Jacque-Maynes and Kirk O’Bee). Kirk attacked the break with five laps to go forcing Karl and Kyle to chase, but when the catch was made a strong counterattack was launched that Kirk couldn’t follow. A lap later, it was just Karl and Kyle vying for the win.
For us back in the pack, the 5 to go, 4 to go, and 3 to go laps were fast but then the pace would slow and everybody would fly around on the sides when the pack bunched up. I fought hard and passed people in the middle or up the sides. I think the decisive move for me was with three to go when I decided to stay on the inside leading into Turn 3 — I shot around maybe 10 or so people which isn’t a lot but if I hadn’t done that then I would have been passed by 10 or 15 people. This moved me up into the top 20 or so and fortunately the last two laps were super fast so it was hard to advance your position, but it was also hard to lose it. I passed about 5 people in the finishing straight to finish 15th in the field sprint (17th in the race with Karl Menzies and Kyle Wamsley the only survivors of the 4 man break).
The highlight of the evening though was the VIP dinner after the race that Mike Poe provided for all the pro racers. Also, Cesar Grajales and I had a nice chat about how we both think that Sunny King is a harder race than Twilight because of how hard it is to find a place to recover on the course. Then Rahsaan Bahati and congratulated me with a ‘good job’ as he walked by. And then finally, we got to eat dinner with the Bissell team and chat. Andy was super nice and gave me an update on how his brother and the west coast squad was doing out at Gila.
After a late night drive to Atlanta, we got into our hotel in Sandy Springs at 1:30AM. We’ve had a nice leisurely morning and now we’re about to head to the USA Crits Speed Week series finale. I’ll report back on how that goes later tonight!