Nate Freed and I left my house in Truckee at 5am and drove through a blizzard in order to get to beautiful Merced in time for the start of the first stage of Merco. As the sun was rising over the central valley we were stoked to see clear skies and dry roads and we both commented that the weather was perfect for a hard norcal P1/2 road race. We met Justin Rossi, Dustin Hahn, Kris Lunning, Keith Hillier, and Frank Spiteri in the parking lot, handed out the brand new kits which turned out pretty sick in my humble opinion, and got ready for what would turn out to be a very long, hard day in the saddle. We also found out on our arrival that we were already down one rider because Chris Turner’s car broke down on the way to the race, BUMMER!
Once we were all kitted up I could feel some excitement amoungst the guys to finally be racing together and actually look like a team. We had a quick tactics discussion before the race and we all decided that we needed to get guys in the break which would most certainly include several Bissell riders whom stacked the field. On the first lap of the race the team quickly discovered that the main climb was no joke, it was about 1,000 feet of 7% and it was clear that the feature would probably decide how the race would shake out. Personally, even with my lack of form and health I was feeling great and had the typical over zealous power surges I tend to get in big races when I’m riding like a jackass. These power surges on the main climb resulted in no success getting in a break and by the third lap (35 miles into the race) I felt like dog crap. Coincidentally, the third lap was when the break finally went with 11 riders going up the road which included 5 Bissell riders and several other NorCal hammers, that break was not coming back. I tried to settle into the main field with Justin, Keith, and Frank whom didn’t look or feel nearly as bad as I did. They all rode strong in the group and tried with little help from other teams to bring the break back while I sat in whimpering like a beaten down puppy. Basically that was the race for the next 35 miles until the second to last climb where I got dropped like a bad habit and the rest of my teammates in the main field held themselves together nicely while waiting for the climb to the finish. I was obviously not in the picture but from what I gather the main field would blow up on the final climb with our guys doing quite well, Justin finished towards the front of that group while Keith and Frank finished in the middle, all three were now about 7-8 minutes down in the GC while I lost about 15 minutes.
It turns out the Bissell guys went 1-2-3 with John Bennett (Cal-Giant) finishing a very strong 4th. We then got the full story on Lunner’s first lap crash and were really glad to hear he had no serious injuries but were definitely bummed to find out he was done for the weekend, one more strong rider out. Nate and Dustin both finished safely behind me a few minutes in a medium sized group of strong nor cal riders whom didn’t quite make it over the climb with the main group.
All in all it wasn’t the best or the worst day for Marc Pro-Strava. Three of the guys had good days and decent results which would set them up for good all around showings later in the weekend and I know we all gained plenty of fitness from the difficult stage.