Wards Ferry Road Race is tucked into the race calendar in prime timing for the big spring campaign, but it seems few are willing to take the extra hour drive to experience it. This was my first edition of Wards Ferry and will not be my last. I believe it is easily one of the best courses NorCal’s race calendar has to offer. The 11 mile loop is set on beautiful terrain in the Sonora Foothills and includes a ripping technical descent and nonstop, stair step climbing back to the top of the course where riders re-punched their roller coaster tickets.
Jared, Nate and I made the commitment for the “triple crown” weekend; Wards Ferry, Land Park and Bariani. Jared had won last year’s Wards Ferry, so he had his game plan ready to go. “We are going to attack the initial descent and split the field. Just follow me…trust me.” From there we would set Jared up for the final uphill sprint.
On the start line everyone joked about Jared attacking the descent, so it was a known strategy seemingly spoiled. Still as we rolled into the first lap, Jared went to the front as we were approaching the right handed hairpin to start the descent and motioned me to his wheel. We attacked into and out of the hairpin. This is the part of bike racing no one can comprehend unless they have done it; imagine you are sprinting down a rough, technical descent you have never seen and following a former professional downhill mountain biker who said “trust me”. Either way I followed as best I could, losing ground on some turns and making it up in the straights. We got the bottom and magically it was the two of us with a solid out of sight gap on the field…BTW Jared reset the KOM and I was close behind. From there we hit the throttle with full commitment. Over the next 2 laps we built a solid gap of 2 + minutes on the field as Max Jenkins (Astellas) was left to chase. As we approached the descent on the 3rd of 6 laps my front wheel flatted!! Dang
Jared continued on and I sat believing my day was over. 2-3 minutes later the field of 10 riders passed me with Nate about 5 seconds off the back. Nate pulled over, told me to take his wheel because he felt like crap and just like that I was back to chasing. It took me a good 10 minutes to chase back on, but I made it as we rolled into lap 4. Knowing that if Jared was ever brought back, all the marbles would be on my shoulders. I took the next lap in a half to rest, fuel and recover from earlier efforts. Starting lap 5 it was relayed to me that Jared was coming back and to be ready. We caught Jared half way through lap 5, he gave me one last pep talk about how to win the finish and then the games really started as Max knew I was isolated. Attacks started flying as our whittled down group of 8 started the final lap. At the very top of the course I took a chance and attacked a straight descent. I got speed from the back of the group and went flying by in my best Taylor Phinney downhill tuck. I kept my momentum going as I attacked every aspect of the first descent and gave it 100% on the first 4 minute climb. I immediately had a gap and was out of sight. From there I just went all in and attacked every feature of the course. I rolled through the finish line with crowds lining the road, arms up as I celebrated a true team victory!!