The gap's getting wider, Mike." I had drifted to the back of the pack to see what Mike Lew thought of the slowly lengthening gap between the pack and the 2-man break that we had been chasing for the last 15 minutes. There had been about 30 riders for the start of the final Jones Vaughn Creek Road Race of the series, and almost as soon as the pack had turned onto the winding, hilly outbound leg Stephen Apsey and Steve Seiden (Red Stick Racers) had motored off the front. The group had responded only grudgingly, with NOBC riders Mark Manson, Keith Duet, Bob Hodges and Charlie Thomas doing much of the work at the front, trying to keep the gap under control. Still, the deficit had continued to widen, and I was starting to get that familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. With all of the Herring Gas riders away at another race, I was getting a little worried about the pack's resolve.
The gap was now around 30 seconds, and Mike rather casually suggested making an effort to bridge when we got into the bigger hills on other side of the loop, 10 or 12 miles from the end of the first lap. By the time we had gotten around to that side of the course, the break was just visible on the long straight stretches. On one of the climbs Erich Mattei (Lakeshore) and I found ourselves off the front by 10 seconds or so. A couple of miles of work and our gap had widened a bit, but the pack was showing some interest now and soon Erich looked back and said he was going to ease up. Meanwhile, Keith Duet went off the front with another rider who was trying to bridge. I suggested that we instead keep it going just enough so they would have to work to close and we wouldn't get swarmed when they caught. Mike Lew and Victor Weaver then took off from the pack and started to make a fast bridge up to us. At this point, Keith, Bob, Mark and Charlie really had their work cut out for themselves trying to control things at the front as riders started to realize that this break was likely to succeed. A couple of minutes later as we climbed a little hill, I felt a hand on my back and Mike Lew rolled past, looking back to make sure I was coming. I stood up and latched onto his wheel and within a minute we had a new 4-person break consisting of Mike, Victor, Erich and myself. With three NOBC riders in this group, two Red Stick riders up the road, and teammates in the pack, the gap grew quickly.
Mike and Victor were now taking long, fast pulls, I was doing my best with somewhat shorter ones, and Erich was sitting on the back enjoying the ride. Meanwhile up ahead, Stephen and Steve were battling to hold onto their break. Every now and then I would look up the road, surprised to see them still so far ahead. After the start of Lap 2, we lost sight of them again on the winding stretch of road, and it wasn't until we were near the top of the loop that Mike looked up and said "We've got 'em." We had been chasing for about 15 miles.
As we made the turn back toward the finish with about 12 miles to go, we were hot on their heels, and soon all six were together. It seemed like only a few minutes later that Mike and Stephen Apsey opened a gap on the group going up one of the hills. Everyone hesitated. I was pretty confident that Mike could take the sprint. My legs were hurting now, and I just wanted to keep the pace high enough to prevent any more painful accelerations. I was totally counting on Victor being able to take the final uphill sprint. At the last turn, about a kilo from the finish, Mike and Stephen had maybe 20 or 30 seconds on us. Mike jumped on the steepest part of the climb and sailed across the finish way ahead of Apsey. Our 4-man group stayed together until just before the 200-meter mark when Steve Seiden attacked at the base of the climb. Victor and I both hesitated a bit - it was still a long way uphill to that finish line - but Steve blew up and when we caught him Victor jumped past and rolled across the line with a few bike-lengths in hand. I managed to stay ahead of Steve, but Erich passed me and I settled for 5th. About five minutes later the pack, still largely intact, battled up the hill with Russel Metoyer (LaS'port) taking the pack sprint.
With a swarm of red jerseys at the start, it was clear that Red Stick would have control of this race. The attacks started as soon as the group made the first turn, about a mile into the race. Three Red Stick riders attacked the first hill and got a gap quickly. Kenny Cox, Robert Massart and another rider bidged, but the group was soon caught. Immediately there was another attack by Red Stick riders. This scenario continued the entire first lap. No sooner would one break get caught then another would go. Red Stick riders were kept busy guarding, and physically blocading, the front for their teammates in the many breaks, but each time riders would sneak through and the breaks would be caught. The pace stayed fast. At one point someone resorted to the shoulder of the road to get past a red blockade (boys and girls - don't try this at home!).
There were a number of breakaway attempts by the other teams during the second lap, but Red Stick chased them all down. It was with only about 8 miles to go that two Red Stick riders broke clear. Kenny Cox made the bridge up to them, and the Baton Rouge team back in the pack eased up and let the trio go. There were a few attempts to bridge, but the Red Stick riders shut them down each time. New Orleanian Kenny Cox and Red Stick riders Mike Rourke and Shawn Pinsonneault held onto a tenuous 20-second gap all the way to the 200-meter mark. Shawn didn't really contest the sprint as Kenny and Mike pounded up the hill to the finish, with Kenny taking the photo-finish. Hot on their heels was the fast-moving pack, led by Dusty Adams (Red Stick), William Cheramie (Bicycle Shop) and Chris Graythen (Red Stick) in the exciting field sprint.
The boys from Jackson Metro Cyclists had a good day in the C race with a 3-rider break taking nearly three minutes out of the pack in a single lap. Jamie Stout took the sprint ahead of teammates Scott Spence and frank Flillingham. The pack sprint was won by Tommy Graves of Natchez.
The 4-rider women's field was quickly reduced to three with representatives from NOBC, Red Stick and Lakeshore clubs. Shortly after the last turn, Erin Seideman of Lakeshore jumped, but it proved to be way too early for this uphill finish as Katrin Saile and Laurie Manly rolled past easily to contest the sprint. Katrin held on to take first with Laurie right on her heels. Erin rolled across a few seconds later to round out the top three. After the race, everyone hung around the Jackson museum trading excuses and munching on handfulls of cookies as Jon distributed champagne and medals to the winners. Nobody needed to ask if the series had been a success.
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