By Kathie Reid
Meredith Miller (Team Tibco) attacked out of a break to solo across the line for her first stars- and-stripes jersey on Saturday in the women’s elite road race at USA Cycling’s Junior, U23, Elite and Paralympic National Championships in Bend, Oregon.
Miller was followed by Bend local, Chrissy Ruiter (ValueAct Capital) in second, and Kristen LaSasso (Mellow Mushroom) in third. Amy Dombroski (Webcor Builders) came across the line fourth, but was the first under-23 rider – the elite and age group raced together – and thus secured the U23 road champion’s jersey. Dombroski has now been the U23 champ in road, cyclocross and mountain bike events.
In the men’s race, a man who is no stranger to the stars-and-stripes, 34-year-old Mike Olheiser (Marx and Bensdorf-Tristar), outsprinted the competition to take his sixth national champion jersey, but his first in the elite category; his other national jerseys have been in masters road race, crit, and time trial. He came across the line just ahead of David Clinger (Cole Sport) in second, and Erik Slack (Team Bobs-Bicycles.com) in third.
A late break goes for gold – and gets it
In the women’s 67-mile race, riders began attacking right from moment the flag dropped, and Amber Rais (Team Tibco) took a solo flyer at the end of the first of four circuits around the 17-mile Awbrey Butte course.
“She made the most perfect move on the first lap,” Miller said of Rais’s move that gained a maximum gap of 1:35, and wasn’t caught until close to the end of the third circuit. “She just launched it, and everybody just sat up and looked at each other. Everybody was like, alright, here we go! We just get to follow wheels! We were shutting everything down.”
Miller said a number of teams were pushing the pace of the field, specifically mentioning ValueAct Capital and Colavita-Sutter Home.
With the gap at 1:10, Robin Farina (ValueAct Capital) attacked at roughly mile 44, was caught, and then teammate Ruiter countered, and was also caught.
“We didn’t want to bring the whole field back to her,” Ruiter explained. “But we wanted to bring the gap down, so we started launching attacks, and it started coming down as long as we were attacking … There were tons of other attacks, too.”
The peloton caught Rais at the end of a long climb near the end of the third circuit, and a group of four riders attacked immediately, gaining a slight gap. Kori Seehafer (Team Type 1) then attacked from the field.
“Sam (Schneider, Team Type 1) got to the front and chased, keeping the gap to a few seconds,” she said. “So I jumped across with one other girl (Rachel Warner, Charlottesville Racing Club) to the group. I caught the group and went through. I didn’t sit up.”
The remaining riders out front fell back to the field while Seehafer went away solo with roughly 15 miles to go in the race, gaining a maximum 35-second gap.
Dombroski attacked from the field, and was joined by Ruiter, Miller, Jen McCrae (Team Type 1), and LaSasso.
“Amy attacked, Meredith went with Amy, Kristen LaSasso attacked, and Jen McCrae went with her, and I got on McCrae’s wheel,” Ruiter explained. “Going up the feed zone hill, Kristen LaSasso drove it – she did drive that break, and trying to stay with her up that feed zone hill was hard, and I think that might have been when we lost Jen McCrae.” The four-woman chase caught Seehafer at roughly 62 miles.
Miller agreed that LaSasso drove the break.
“Kristen LaSasso went up to the front and just drove it all the way up to Kori,” she said. “Kristen was setting such a fast pace, and I was like, crap! If I come through, I’m not sure I can get over the last climb with these girls, so I sat on.”
Miller figured Ruiter would launch an attack on the steep part of the final climb, and when she didn’t, Miller punched the pace of the break at the top, and dropped Seehafer. Seehafer caught back on.
Shortly after, over the very top of a last rise before a round-about that leads in to the finish, Miller made her winning jump.
“I was just sitting on, playing my cards,” she said. “Kat (Katharine Carroll, Team Tibco) was behind us with a small group.”
The “small group” included 2007 Elite Road National Champion Mara Abbott (Columbia-HTC) and the newly crowned Cascade Cycling Classic winner, Evelyn Stevens (Webcor Builders). But Miller said she was more concerned about her breakaway companions.
“I just didn’t want to come to the finish line with Kori – especially Kori – figuring she’s probably the fastest one. I figured my best chance was to jump everybody, so with 2k to go, I jumped.”
Miller came through the round-about alone, and it was then that she figured she’d wrapped up the title. She knew she hadn’t done it alone, though.
“This was very much a team effort today. National championships are a little unusual, because the team dynamics, they don’t get tossed out the door, but they’re not the same as any other race. We played the most perfect team race today. We were willing to work for anybody … we were willing to just say, alright, that’s who drew the card. We’re gonna be happy for that, as long as the jersey comes back to the team.”
Miller was referring to outgoing Elite Road National Champion, teammate Brooke Miller.
Team Tibco director Linda Jackson said she was pleased to keep the jersey on the team.
“Meredith has been such a strong rider all year for the team, she’s been fantastic,” said Jackson. “She really deserves this win, so it’s really exciting.”
Another late break
The men did six laps around the Awbrey Butte circuit, and also began attacking early on. Oregon resident, Ryan Trebon (Kona), former cyclocross and mountain bike national champion, was one of many riders to make some initial short-lived attacks.
“I felt pretty good, and I was trying to get things going,” said Trebon. “A lot of people were a little nervous because of the heat, and it wasn’t bothering me too bad.”
On the third lap, a break finally stuck, and included Nathaniel English (ZteaM), Ian Gray (Ciclismo Racing), Jeff Hartman (Big Shark), Ian Holt (US Armed Forces), Robbie King (IF), Jesse Moore (California Giant Berry Farms), and Vincent Owens (HDR p-b Lombardi Sports). The field behind them did not seem too concerned, as they stayed out until the fifth lap, and gained a maximum advantage of 1:25.
“I wasn’t too worried about it (the break),” Olheiser explained. “I knew who was left in there (the peloton) – Clinger, Mattis, Ciclismo missed it – so I wasn’t that afraid of that breakaway … it’s early, and it’s hot. I just didn’t think it had the right combination of riders in it.”
Olheiser said he took his chances, and tried to sit in back in the field, hoping that the break would come back.
Clinger was initially a little more cautious than Olheiser regarding the break, as he felt California Giant Berry Farms was controlling who went away.
“I tried to key off of them,” he said. “I knew Mattis (James Mattis, California Giant Berry Farms, and defending champion) wasn’t in there, and so, on the climb (each lap), I just set some tempo to see if I could bring back some time. It took like 20 seconds or so off each time I did it, so I started not to worry about it too much.”
On the fifth lap, Clinger said Olheiser “did a big attack just before the feed zone where you dip down and go across the river, and brought it (the break) back to like 30 seconds.”
Clinger jumped on, and a chase group of 11 men formed and caught the break. Twenty-one-year-old Slack was also there, and described the effort as “one of the hardest 10 minutes” he’s ever had.
The catch came on the Archie Briggs climb – which is used as the King of the Mountain in the Cascade Cycling Classic’s Awbrey Butte Circuit Race – and Slack knew he was in good company, as the break included two-time Masters Time Trial World Champion Olheiser, defending champion Mattis (California Giant Berry Farms), Clinger, 2007 Elite Road National Champion Matthew Cooke (unattached), Matthew Busche (Nova Cycle Sport Foundation), Corey Collier (Rio Grande), Paul Eposti (unattached), Jeff Hartman (Big Shark), Peter Horn (unattached), and Jesse Moore (California Giant Berry Farms).
Slack and Clinger agreed that when the break was first caught, things were a bit unorganized.
“We all kind of got aggravated with each other,” Clinger explained. “And we got caught by another group. Berry Farms started setting guys off … luckily, we held it together all the way to the climb. I set tempo again on the climb to see if I could drop some guys, and it split up pretty good. And then again, they wouldn’t pull through right away when I pulled off. They were all waiting for the sprint. Berry Farm sent two guys off within the last 3k, and we just brought them back really quick. Then they had the sprint, and I got gapped off before the corner a little bit … I came around third and I got second.”
“I knew when I hit 200 meters just to put my head down and go, and don’t look back, and start praying,” Olheiser said, “About 100, nobody could come around.”
Slack, racing in his first Elite National Championships and whose best result at Junior Nationals was top 10, was overjoyed with his result.
“Just to make the front group, I was very happy. And then to be sprinting against Mike Olheiser, who’s, you know, a god, and David Clinger, who everybody knows is very strong – so to make that? I was very happy.”