by David Kirkpatrick, Features Editor
One of the great truths of Cat 4 races is that everyone rides defensively until the race ends in the inevitable field sprint. Jeff Cup is one of a few courses in the region where a determined rider or small group can split from the field, as Mike Fawell and Ryan Simpson did last year. Launching an attack on the Blenheim Road hill on the final lap, Fawell and Simpson held on to finish nearly 40 seconds up on the chasing field. Here, Mike Fawell takes us through his prep for and execution of the race.
Winner's Notebook: Jefferson Cup
Mike Fawell, HPC
Given that this was my first "real" season as a bike racer, I knew that I was in need of some guidance. I spent the previous year experimenting in the multi-sport world and doing just enough mass-start bike racing to get my Cat 4 upgrade. I was extremely fortunate to have the folks at HPC (Hefler Performance Coaching) take me under their wing in the fall of '08. After a full off-season of being on what we affectionately call "the program", I rolled into Jeff Cup with a handful of Cat 4 races under my belt and more fitness than I had ever known. This was certainly a race I wanted to do well in. I spent the week prior to the race trying to gather as much intel as I could. Although I did not have the opportunity to pre-ride the course, I was able to drive it a few times. It was really helpful at least see the course and commit a few of the landmarks and distances to memory.
My plan going into this race was to try and get away. That meant job #1 for me was keeping my nose out of the wind and staying out of trouble. I knew that it was going to be virtually impossible to go alone and stick the move, so I made a point to observe the rest of the guys in the field for most of the day. My goal was to find (and hopefully recruit) a couple of guys who were willing to give it a go. Although I had reached out to a couple of guys during the course of the day, I really didn't feel like I had made any solid alliances going into the last lap. Things played out fairly typically during the first couple of laps, with a few fliers and small-group attacks, but nothing that looked too threatening.
As we passed the start / finish to begin the bell lap things began to heat up a bit. Almost immediately a small group of 2 or 3 opened up a gap off the front. Right on cue, my lone teammate (Chris McMillan) bridged up and off they went. They had pretty good representation back in the main field, so everyone was content to kind of watch it roll away...perfect! At this point, I went to the front. My plan was to reel these guys in right before we reached the sharp turn and launch a counter attack on the uphill section right after.
Everything unfolded pretty much as I had hoped. We gobbled up the break just after the turn as we started the short climb. I made sure to be in the top five entering the turn so I would be free to make a move on the uphill. While I was waffling on whether to go or not, Ryan Simpson rocketed out of the pack and opened up a good sized gap on the uphill. Nobody did anything. The guys from the break were obviously tapped and the field seemed unwilling or unable to respond. To me this was a really good sign...this could be THE move. So up out of the saddle I went. Once I bridged to Ryan we instantly began working together, each of us taking good hard pulls. About two miles out from the finish we heard that our gap was 20+ seconds. I felt really good and made a point to be pulling as we approached the final turn. I gave Ryan a flick to pull-through on the inside line and jumped on his wheel as we began the long home stretch. I was in the perfect position and was able to rest up and then come off his wheel for the win.
It always pays to know the course. Whether you’ve raced on the course before (ideal), ridden it, or driven it, knowledge helps. Fortunately for you all, The Extra Gear has produced an excellent video preview of the Jeff Cup course. In last year’s Cat 4 race, Mike and Ryan attacked at the classic launching point, exactly according to script. The Extra Gear’s video was well publicized prior to last year’s event, yet that didn’t prevent their move from working. Once they launched their attack, Ryan and Mike committed 100% to staying away, working together until it was sure that they would decide the win between themselves. Jeff Cup is one of the events in which the course plays a significant role in how the race plays out. Develop and use your familiarity with the course to your advantage.