Story and photos by Vicky Sama
One Hot Day in the Saddle!
Josh Chapman, Gavin Merczak-Dinolfo and Gilbert Marquez started the 20-mile road race at 2:00 p.m., the hottest part of the day. Temperatures soared over 80 degrees as the men’s D category raced the rolling hills of Crockett. As soon as the 35 riders hit the first riser in downtown, the field splintered. Chapman stayed with the leaders, but Merczak-Dinolfo and Marquez were gapped out.
“The race started fast,” Merczak-Dinolfo said. “I didn’t expect it to be that hard so soon.”
When the lead group of nine riders made the sharp right turn up McEwen Hill, a chase group wasn’t far behind. In that chase, Merczak-Dinolfo pedaled forward while other riders faded back. He was riding up on his own, and by mid-climb, he caught the leaders. Chapman was at the back of that lead group, and now Merczak-Dinolfo was on Chapman’s wheel. The ten continued together up the steep climb.
The descent was narrow, curvy and bumpy– only one-car-wide– like those high mountain roads in Europe. Chapman and Dinolfo soared downhill but a gap was opening up ahead of them. Still, there was a chance they would regroup on the next more shallow climb past the feed zone.
Not so. On the second and final lap, Chapman and Dinolfo were riding alone on Cummings Skyway. Chapman was about 100m behind the lead group of eight riders. Dinolfo was another 100m behind Chapman. Chapman tried to reach the men ahead, knowing that there was one more point to earn if he could finish 9th. But with eight miles left in the race, he slowed down instead to wait for Dinolfo and two other riders– one from Stanford and one from San Francisco State– who were quickly gaining on Dinolfo. The four grouped up to chase down the leaders.
Chapman was riding at the front during the descent into Crockett. Then Stanford took a pull and SF State came around on the downtown riser.
“I was shocked that he came around at that point,” Chapman said. “I sat in and tried to recover.”
Dinolfo took his turn at the front while the foursome raced through the curvy rollers toward McEwen. And then they reached the famous hill climb one last time.
All four were together at the base of the climb. The Stanford rider slipped to the back.
“Put the hurt on them before they put it on you!” coach Vicky Sama shouted from the side of the road.
Chapman and Dinolfo pushed the pace. The Stanford rider’s head dropped and shoulders collapsed. He couldn’t hold on. But the SF rider was still there. Now the three riders– including two from Humboldt– were out of the saddle trying to make any gains they could.
The three men stuck together on the narrow descent. This part of the race was going to come down to a sprint.
Chapman lead through the final turn. They were less than a mile from the finish line where the road starts to rise again. Chapman was still at the front with Dinolfo on his wheel and the SF rider at the back. It appeared that Chapman might tow them to the line and sacrifice for a sprint between Dinolfo and SF. All of a sudden, SF attacked. But it was too soon. Chapman and Dinolfo grabbed his wheel. They countered with a big push, strong enough to pass a Cal Berkeley rider who fell off the back of the lead group. Chapman and Dinolfo stomped on the pedals out of the saddle to finish 7th and 8th. HSU teammate Marquez finished 24th.
In the men’s C category, Zachary Thompson and Ryan Wiegman raced three laps (30 miles) earlier on Saturday morning. Both fought hard up the McEwen Hill, finishing in the top 25 of the pack.