MB Grand Prix takes its turn
by John Tawa
The 38th edition of the Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix cycling took to the road Sunday and there was only one word to describe it.
From the athletic exploits of the racers to the spectacular crashes, America's second oldest one-day bike race, put on by the South Bay Wheelmen, amazed and delighted the enthusiastic crowd that lined Valley Drive and Ardmore Avenue to watch the racers whiz by at speeds approaching 45 miles per hour.
It was particularly fitting that Miguel "Amazing" Meza won the final sprint to the finish to claim the winner's jersey in the Men's Pro division, which was marred by a 22-rider pileup in the back straightaway with 25 minutes remaining in the 90-minute race.
"It was one of the most important races of my career," said Meza, a Los Angeles native who now races professionally in Italy.
Meza nosed out last year's winner, John Peters of Team Mercury, and Jonas Carney of Team Shaklee. The racers averaged 30 miles per hour over the 1.4 mile criterium course.
"Mercury Cycling Team, we don't race for second place," said a disappointed Peters. "But Miguel Meza had the ride today. He had the sprint. He was the man."
"Manhattan Beach is one of the premier cycling events in America. It's always a pleasure to race here."
Carney said mechanical problems prevented him from finishing first.
"I got caught up in the crash on the back straight," he explained. "No big deal. I just lost a little bit of skin. I still thought I had the race won. I came out of the last corner right where I wanted to be, and then my gears jumped into my small ring. I got third place sprinting in my small chain ring. I would have won the race. I would have killed those guys. Next time, I'll make sure my bike's running a little better."
South Bay Wheelmen faring well included Kevin Anderson, Michael Johnson and Sean Watkins, who finished 15th, 17th and 23rd, respectively. Steve Hegg, the 1984 Olympic gold medal winner in pursuit, finished a respectable 25th.
In the women's Pro race, Nicole Freedman of Team Charles Schwab outsprinted the field to capture their grueling 60-minute event that featured 96 racers.
Freedman said she had a good feeling about the race. "I did something very uncharacteristic. I told two people yesterday that I was going to win the race."
"I'm glad I won it. It triples my bank account."
Freedman, who shared the $2093 first prize with teammates Cynthia Ferguson and Cheryl Binney, credited them for the win.
"My teammates did all the work," Freedman said. "They covered some really intense attacks."
"We wanted to try and keep the pack together because she's a really fast sprinter," Ferguson explained. "A race like this, the team was just trying to cover everything that would go up the road and make sure that she was set up for the sprint at the end."
Pam Schuster, the 1998 U.S. Road Racing Champion, finished second behind Freedman, but said her chances to win were very slim.
"I know how fast Nicole Freedman is," Schuster said. "I've never beaten her in a sprint and I didn't expect to today."
Suzzanne Sonnye of Team Helen's Cycles finished third. Michelle Voigt, last year's category 3-4 winner, claimed 18th place. Wheelmen Therese Nugent and Maria Gutzeit took 17th and 24th places, respectively.
In addition to the Pro races, eight men's races and one women's race were on the docket. Michael Fleming was the oldest winner, taking the Master's 50+ race.
The most notable performance was by 40-year-old Costa Mesa resident Mitch Meyer of Labor Power. He won the 40-minute Master's 30+ race, defeating 90 other riders, and then, without rest, turned around and won the 40-minute Master's 40+ event.
After a long sprint to win the first race, Meyer said that his effort dictated a different tactic in the second race.
"It took me half of the second race to recover halfway," he explained. "So I just sat in the back and, with five laps to go, re-grouped my energy. I let four guys get in front of me through that last turn and came around them. My teammate Danny Nicoletti did an awesome job keeping the pace fast for me. He basically sacrificed himself."
Mike McMahon of Team Velocity took the Category 2 race, for racers a notch below the Pro level. He outsprinted teen sensation Rahsaan Bahati, last year's category 3 winner, who was racing with Mercury's junior national team.
"I came off the turn fourth and ended up passing two guys," said Bahati, a 1999 graduate of Crenshaw High School. "The sprint was short and I mistimed it. You can't win 'em all."
South Bay Wheelmen Stephan Preussler kept a promise to friends and won the category 3 race.
"I didn't feel too good to be honest, but I knew I could win the sprint," said Preussler, 27, a German native residing in Playa del Rey for the summer.
Santa Monica's Chris Evertsen, 32, took the category 4 race, earning a promotion to category 3 with the win.
"The most important thing for me was to go into the last corner in first place," he said. "It's the slowest corner on the track. I felt that I'd be able to pull it out from there. I left it all out on the track."
The Cat 5 race, for the least experienced racers, generated two winners, as the field was split into two groups of 40 riders. Mario Frayre won the yellow division, while Karl Holst won the gray division, just edging out Hermosa beach resident Mike Scanlan.
"This is the biggest event for our area, so I wanted to do my best here," said Scanlan. "I attacked early with almost a full lap to go and got way ahead and tried to hold off the pack. And I held them off until two bike lengths from the finish, but one guy just snuck by me by a nose and got me."
The Cat 5 race also witnessed the day's most violent crash, a 12-person pileup at 18th Street and Ardmore. La Jolla's Derek Cowling got the worst of the crash, injuring a collarbone after another racer cut him off at 35 miles per hour.
"Some guy in white crossed me and I couldn't pull out of it, so I just dumped," Cowling said. "I was kind of in shock. I got off the road as quickly as I could because I didn't know if other bikes were going to come stomping on me like they did. I got rolled over quite a few times."
The South Bay Wheelmen got their second win of the day when Melanie Peterson of El Segundo captured the women's 3-4 race. Peterson, a hairdresser at Manhattan Transfer in Manhattan Beach, said the pace was fine, but her strategy better.
"I just had to figure out how everyone rode and what their weaknesses were and use them," she explained.
Peterson has no plans to move up to the Pro level any time soon.
"I just have fun racing," she said. "I don't care about categories."
Between and after the serious races, the Wheelmen, with help from the Manhattan Beach Lion's Club, staged the Community Races for kids two years old and older.
"It's a pleasure for us to be part of this community race," said Chevron's Rod Spackman. "We're pleased to help support the Wheelmen and the Lion's Club. They in turn give back to the community. So it's a great day for us and hopefully a great day for them as well." ER
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