The weather wasn't quite as nice as it had been during the ToC but as I write this shortly after the third 1'+ snowstorm in the last three weeks in Colorado...I have to say it was pretty nice. Merced is the last real town (Central Valley Sliding Scale applied) before Yosemite so it can get pretty chilly in early March but the downtown crit was fine until the afternoon when the men's pro field got after it. I think the weather for the road race the next day was brutal...but I could only handle one day and opted for the three-ish hour trip back to Marin. The road race is almost always windy, often rainy and for most part is out in the middle of nowhere. Good race though and the winner almost always really deserves it.
The crit course is kind of a modified "L" shape that wraps around the park and has a cool little chicane in front of the Town Hall and temporary beer garden. There was a crash in the early part of the race that took down, among others, Alex Candelario (CU Buffalo and one of the only pro racers that rocks mad facial hair) and Uber-Kiwi Greg Henderson who actually ended up breaking his hip. Bad news at first but Henderson was on fire at the end of the year and likely used this bad luck as a source of inspiration later on in the season.
A break ended up forming with McCormack, So Pro Mike Jones, Jackson Stewart and a few other guys. Everyone thought they were going to get caught including the ever-entertaining Dave Towle on the microphone. The locals actually step up in Merced despite a healthy dose of farmishness and the criterium usually has a pretty good crowd which Towle kept well informed throughout the event. Historically, everyone always gets caught and the race usually ends up in a scattered field sprint which seemed to be the likely scenario again. Despite the efforts of Toyota-United to reel them back, the break ended up staying away and Mike Jones jumped off the front at the end to win solo. Good finish and entertaining post-race interview with Towle and Jones, not a huge winner but a strong rider who could be up to some things now that he's with Jelly Belly in '07 and will have more chances for himself.
As of early January, the website for the McLane Pacific Cycling Classic is down and it appears that the event has come to an end. Apparently unable to generate the funds necessary for NRC sanctioning, the race may be gone for good. I truly hope that the McLane Pacific Cycling Classic can come back and continue its rich tradition. If not...then Mike Jones will be a good final winner and Merced will still be a good place to stop before hitting El Capitan and Half Dome. Farewell McLane, hope to see you again.