After San Dimas, some of us headed to Thousand Oaks California, to train at our teammate Peters, Uncle’s House. We were there for about a week before Redlands, so we each had time to get back into the swing of training and race preparation. After talking with my coach, the plan was for me to go out for 2 major days and get in big climbs. I was a bit nervous about my fitness on the larger climbs, because I had never ridden them before; in my area the largest climb is only 13 minutes, whereas in Thousand Oaks I was able to hit 35-minute climbs. After my 4.5 hour 9300 foot climbing day, I was confident and excited for the Summit finish at Redlands.
Thousand Oaks, is a beautiful suburban area, with tons of bike lanes, and only 13 miles from the Pacific Coast. Between the house and the coast were thousands of feet of climbing, that a handful of professional cyclists call home. It was an exciting place to train, and perfect for the lead up to Redlands. While there, Jamie came out to visit, and meet some of my teammates. We were able to spend a few fun days together, head to Santa Monica, and spend one day in Redlands together. In essence, she got to see the super exciting day of a professional cyclist. Wake up, ride your bike, dip your feet in the pool, eat, sit on the couch, then eat some more.
On the fourth day in Thousand Oaks, I got a call from Matt Green to start heading to the hospital. Our teammate Brecht Dhaene had crashed along the pacific coast and broke his collarbone. A huge bummer for him and the team, but thankfully he’s already had a successful surgery and looking forward to Joe Martin.
The Redland’s roster was Matt Green, Max Jenkins, Clay Murfet, Cortlan Brown, Jake Silverburg, Dan Gardner, and myself. It was our first NRC race together and we knew it would be a learning experience. The race itself is 5 days and consists of a circuit race in town, a time trial at Big Bear Lake, a summit finish on Oak Glen, a criterium in downtown, and the famous Sunset Loop.
Highland Circuit Race
Originally Brecht was our go to guy for this stage but with his collarbone issue, we had to rework the plans. It’s hard knowing who would be on, but Clay was sprinting well so the goal was to lead him into the finish, while Cortlan Brown and I looked for moves. Cortlan won the first KOM sprint (the one I got last year), shortly after I found my way into a break. That move came back pretty quickly, but my legs were good. Finally, a real good group went for the time bonuses, I hopped on the wheel, and coming over the top I realized I was off the front. Josh Berry of Jelly Belly and I ended up gaining around 40 seconds on the field and we rode it for a few laps. Eventually, Brendan Rhim of Cal Giant bridged to us, and we worked together for a half lap. After it got negative, Josh and I sat up, with Brendan continuing on.
Feeling good I went back to the field, knowing the sprint would be crazy. With 2 laps to go, Hincapie went to the front and drilled it. The field quickly blew to pieces, as time gaps began opening up. Clay went into the hill a little too far back so each of us had to survive to the finish. In the end Cortlan won the KOM jersey for the stage, and the team was well represented in all the major moves.
Litespeed sent us awesome prototype TT bikes, which a few of us were going to use for this stage at Big Bear Lake (To quote Clay Murfet, more like Big Bearly any water). With the team not knowing what to expect from me going into the season, I wasn’t able to practice a ton before this stage. Regardless, I got all aeroed out and tried to ride my bike fast, losing some time to the top guys. (Definitely a weakness of mine at the moment)
Oak Glen Summit Finish
While not a crazy summit finish, it was still a summit finish, and the most exciting stage for me at Redlands. The climb was around 5.3 miles once you turned off the circuit and reached a little over 5000 feet (Around 75 miles for the day). The team had faith in me, and kept me out of the wind all day, so on the final lap of the circuit, the heavy hitters moved to the front and the fireworks started. Thanks to my team, I was ready.
I made my way to the front, and kept an eye on major accelerations. Turning onto Oak Glen, the field was lined out and I was sitting perfect in the top 15. While no major accelerations came, the field was slowly dropping. Around 2.5 miles into the climb I looked around and there were only 12 of us left. A guy old enough to be my dad (who happens to be a grand tour winner), Phil Gaimon, Mike Woods, and a bunch of other top climbers. At this point, I was starting to get excited with how I was doing. I was there; this is how I dreamed of it all coming together. I was ready for my move, then I saw 4k to go, and realized how much pain I was in. I slowly started to fade off the back, with zero dreams of another acceleration, and swore my legs were going to explode. In the end, I held on for 16th place, a result I take a lot of pride in. Next year I really hope for better.
Last year, the crit was terribly painful. I just remember sitting 120th wheel and seeing the leaders taking the turns 400 meters up the road. I knew I was in better fitness, but I wasn’t overly excited about the race. It’s a fun course with a great crowd, but such a big field makes positioning difficult at times. Thankfully, my teammates Matt and Clay took care of me all day. With around 6 laps to go, Matt somehow brought me to the front of the race.
I was sitting in the back pretty much all day, so I didn’t even know there was a break up the road. Coming into 2 turns before the 5th lap, Optum crashed one another, taking out the front right side. A moment of hesitation, then chaos shortly ensued. All the sudden I was sitting top 5, and lining it out with Smart Stop and Jelly Belly. On the final lap, I saw riders up ahead (who I thought we were lapping). Going into 2 turns to go, a lead out guy overshot a turn, and I got held up behind him; thankfully I punched it and shot through the inside. As it turned out, that group ahead was actually a breakaway, with 2 of them holding on to the finish. All said and done I was 13th on the day, my highest placing yet.
Sunset loop is such an interesting race. It goes up a beautiful residential drive with amazing scenery, and then bombs you down at incredible speeds (55 mph to be exact), only to start the loop again. During the race, you see absolutely none of this however, unless you think cross-eyed version of the guy’s wheel ahead of you is beautiful. Last year I only made it through 9 laps, and swore I would never experience more pain in my life.
The day consisted of two laps on the crit course, 12 laps up at sunset, then a descent to the crit course for 5 more laps; a little over 95 miles in total. If you make it to the crit course, you’re having a good day. The attrition rate of this race is usually 70-80% not finishing, so going into the race, I really wanted to finish.
From the beginning, Optum took control of the race, and kept the pace steady but honest. A break went up the road, but the peloton was always confident it would be coming back. Last year I had a compact crank, and could barely keep up on the descents, thankfully I finally became a big boy and have since upgraded. At least I thought I did. Going into the first loop, I hear cracking behind me. Someone bent my rear derailleur in, and it being a circuit race, there’s no caravan to fix it. With a little bit of teamwork (Matt Green, screaming at me every time I was about to put my derailleur into my spokes) we dialed in how I needed to shift. Assessing the damage, I didn’t have my 28 or my 11. Great, I thought, Sunset Loop on a compact again.
Going into two laps to go, our whole team who started the day was still there; super exciting, as a lot of other teams couldn’t say the same. I was especially stoked our young guy, Dan was still there, a huge ride for 19 year old new to American racing. With one to go the pace really started to pick up, and gaps started to open. Around 40 of the 180 starters made it over the top in tact. I could only see my teammate Max, but in typical Clay Murfet fashion, he dived bombed his way to us on the descent. There were 3 of us heading into the town of Redlands.
Heading into the crit course, I made a pathetic attempt to get off the front. I made it around 50 feet, and was quickly swallowed. Note to self, don’t try and do that again. On the crit course, a few breaks tried to go, but were always brought back. I was all out, and doing everything to hold the wheel ahead of me. Coming across 22nd, which moved me to 21st overall, just missing a top 20 GC.
Redlands was a good step for me professionally, but not quite where I want to be. I hope to continue to gain valuable experience and make my way farther up in GC. Our team had a great time getting to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and we are super excited for Joe Martin this Thursday. It starts with an uphill time trial, and is the biggest deciding factor of GC placing for the week. Fingers crossed.