I’ll jump right into things as I haven’t much time before the crit tonight. Yesterday was a hard day: five laps totaling 124 miles with a few significant climbs. Not significant as in long or steep but significant in terms of being really god damn hard. My goal for the day was to make the front group and go for a high placing in the sprint. A top 10 would be awesome. A top 20 great. Finishing in the main group, still great actually. I’d never done that in years past, though I knew it was feasible given that I’d done it at San Dimas on a similar course.
So without any intentions of getting into early breakaways, I lined up at the very back. It was cold and foggy, unlike any Beaumont stage in the history of the race. The first year I did this course back in 2010 it was 100 degrees.
The first three laps were very unmemorable for me. I stayed at the back, where I felt it was safest and the easiest to ride, except on the main KOM climb. I positioned really well the first three laps, leading into the climb somewhere in the top 20 or 30 and always cresting it in the top 20 or so.
Lap four was a different story. I’d taken a pee a few kilometers before the base of the climb, maybe like 5K out. But really these last 5K were crucial to be at the front in case there were crashes, things got strung out in the wind and false flat, or gaps opened up. After peeing (I peed every lap of the race) I was at the very back of the 100 riders still left in the race from the original 190 starters. I used up a bit of fuel to work my way back up, but eventually got swamped and boxed in with a few hundred meters before the base of the climb. This was not a good lap to get boxed in on.
Breakaways came and went throughout the day. I think the current break was caught by this point of the lap. The fast climbers drilled it up the climb and gaps started opening up in front of me everywhere. I came around broken guys, mouths gapping, lungs panting, legs searing. I made it over the steep section and could see up ahead that it was do or die time. A group of 25 was getting away and there was a large gap to span. I smashed it hard on the flater section by myself and was the last person to make it onto the group. I didn’t stop there and continued on as it got steeper again before the first descent, making sure not to get gapped off again.
We did the short corkscrew descent (like 40 seconds long) and started climbing again up the final bit before the longer descent. I can’t recall exactly what happened but there was a group of around eight guys up the road from my group, which at this point was down to like 10 or 12 guys I think. We worked it on the descent and following flat headwind section to catch them, right as our group was joined by 10 others.
As we came through the start/finish section I asked Matt Cooke his opinion on what we should do. Guys were attacking and I felt like something real could stick for the final lap, given that there were only 30 guys left. He said he was just going to wait for the final climb, with me agreeing that that was the best option. Not five seconds after saying that I began following moves and attacking.
It was short lived though because the rest of the peloton caught back on pretty soon afterwards. I drifted to the back again to rest and get a bottle of water from Nick and Garrett, my last two teammates in the lead group.
Still feeling “good,” or gooder than most, I knew I had a great chance of making the top group of 20 or 30 that would stick to the line over the next climb. This was the easy scenario that I played out in my mind. But judging on how things broke up on the previous lap, I didn’t think this would happen. I assumed the groups would be small again. 10 or so guys per group fighting to regain contact with the one in front of them on the descent before the finish line.
I positioned myself pretty well going up the climb the final time. If I was right on the wheel of the guys attacking I think I could have held on, but I wasn’t there. I followed Michael Olheiser the whole way up as we passed guys who were blowing up. Six of the best climbers in the race made it over the KOM with like six seconds on us (Matt Cooke, Mancebo, Acevado, Ben JM, Luis Amaran, and Cesar Grajales). My group was nine guys contained myself, two of my former HB teammates (Jon Hornbeck and Ian Crane), Freddy Rodriguez, race leader Chad Haga, Alex Hageman, Max Jenkins, Olheiser, and one other guy in a black kit.
Being isolated from any teammates and content with just finishing high in the group I was currently in, I didn’t do an over abundance of work to bring the six leaders back. I did work though, but refused to kill myself. We let Haga do most of the pulling, with Olheiser taking some big pulls as well, until we got to within 5K to the finish line. Our gap was staying at 8 seconds, probably because there were three Jamis guys in the lead group of six, all going berzerk to get Ben the win and the jersey. Whoops. Now there were just four guys up the road. A touch of wheels and Ben and Grajales went down hard. I let an “oh shit” as I saw them go down and narrowly avoid getting run over by a dumb ass follow car that shouldn’t have been so close behind them. For a second I wasn’t sure if Ben’s head was still in tact. The car was just a foot or two away from taking it off.
We passed the fallen riders and took a left onto the slightly downhill run-in to the finish line. Just 2K to go. I stopped taking pulls, getting ready to conserve for the sprint. I knew I could win the sprint if I played things right, as I generally have a good kick after a long race like this, especially since the final 75 meters rose ever so slightly.
But with just over a kilometer to go were caught by a group of 20. All that work for nothing! I was still going for the sprint though, and held a good position until the final hundred meters before the last turn and the 250 meters to the finish line. I entered the corner too far back, then followed the wrong set of wheels (and stayed glued to them too long also). I saw Ian come around me. I should have hopped on his wheel but I went right instead and got held up by some fading legs in front of me. I started sprinting with 100 meters to go and was gaining rapidly on the guys in front of me, but the race was suddenly over. I finished 12th and moved up to 22nd GC. Not too shabby even though I botched the finish a bit. You can’t be too greedy though, and a 12th is MILES above and beyond what I’ve done here in the past, and to do it on arguably one of the hardest editions of the race in recent years makes it all that much sweeter.
Garrett and Nick weren’t too far back in the next groups. Colt, Scott and Aaron came in later, all safely within the time cut. Unfortunately Trevor didn’t make the time cut after losing contact with the group on lap two. He’d gone too far back in the caravan to get water for us after waiting half a lap for our team car to come up to the tail end of the peloton (it always takes forever for the team cars to get called up in this race). He got water but during his journey back to the peloton one of the officials stopped him from using the caravan to pace back on. Uhhhh, do you know how bike racing works!!!?? Ridiculous. Trevor, with five bottles in his jersey, made it back onto the group just as we started the climb but was of course popped immediately due to the work he’d had to do to get back up to us.
Tonight is the crit. Tomorrow is the day of days. My goal is to not lose time tonight and to ride as hard as I possibly can tomorrow and hope for the best. Yesterday I was able to climb in the top 15 or 20 guys so my hopes are high. The climb is a lot longer tomorrow though, and we do 12 laps of it too, so it’s a much harder course. I predict the race will split up so much that only half a dozen guys will make it to the final five, 1K finishing circuits of the crit course in town to duke it out for stage placings. I currently sit in 4th GC for the amateur jersey. Only Ian and Jon were climbing with the front or second-to-front groups with me yesterday, so if things play out similarly the jersey will be going to HB or a former HB rider. Pretty amazing to think about, though the current race leader in the men’s race (Haga) AND the women’s leader (Powers) are both former Rio riders. (I pick good development teams apparently).
Enough speculation for now. All I can hope for is good legs. It all comes down to recovery. If I’m on a great day I have a chance. If I’m on a bad day, well at least I already have a result from this weekend. Even yesterday was already a dream come true: realizing that I can, in fact, hang with the best guys in the country. That’s all for now.
Garrett took a spill early on.
Dinner over at one of our host houses. That’s Garrett, Colt, Nick and our mechanic/driver/swani Alex.
Building up my stockpile since Colorado STILL doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s
Herring on cheesy, light rye. Doesn’t get any better.