The annual stage race that brings racers from all over the PNW and ton of racers from north of the boarder started off with a twist this year. Gone were riders in alien looking helmets on funky looking speed bikes. This year everyone had to start the stage 1 TT on standard, mass start bikes. You could not use a TT specific bike frame, TT aero helmet, disc wheels or wheel covers. I for one was not happy with this change. I get why it was done but I put a lot of time in on my TT bike and love tuning in the "wind cheater" to get as fast as I possible can.(which isn't really that fast) Anyway, I got over it and tried to figure out how I could make my Tarmac go faster. I put on a 101mm wheel in back and an 82mm up front, bought a little rain/aero cover for my helmet and, well, that was pretty much all I could do. I went out on the course the night before to try to figure out aero position. I rotated from setting my forearms on top of the bars to riding low with my hands in a fist on the hoods to in the drops. By the end of two laps I still had no idea which was faster. We'll see.
Stage 1: TT
The weather was holding but as I rode to the start it started to sprinkle. Really??? It only lasted about a minute so I'd have nothing to blame if I had a shitty ride but myself. My start time was at 10:44AM and my teammate Alex was starting 30 seconds behind me so I was hoping to be a good rabbit for him. In addition to me and Alex we also had Neal and Jack racing the Masters 35+ field.
I think I lost a second or two at the start. I didn't want to jump the gun like I did in Walla Walla where I got a two second time penalty. This is only a 10K course so seconds could count. I got off to a good start and quickly rested my forearms on the bars and got up to speed. I didn't feel comfortable at speed so I moved down to the drops and left them there for the duration. I've been in solo breakaways going as hard as I could but this still felt weird. I felt like I was going fast but I'm sure I was way slower then if I were on my TT bike. The nice thing was at the short kicker on the back side of the course it was easier to jump out of the saddle drill it over the top. I felt pretty good most of the race but could feel myself dying a little with about 2K to go. I just stayed steady and then at the sharp left hand turn that was about 250M from the finish I jumped out of the saddle and road it like a finish sprint in a road race. I felt like I did OK but in the end I was sitting 8th, 29 seconds back. My teammate Jack finished 25 seconds back and was sitting just in front of me in 7th. Alex was 43 seconds back and Neal was 1:30 back. When we saw the results HSP's Brad was in first with teammate Todd in 2nd only 4 seconds back. Dave(OOA) was in third, 10 seconds back and his teammate Jeff was 5th., 21 seconds back. We'd have our work cut out for us if we wanted to move up.
Stage 2: Crit
I was able to park my RV in my usual spot right near the start/finish line. The weather all day was pretty nice and I got to watch some good racing early on. We kept checking the weather and it looked like the rain was going to hold off until after everyone was finished for the night.......NOT so fast. Right when the Pro/1/2 women were getting ready to start a cell moved in and it started to pour. Right after their start they had a huge crash that took out about 10 of them. My mood quickly shifted. I was not looking forward to racing this 8 corner crit in the rain. About half way done with their race the clouds parted and it started to clear up. When we took our warm up laps I was happy to see that most of the course had dried up except the road along the finish stretch. I still took some pressure out of my tires.
It's always hard to make up any time in a crit, especially a 30 minute crit. 30 minutes is way to short for a crit for guys at this level but the race director has to figure out how to get all the races in before dark so that is what we were stuck with. We knew HSP, OOA and the Canadian team Shox would be keeping tabs on the field so we knew it would be hard to get the bonus primes. We really just wanted to win the stage. Things were going fine until a guy made one of the worst, bonehead moves I've ever seen in a crit. He took out Brad who was the GC leader and sent at least four others to the pavement. I really don't know how I didn't go down. I ran over the back of Brad's bike and thought I was going to go down on my left side. Right then someone else bounced off me and I think it helped me to stay upright. The crash sent Keiichi Otani to the hospital and my teammate Neal hurt his wrist and although he was able to finish the crit he was not able to race the next day. Luckily Brad was able to get back in the race.
Alex took off hard with two to go and really got the pack strung out. This was perfect as Jack and I were able to get in a good position near the front of the field. Jack was lined up right behind and moved left to start his exoneration right before the final turn. Todd(HSP) who was working for Brad was done with his work and swung wide to the left to slow us down. I got caught up in that but Jack was able to fire through on the right side. He ended up crossing the line in 2nd and I came through in 6th. With his time bonus for finishing 2nd Jack was able to move up a place to 6th. The rest of the GC pretty much remained unchanged.
Stage 3: Road Race
The weather in the morning was not bad but the forecast was calling for thunder storms right about the time were about half way through the race. I decided to over dress a bit just in case. Since there were a good handful of us that were between 20 and 30 seconds back we knew that HSP, OOA and Shoxs would be hard pressed to let anyone get a sizable gap. Alex was over a minute back and he planned to try to get of the front early to see what would happen. Sure enough not long after the start, Alex and a couple of others that were sitting about where he was took off hard and got a gap. Now Jack and I could just sit in and not waist any energy. We waited for the GC guys to react. For a while they did nothing but soon Todd came to the front and worked just hard enough to keep the break in check. Todd, Brad and Dave (OOA) kept this up off and on for a while. They just made sure they didn't get more that 35 to 45 seconds up the road. When we reached the Mud Mountain climb for the 1st time we could not see the guys in the break. I think because of that the pace up the climb was fast. That is when I realized I had good legs and was able to sit near the front and respond to any accelerations that were made. The I saw a guy up the road moving backwards. Shit, it was Alex! We were on him fast. As we went by I looked and told him to slide in but when he looked over I could tell something wasn't right. I didn't realize for a while that he was no longer with us. I found out later that he had gotten ill and actually puked twice during the climb and ended up dropping out of the race. The pace we kept up the hill also caused several guys to drop off the back. This was going to be a brutal one. Jack and I were now the only two left. There were a few more attacks on lap one but nothing really got more than about 10 seconds up the road.
Sometime during the start of lap two Darren(Shox) who won the RR last year, and Jeff (OOA) who was sitting 5th in GC took off. I almost went with them but wanted to see what Brad and Todd were going to do. A few seconds later Todd took off hard and joined the other two. Shit, I should have went with him. Those spit second decisions can be killers. I was sure that someone would panic and start to chase them down but no one did. Crap, now it will be hard to jump without HSP, OOA or Shox shutting it down.
The break started to get out of control and eventually they built of a 2:00 minute lead. The weather was starting to play a roll as well. At times it was raining about as hard as it could but then we'd roll into stretches that were bone dry. The wind was slowly starting to pick up as well. I started to realize that not only would we be NOT moving up in GC but we were now in jeopardy of dropping spots. I did not want to sit around and just let that happen. Shawn(Vertical Earth) who was sitting 4th and also in jeopardy of losing his GC spot decided to come up and work with me at the front. Not a single other person was willing to help. I didn't care. We kept at it and started to make up a little time. After a while Jack and Matt(Audi) joined in and we actually had a nice little pace line going for a while. It broke up soon after and I think Shawn had enough and jumped off the front. No one went with him. Soon enough he got a nice gap and now there were four up the road.
We hit the climb for the 2nd time and this time Tim(Starbucks) set a really fast pace up the hill. I fell in right behind and sure enough a few more guys dropped off. Near the feed zone I decided to attack and got a small gap. I kept it going all the way through the uppers side of the course until we reach the downhill. I mainly wanted to prevent anyone who got dropped from catching back on during the descent.
Fast forward to the 3rd time up the climb. Once again Tim got to the front and set an even faster pace. I was still able to sit right near the front. This was my first time racing with Jack and I know he can sprint but was super happy he was still with us at the top of the climb. He admitted it was starting to take a toll but he was still there. Once again I decided to try to put a hurting on the field near the top and once again got a gap. The same two Canadians that chased me down on the last lap bridged up to me again. I yelled at them to pull through so we could do something and one of them looked over and shook his head. I asked them what the f*ck was the point? They said nothing and sat on my wheel. After the descent Shane(Mighty) gunned it and got a gap. Once again no one went with him. I decided to go and wouldn't you know it. My buddies quickly bridged up and got on my wheel but did not pull through. I started to wonder if many of these guys were actually hurting and it was all they could do to try to keep this whole thing from blowing up. OK then.....I'm just going to keep attacking. The next two times they were quick to close me down but I didn't even wait a second before jumping hard again. Holy Shit!! I think they finally had enough of me and let me go. Oh Shit!!......Now I had to drill it hard to catch Shane. It took a minute or so but as soon as I hooked up we started trading pulls and but the time we made the hard left hander for the start of the last lap we were half way between the dwindling field and Shawn. After another minute or so we hooked up him. Now it was the Shane, Shawn and Sean show. I was worried that Shawn was going to be super tired after his solo effort but he didn't skip a beat. It was actually Shane that was hurting a bit. He took about two second pulls while Shawn and I did about 20 seconds each. Shane was not just along for the ride. I think he only skipped one or two pulls at the most.
I had not thought of actually catching the trio up the road. Last we heard they had a two minute gap and I didn't think it was possible to make up that much time with less than one lap to go. Add the fact that now some of the podium contenders left in the main field would not just sit and just let us go without a fight. I was just hoping to get some mop up time and maybe move up a place or two. We were really cruising and it felt good.
We reached the climb for the last time and I was in a zone. I told them we needed to drill it up the hill because it would be the last chance the field had to put a stop to this little thing we had going. I moved to the front and we hit it pretty hard. Shane is a big guy. He probably had 30 to 35 pounds on me but he was latched right onto my wheel. How can this guy climb so well? I think the pace finally took a toll on Shawn. About half way up he started to fall off the back. The feed zone was crazy. It was packed with people and they were yelling like crazy. They kept yelling 30 seconds......30 seconds? Go, Go, Go!! Shit, the pack is only 30 seconds behind us now??? I asked Shane if we should wait for Shawn. If he could recover on the flats it would help us out. Right then we made the turn at the top of the climb and we could see three guys just up the road. At first I thought they were just stragglers from another field but I quickly noticed that there was a lead car with them. Holy Shit!!! That was Todd, Jeff and Darren. We made up almost two minutes in less than a lap. That is why the feed zone crowd was yelling so loud. We decided to forget about Shawn and put the hammer down. I did about a 30 second pull and flicked Shane to come through. He told me he wasn't able to match my speed but would help if I really needed it. At this point I was really feeling it and didn't really need much help but wasn't sure how long I could continue at this pace. A short while later I flicked him again and he pulled through. He took a short pull and then told me he would drill it on the down hill section. I finally looked back for the first time and the only one in site was Shawn. I realized that we really didn't need to worry about getting caught and totally focused on bridging up to the leaders. Sure enough when we made turn to head downhill Shane drilled it and led the charge. We were f'ing flying! It wasn't happening fast but we were gaining more time. We were now only about 15 to 20 seconds back. Could we do this? The road flattened out some and I jumped back to the front. I took another super long pull before flicking my elbow again. Shane pulled through and told me he'd do whatever it took to pull them back and that in no way would he try to out sprint me at the finish. He is a stand up guy. Soon enough the three started to notice that we were closing and started going harder. That, along with the super crazy head wind started to slow our progress. Right before we took the right hand turn with about 2K to go I took one more look back. No one was there. Shane led me down the road up to where there was a short kicker. I jumped in front and got out of the saddle. We were still closing on them but were running out of time. Little did we know that since on paper, Brad was first in GC, Todd took absolutely zero pulls the whole time they were off the front. He was fresh and when he saw we were still closing with only 2K to go he jumped hard off the front. He was flying and with 1K to go I knew he was going to take the win. Since it was a stage race and all about time I told Shane that we needed to keep going hard to the finish. We mad the final left hand turn that was about 300m from the finish and we went a hard as we could. Todd finished 24 seconds in front of us and Darren and Jeff were only 10 seconds up. I crossed the line in 4th. I quickly swung around so I could see how much time back everyone else was. I finally had time to think. Todd and Jeff were probably going end up 1st and 2nd but I realized that there was a chance that I could get the third podium spot.
I waited at the finish line with my eyes on the clock. I expected to see Shawn to come through next but to my surprise it was Dave(Oly). There was no sign of Brad. I looked at the clock and did in fact move up to third in GC. That was a super hard race and I was glad it paid off.