No personal results today, though I certainly had the legs. But DAMN did we have a good team race! The main goal was to keep Chris’ 8th GC or improve on it. Joe’s second goal for us was to “flow” into a move if it wouldn’t take too much energy. You know, just gliiiide right in (soft pedal even) if we saw something just easing it’s way off the front. Problem with that is that in an NRC race, flowing into moves happens about as often as Joe drives the speed limit.
It was hot out today. 80 or more degrees and humid. I was a bit worried about nutrition since I couldn’t find my hammer flask. I was the proud owner of three fine hammer gel flasks just a few days ago and now I’m at zero. I melted one in the microwave last week at Gila when I was thinning some honey, I gave the second one back to Sam, which was on loan to me, and now I lost one somewhere yesterday after the race. So I loaded up my pockets with Hammer and Snickers bars–both would be in goo form pretty soon anyways in my pockets.
My legs felt terrible during the neutral roll out. They felt even worse when the attacks started going. There were maybe six or seven miles of flat and rolling hills, mainly down hills, before a short, steep wall followed by an undulating climb. This is what I sort or remember from last year, and what the race packet said. All of a sudden I realized the climb was just around the next couple bends in the road. I was sixty guys back with Dan. I needed to get up front fast. Dan and I rode hard up the inside line and got Chris and the rest of the guys on our wheel just in time for the wall as we rounded the final corner and BAM there it was. I felt good going up it. Not good. I mean it hurt really badly but I was able to climb near the front. I can’t remember for sure, but I think the peloton blew up pretty badly the first time up. I was in the second group just behind a small group that contained Mancebo and the other major GC guys. Behind us I worried that Chris hadn’t made it into my group, but was pretty sure he could solo across if he had to later when the climb flattened out a bit and we (hopefully) would slow down.
The front groups came together pretty quickly after the short downhill before the next, less steep climb. Things came back together completely over the top of the climb, for the most part, and Dan Harm caught back on and led us to the front with, Dan Bechtold, me, Spencer, and Parish forming a pretty legit line up near the front. A couple of the pro teams were wary of us being up there and tried to give us some shit, but Dan’s six-foot-six menacing stature kept things in our favor.
Dan Harm, who’s a guest rider for us this week, dug super deep today and every day. He was on his way to an Olympic invite for the team pursuit on the track with his pro team OUCH up until a recent management disaster. Unfortunately the team sponsor bailed just a short while ago so he’s focusing on road for the future. Anyways, despite being super fast for 15 seconds four times in a row (team pursuit efforts) he doesn’t have his former road fitness yet. He’s almost there, but every time up the hill the first three laps he was off the back and it the caravan, chasing his brains out to regain contact. Every time he managed to catch back on when things slowed up a bit over the top in the crosswinds. One minute you’d think you’d seen the last of him for the race, the next you’d see him charging through the pack with a back full of bottles from the team car and yelling at us to get on his wheel and get up to the front.
Second time up the hill and I was feeling even better than the first. It was a good thing too because this time the field shattered again even harder when the breakaway was caught at the base of the climb. RealCyclist had kept it in check and Mancebo punched it HARD after a lead out from one of his teammates right at the bottom of the wall. I dug pretty deep there and kept close to the front after helping bring Chris and the guys up on the inside again before the climb.
The field shattered behind as legs blew apart. At the top of the climb during the crosswind section things came to a dead halt as Mancebo was left alone in the now 20 or 30 man group. This might be wrong by the way. I can’t really remember what happened. A small group of six or seven had just escaped from Mancebo part way up the flatter part of the climb. Everyone was attacking the shit out of him since all his teammates were dropped when he drilled it up the wall and was forced to ride hard in the wind on the longer climb. So when things died down at the top with the new break up the road with 20 seconds, and everyone was looking at each other and Mancebo, I took my opportunity and went for it. No one followed. I immediately had a large gap. I sat up pretty quickly though since I knew I couldn’t close the gap to the break by myself in the cross and headwind section. Soon enough, attacks lead the field up to me. A Kelly Benefits rider was the first to come across to me with a small gap on the chasers and I put some pressure on the pedals as he grabbed my wheel. He came around after my pull but before we knew it we were caught. I went hard again and a few guys other guys rotated with me at the front in the gutter in the gravel, hoping to break things up behind us. We sat up. More attacks went. I followed a few, feeling good, but quickly sat up on the front to block when Dan Bechtold got across with a move. It looked promising for a while, but was too big to succeed. Dan knew it and attacked out of the group. A few guys got on his wheel and attacked him up the next small riser and made it onto the back of the break that was up ahead. Dan missed out on latching onto the break. Just by a bike length or two, and came back to the pack blown to smithereens. Talk about a let down. He was kicking himself all night for that.
The gap opened up immediately after that bridging move got to the break. Almost all the pro teams were represented in it. Maybe all of them, I’m not sure. But now Mancebo was left alone on the front again, waiting for his teammates to catch back on. We went super slow for what seemed like an hour, but was maybe only 20 minutes, and the rest of the field slowly caught back on over the next half lap. Another move of five or six got away easily. I saw how easily they had escaped, and attacked afterwards a few times but was chased down by Garmin. I was beginning to worry about how many guys were up the road now. Usually I just try to hang on in these things, but today was different. I felt like I could almost make a difference in the race…
The third time up the wall was the easiest by far (still not easy though). I was feeling super good that time, positioned top 10 or 15 most of the way up. Chris put in a strong move on the wall but didn’t go anywhere. Mancebo was having none of it. Things slowed up again at the top when Mancebo was alone on the front with no teammates. The gap to the now-gigantic break was five minutes and increasing. Mancebo’s GC position was doomed. It looked like it was a for sure thing at this point, with only one more time up the wall and hill, the tailwind section, and then seven or eight miles back to the finish line once we got off the circuit. But no, it was not to be. Realcyclist, the most powerful and dominating domestic team in the US would find its saviour in the form of three amateurs on Hagens Berman.
Chris was in 8th GC, and while that may not be enough of a reason for an established pro team to send its last remaining guys to the front to work, it certainly was for us. Joe put the word out for us to chase it down, and Dan B, Dan H, and I were the three workhorses for the job. The gap immediately started going down once we got up there. We joined the three remaining RealCyclist domestiques at the front, along with Michael Sencenbaugh and his teammate Thomas on Trek Landis for some “through-and-off” with three quarters of a lap to go until the final time up the hill. I think Joe actually just wanted to live vicariously through us and enjoy some good through-and-off from the team car back in the caravan. (Joe likes himself some good through-and-off BTW if you didn’t already know. It’s the best way to get in shape today).
3:50…3:20…3:00…1:20…The gap was coming down fast. Dan blew himself up. The other Dan was gone. Mancebo’s teammates blew themselves up. We were all going all in. Nothing to spare. Pretty soon it was just a couple of us on the front with Mancebo right behind, licking his chops as hope was regained. Chris was sitting in the pack with Spencer, readying themselves for the last time up the climb. I put in a few final big 600 watt pulls as we came to the base of the climb and blew the F!!! up with 300 meters of false flat to go to the base. Not wanting to cause a gap in the line, I gave the guy behind me a hand sling and I veered off to the right, teeth baring and nostrils flaring as the rest of the pack came around. The break of 20 was caught right then and there as we turned the corner and Mancebo lit it UP on the wall as he passed them. The field splintered behind. Guys were blowing up left and right. Seeing all the pain and suffering gave me motivation to give it one last go. Somehow I had partially recovered in those 20 or 30 seconds after blowing up and I put in another effort up the climb. I rallied hard. Harder than I have gone this year by far. I was wheezing and snorting like a stuck pig with asthma and no inhaler in sight. I chomped down on my gums, not caring about the damage I was doing to the insides of my cheeks. I couldn’t taste the blood. I went frickin hard. And made it back into the group before the short descent, just in time. Only 45 guys in the pack now. I held on up the next climb at the very back. I was deep in the red. DEEP. I went to a place reserved only for those wishing to die…soon. I was that guy in the dungeon chained upside down with a spiked iron mask clamped tightly on his face, scorpions pinching his testicals and rats gnawing at the gangrene on his earlobes. The guy just wishing for it all to end.
But it didn’t. I made it! The top of the climb! Just the crosswind palteau now! Some brief downhill, another short uphill and I’m 100% in the clear! Wait. Crap. Nope. I’m done. A tiny gap opened up. A TINY gap opened up in front of the rider I was sitting on. I was the dead last guy in the line. He was the second to last. There was nothing I could do by the time I had the brains to think about it. I should have just jumped and covered it but the pain I was in was all I could deal with at the time. I couldn’t be expected to put myself in more could I? It would be inhumane! To ask a sane person to add more kerosene to the flames at their feet. Not possible. Now (a day later as I continue to write this) I look back on it and say “Man, what a wimp! I should have just dug a little deeper.” But right now I’m sitting in bed with a nice cool breeze coming through the window and a nice, relaxed heart rate at 43. A stomach over capacity with mexican food and dreary eyes are my only discomforts.
I got a power feed from Joe when the caravan started coming by. I regained strength as the H+ ions cleared out of my legs and I hammered once more in a last ditch effort to regain contact. Too little too late though. My race was over and I knew it. The caravan was still in sight though, so I set a hard tempo in hopes that the pace would slow down at the front of the race again. It did not. Attacks were going hard at the front. I heard that Chris put in some moves. And so did Bissell of course. They won the race with Jay Thompson. Mancebo stayed in yellow and Chris kept his spot in the top 10, moving down to 9th GC. Chris took 15th on the day and Spencer 18th.
I let a group of five guys catch me and we rode most of the way back real super easy. Then Michael caught us with a couple miles to go, having bridged solo across from his groupetto (that he was driving) and tried to hammer some more at the front of ours. He got yelled at pretty quickly by everyone. No need to go hard now. The time cut was well within reach and tomorrow was going to be a hard, hard day.
Side note: The night before for stage 2 our van had been parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot–the staging area for the race–and was missing upon our return from our 110 mile race. We rode from the finish area to the Wal-Mart after the race (another five miles in traffic by the way) and found that our van had been transformed into a truck. Either that or it was gone and someone had parked the truck in its place. We assumed the worst, that it had been towed. After all, it had been parked perpendicular to how you’re supposed to park in the parking lot. It was taking up at least five spots. Then we suspected something even worse. That it had been stolen. The key had been sitting on the tire.
We argued and yelled at each other for a minute, not knowing what to do, before we split up and rode around the parking lot looking for the keys under other cars. If the car had been towed, the keys would be laying on the ground possibly. If it had been stolen…well we’d just look for the keys first, how about that. I kept my eye out for clues that could lead us to the solution of the mystery. Where could the car be and what happened to it? Clues. An out of place foot print. A dropped business card. A dodgy-looking eye witness. A scroll of old paper with a pirate’s dagger pinning it to a door…
Instead we found our van. It was on the opposite side of the parking lot with the keys inside on the center council, unlocked. A miracle. We celebrated our good fortune with Qdoba burritos and greek food from the place next to the Qdoba. Then we celebrated some more by going to the grocery store for more food.
Today’s end of stage: (Saturday–stage 3). Tonight was different. A complete turn around from yesterday’s stress and worry. Joe was so proud of the way we rode (like a real live pro team in a real live pro race) he decided to take us out to a fancy Italian place down town on the team’s dime (a very rare occurrence so we knew he was happy with us). We showed up in our team T shirts, compression socks and shorts. Reeking of sweat and BO, salt encrusting our faces and gel packets still stuck to our backsides. We came directly from the race, H+ ions just barely wearing off as our ungainly upper bodies swayed in fatigue above our massively un-proportioned legs followed our noses to the smell of excellent Italian food. It was race night for us and our dirty faces and gaunt cheeks showed it, but it was also prom night for everyone else. And wedding night. And parent’s weekend the weekend before graduation at the UofA. And of course, it was also just plain old date night, evidenced by the man who kept grabbing a fistful of his wife’s/mistress’s ass right in front of us. People were dressed up. Like, in dresses and suits and ties even. The place was packed. We used a valet service. It was classy. We smelled of old socks. I enjoyed the irony.
We went through 12 bowls of bread before our waiter wised up and brought us our food. After a huge, fancy Italian feast (I got an extra large plate of fettuccini and salad) we were informed that our GIGANTIC bill had been paid for in full by a guy, named John Elrod, that had earlier come over to our table to congratulate us for all our hard racing. He had been driving a motorcycle for the race and said he was tired from just watching us. Anyways, he took off after chatting with us and later our waiter informed us that he had paid for everything. We were ecstatic. It was very cool to have someone (a complete stranger) appreciate what we do and how hard we work and it certainly made up for a lot of training rides where people honk, buzz, and flip us off.
It was even hotter today. 90 degrees with 100% humidity. At least. Possibly 120% humidity. It felt good though. Like summer. I’ll take that kind of weather over 45 and raining any day. The course was technical, hilly, and windy. Perfect. People’s legs were going to be tired. RealCyclist was going to be dragging today. Bissell was ready for the kill. The entire pack was ready for the kill, including me. I took some warm up laps and felt strong. The hill was perfect for me. Steep, short and to the point. No bullshitting today. This was not going to be an easy crit course and no one was looking to try and make it easy. It was going to be ON all day long for 90 minutes of sweltering, fast, heated racing. Boo yeah!
We started with a tiny field, down to 70 something riders after yesterday’s attrition. I went backwards immediately, not yet feeling the corners too keenly. I used the hill to move up on every time though and felt ok using up some extra energy there. Breaks went and came back. I didn’t attack. I was saving it today. I knew the move would come in the second half of the race and I was GOING to be in it damn it! I moved around with ease as others blew themselves apart (ok not with ‘ease’ but fairly confidently). No one was crashing like last year’s edition of the race, which is a good thing for us racers. Bad for spectators.
I followed a string of attacks at the front for two solid laps as Mancebo lead the charge. Kelly riders, Bissell, Fly V, Pure Black, everyone was countering. I tried not to put my wheel in the wind. Mancebo got across but Bissell chased it down as I sat right behind them. The field had gaps everywhere behind us. More moves went. Finally something began to look somewhat established with about 20 laps to go. Now was the time to be patient and trust that others would bridge up there. I was in the position to latch on. With 15 or so to go (these are big laps–1.2 miles long and like 3 minutes each), I heard Joe yell from the side that it wasn’t a good move for us. This meant to go to the front. Again. Second time in a row. I could hardly believe it. Little old Hagens Berman going to the front to do RealCyclist’s dirty work. This meant my (personal) race was over. But if it meant protecting Chris’ GC, fine by me. If I’m going to be a pro I might as well get used to pulling on the front because that’s one thing I’m damn good at and can do all day long. And to tell the truth, once I got up there again it felt pretty good to be able to do it in such a hard crit where I knew most of the field was just suffering to hold on.
I got up there and by then it was just down to Josh Berry on RealCyclist now. Damn, has Josh gotten strong this year. He and I are about the same height, so trading pulls went pretty smoothly. I kept looking around for some of his RealCyclist teammates to come help with the chase, but he was the last one left. Mancebo was fresh out of teammates once again. These guys have been on the front of the peloton since Redlands. Cesar Grajales (RealCyclist) was in the move up the road, though he wasn’t in a good position to win the GC with Bissell’s Jeremy Vennel and Frank Pipp up the road with him.
Josh and I traded pulls for a couple laps and we slowly crept up on the break. The gap was 23 seconds. Then 20, then 17. At 17 seconds the counter attacks to bridge up blew both Josh and I off the front for a couple laps. By the time things settled down again and we got back to the front and the gap was already up to 25 or more seconds. A number of guys had bridged across to the break or were in the process of doing so.
On the front with under 10 to go.
Follow the link here for race photos at Podium Insight
We kept at it. I spent almost two full laps on the front alone with seven or eight to go. With six to go Chris got chopped in a corner and his front wheel got eaten by a crack in the road. He went down, but not out. He hopped back in the pack with five to go. I was still at the front I think. I was going into the red here as I realized that every last little bit of energy I spent meant seconds for Chris’ GC placing, and possibly the difference of the pack catching the break or not catching the break. The gap was at a monstrous 40 seconds by now. There was no possible way I was going to see the front of the race again with the way I was pulling, so it was all in till I had nothing left. I took one last pull on lap five. I’m writing this the same day it happened but already I can’t remember what happened. I do know that with four laps to go (I think) a Fly V-lead attack blew past me at the start/finish line as I lead up the headwind climb and my race was finally over. I didn’t even try to stick with the splintered group. I think there were ten guys up the road and maybe 30 made the final selection of the peloton. Not me. I went out the back with a number of other guys and rode it in at a medium tempo, trying to keep Spencer in the money on GC.
Mancebo ended up losing his yellow jersey and moved all the way down to 7th. Cameron Peterson of Fly V won the stage and Frank Pipp moved into the yellow jersey. Chris went from 9th to 13th, battered thoroughly from the hard week(s) of racing, the pavement, and the dissapointment in losing his top 10. Though, we were still pretty damn happy to help him achieve that result. HB has never had the legs for that good of a result in an NRC before and it’s rare to have a true amateur even close to top 10. We rode proudly to protect it and I was happy to have felt so strong today and yesterday and been an important part of the race, though I was really hoping to go for that stage win today. I honestly think I could have gone top five if I had played it out smart and gotten in the move earlier on or conserved to bridge up to the break. This type of course was designed for me and my legs were on my side today. Oh well, time for some serious rest because I’m beat.