After Jim won the TT by a minute, I immediately entered my love/hate phase of leading a stage race. Ideally as a teammate, it is always best to take over the lead on the last stage so that I don’t have to do anything. (Insert sarcastic look) But since Jim decided to win from the start, the team was on the hook to protect that jersey and make sure it came home.
Sonic Boom is pretty darn organized and we all take it seriously as a job. No one was taking winning this race lightly. We met the night before a created a detailed plan and roles for each rider. Since I have the largest rear end, I was responsible for protecting Jim from the wind and keeping him safely positioned in the race. Other riders were getting into breaks or keeping the race pace high or chasing down breaks. Jim’s job was to sit in, do nothing, and tear it up at the finish. We created a secondary plan around the finish and another stage win, however this was secondary to winning the overall General Classification.
The road race is a 94 mile stage with a serious hill, nothing that drops all but the best climbers, but stiff enough that it stung pretty hard. The roads are pretty good, but the course was a bit unnerving as it went down a road that was fully parked on both sides for a long stretch. (more on this later) I started off at the front, which is pretty much what I do in most races. My legs felt super and I was really excited for the race. After the neutral roll out the attacks started instantly. I was a bit surprised since I couldn’t personally imagine being off the front for 90+ miles in 80 degree heat in Feb. But this race is the big race of the season for southern California and Arizona, so no surprise those guys were flying and feeling confident after racing for a few months. I jumped in the first break and it grew to 15-20 guys pretty fast. These guys were HAULING. So right away I blew up the plan of protecting Jim, but I knew if we didn’t have anyone in the break our team would have had to chase super hard to catch it. So I worked the break from the back and tried to subtly keep it from getting too organized. There was a rider in 10th place, about 1:30 down in the break, and I was taking it pretty seriously. Of course I was praying that it would get caught because I was totally not up for sitting in a break for 90 miles. I hadn’t even ridden 90 miles in 6 months.
We did get caught right before the climb and then the counter attacks came on the climb. I was a bit gassed and totally suffered up the climb. Then the real bad news came. The Pro race had a bad accident and we had to stop. Apparently, a car pulled out in front of the race and the riders ran into it at full speed. Pretty scary stuff. Of course this happened on the parked road. Horrible. Luckily there were no fatalities.
After getting going again, we had a bunch of attacks again and I was able to get in some short lived breaks. We hit the climb and I survived to the top only to drop my chain after my water bottle fell out through my bottle cage that I didn’t realize had broken until after the race. So I stopped, got it fixed and chased, chased hard. I did an 8 mile TT at a blazing pace and caught back on the group. I knew I had great legs, but this was a surprisingly good sign. I went to the front again to do a bit of work and then hit the climb. This time it was just too much after chasing and I fell off the pace. I topped the climb wayyyyyy back. But again set to chasing. This time the legs started to wonder what the heck I was doing and fought back. I kept it up and caught a few guys with flats and we worked together to catch back on. Again. Luckily the next time up the climb I was OK and we rolled pretty strong for the last lap. I moved Jim to the front a couple of times and then took him to 3rd wheel at the base of the final climb. He powered up and finished safely in the front pack to keep his lead.
I shut it down up the last climb to preserve some energy for the crit on Sunday. That was going to be my day and I wanted to do all I could to be ready.