After a solid three days of racing, we entered Sunday’s 190km Almond Blossom Road Race with Justin Rossi (Marc Pro – Strava) sitting 12th overall. Being new to riding with teammates, I was really excited to be able to ride to protect our GC leader.
I spent the night before the race, recovering with my Marc Pro, eating like a horse, and “previewing” the course on Strava (http://app.strava.com/segments/553921). We happened to check the weather forecast which called for rain, which had a few of the guys a little unhappy. Since I hate riding my trainer so much, I do most of my winter training in the rain. This left me secretly hoping for the most brutal conditions mother nature could throw at us; I knew I could handle them without missing a beat.
We had a solid breakfast (belgian waffles seemed appropriate for the weather and farm roads) and had a good pre-race team discussion as we lather our legs with minty-scented embrocation. The goal of our day was to ride near the front, help Justin in any way possible, and watch for the splits in the crosswinds. The last thing I remember from our discsussion was someone saying, “None of us should go with the early move, I don’t think any of us can hang out there for 100 miles.” Everyone pretty much agreed, or at least I did. There was no way in hell I’d last off the front all day.
The first half lap was pretty tranquil. A few guys made some moves but nothing got away. About 25 km into the 190 km race, a group of about 10 riders containing at least one guy from each of the strong teams slipped off the front. I saw no Marc Pro-Strava representation, so I jumped out of the peloton and bridged up, surprisingly not taking anyone with me. We were only away for about 1 minute when we entered a 90 degree left-hander. Evan Huffman (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) lead through the turn, with me second. The guy third wheel slid out, momentarily causing the rest of the break to sit up. Before I knew it, Evan and I were off the front on our own.
My first thought was, “Awesome, I’m in the move.” Shortly followed by, “Oh sh*t, I can’t last out here all day.” I asked Even if we should wait for the rest of the break and he said, “Nah, lets keep it rolling.” We put our heads down, traded pulls and when I looked back at the top of the next rise, the peloton was nowhere in sight. Before we knew it we were the break du jour.
We kept it rolling smooth and fast the first few laps, splitting the Hot Sprints and trading solid pulls. Our gap eventually grew out to 11 minutes with two laps to go. I knew BISSELL would be chasing hard, but there was nothing we could do but continue to press on. With one lap to go, our gap was down to 6 minutes. The winds were really picking up, and I knew a motivated BISSELL team didn’t want to let us win the race. We continued our solid pace, working hard into the headwinds, doing everything we could to stay out front. We started to get some more frequent time gaps; the gap was coming down faster than I could have imaged. With 170 km in our legs, the gap shrank down to 2 minutes. Evan said he was done, so I decided to go off on my own. I put my head down and tried to time trial my way to the finish line (imagine a slow version of Jens Voigt…) With 5 km to go, I looked back and could see a group in the distance; they were coming at me like a freight train. I gave it everything I could to make it over the last roller; hoping I would be able to either stay away to the line or worst-case get caught on the downhill, giving me a chance to latch on the back. I was finally caught with 4 km to go, just at the top of the roller.
As the peloton was passing all I wanted to see was Justin. Finally, as the last few riders passed me, I saw Justin looking strong and it gave me the motivation to jump onto the back of the dwindled down peloton which was now only about 35 riders. Justin and I rolled in safe to the finish in the front group; totally stoked at our week’s effort and that he was able to make the split of the day. His smart and powerful riding was able to move him up to 10th overall on GC. Between Justin’s TT and GC results, Keith Hillier bumping elbows with the BISSELL dudes in the crit, my hardman breakaway effort, and Jesse Miller-Smith, Nate Freed and Dustin Hahn’s all-around strong riding throughout the weekend, I think we seriously earned Marc Pro-Strava some respect. We will be closely watched from here on out.
I was lucky to have a solid breakaway companion in Evan Huffman. This was the first break I had even been in, so he basically coached me along throughout of 3.75 hours together. We also had a great support crew in the feedzone; making sure we all stayed well hydrated throughout the race was critical. The week of racing was a great experience for all of us. We faced a lot of different challenges, but we handled them all pretty darn well. I’m looking forward to some more competitive and hard racing the rest of the season.