Redlands is the first big stage race to kick off USA Cycling’s new PRT Race Calendar (NRC in previous years). We had a strong roster with Tim Rugg, Justin Mauch, Matt Chat, Chris HD, Ryan Moore, Jacob Albrecht, Sam Bassetti, and myself all ready to take on some of the best cycling teams and riders in the country. Here’s a short and sweet recap of the five days of racing!
The first day of racing took place in Highlands in some brutally hot conditions. It was a circuit race with 20 laps that consisted of a short, steep climb to the start finish line and a descent into a residential area with lots of corners before coming back out onto the main road and up the climb. With most of us coming from Northern California, we definitely weren’t used to that kind of heat. The main objective was to keep Tim and Justin positioned well so they wouldn’t lose any time on the short, steep uphill finish. Depending on how Sam and Matt were feeling late in the race, we would try to set them up for the sprint up the climb. Many bottles of Herbalife’s CR7 were consumed to stay hydrated during the stage but the effects of the heat hit me as well as many others late in the race and on the final time up the climb, I cracked hard losing 1’24” to the stage winner. Tim was our best placed finisher in 30th, 27″ off the winner, Ruben Companioni of Team Jamis.
This stage was going to be a very decisive day for the GC battle. The 90 mile road race in Yucaipa featured 5 laps on a tough circuit that starts with a fast descent to the bottom of the loop followed by a false flat up to the main climb. After the 5 laps, we would turn off course and head up Oak Glen, the finishing climb. Thankfully the weather was much cooler with a possible chance of rain in the forecast. We started the day short one rider after Chris came down with some food poisoning the night before. The plan again was to look after the climbers, Tim and Justin as well as myself, to save our legs for the finishing climb. Sam found himself in an early move but was brought back into the pack. Jacob, Ryan, and Matt were slaying it making sure us climbers were sitting in good position. Fast forward near the end of the final lap before heading up Oak Glen, we were down to just the three climbers. I was starting to hurt a bit and wasn’t sure how I’d be on the climb so I made a big effort to get Tim and Justin up near the front before exploding and finishing the stage in the grupetto with Ryan, Jacob, and Matt. Tim was our best finisher in 17th, 22″ off the winner, Sep Kuss of Gateway Harley Davidson / Trek.
The time trial in Redlands has been up in Big Bear the past couple of years but this year, it was moved down to Highlands. The course was 7.1 miles out and back that was uphill on the way out and pretty much downhill coming back. SoCal’s usual sun and warmth was hidden by clouds and rain. I did my warm up and went over to the start house. 5…4…3…2…1…go. I felt like I was going fast but the results told a different story, finishing almost 2 minutes behind stage winner and good friend of mine, Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman. Warm down, get out of my cold, soaked, kit and start recovering. Tim had a solid ride, coming in 24th, 43″ down on the winning time.
Two stages to go. The criterium is probably one of the hardest crits featured in a stage race and the crowd came out to watch, despite the unusually cold weather. Tim, Matt, and Justin were very aggressive throughout the race attacking and trying to get a break off the front. In the closing laps, Sam was involved in a pileup on the backside of the course. On the final lap coming out of the last corner, Tim narrowly avoided a crash and was able to sprint around it for 6th place. The rest of us finished safely in the bunch.
The famous Sunset Loop. One of the hardest single days of racing in the US. You begin with 3 laps on a circuit in downtown before climbing steadily all the way up to the Sunset Loop where you’ll complete 12 laps before heading back down the hill for 5 finishing circuits on Saturday’s Criterium course. This year’s race was shortened to 11 laps of Sunset Loop but that definitely didn’t make it any easier! Heading out towards the loop, there was constant fighting for position. I took what our director, Ben Jacques-Mayne, told us the night before and waited till right before we turned onto the circuit, sitting at about 10th wheel. From there, the attacks started and guys were getting shelled out the back. Tim found his way into a large group but unfortunately was caught with one lap to go on the Sunset Loop. Each of those laps, the field just got smaller and smaller. Part of the early break was still up the rode heading back into town so we were stopped before the finishing circuits. It was a bummer not being able to do the finishing circuits but I was happy to finish in the very reduced field with a lot of really big names.
Overall, it was a great week at Redlands. There were ups and downs but we all rode well together as a team and had a good showing at each stage. I am happy with how I am feeling as we head into the next block of racing. A big thank you to Ben for directing, and Ronnie and Jocelyn for all the hard work in the feed zone and looking after all of us!
Up next, Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas then over to New Mexico for Tour of the Gila. Going to be a fun road trip with teammates! Sure to be a good time.