The Men's 1/2 Joe Martin Stage Race consisted of a short uphill time trial on Thursday, a 110 mile road race on Friday, an 86 mile road race on Saturday, and a 50 minute hill crit on Sunday. Seven of us made the journey down: Ryan O'Boyle, Austin Venhuizen, Tom Briney, Ben LaForce, Randy Warren, myself, and Randy's nephew Taylor, who guest rode for us. Our goals I think were pretty simple: do as well as we could individually while providing as much support for our GC guys; Taylor and Ryan as possible.
125 riders started the 2.7 mile uphill time trial on Thursday which had an average grade of 6.8%. Many people suggested that the time trial wouldn't really matter as the time gaps on the road stages would prove to be severe. I anticipated that they would matter for the front guys, but less so for the rest of the field. Anyways, Taylor (11th @ 0:26) and Ryan (22nd @ 0:41) scorched the course, while the rest of us Austin (80th @ 1:29), Ben (93rd @ 1:43), Tyler (97th @ 1:45), Randy (102nd @ 1:57), and Tom (104th @ 2:05) merely 'got through it'. At this point - personally - with 200 miles of hilly road racing ahead and having it appear as if you're in the bottom quarter of dudes in the race - the thought of just not getting time cut quickly became a real goal on my end. To make matters worse, the caliber of racing this year may have been better than it had been in awhile. Many teams ended up getting denied entry in the P/1 race which meant...they'd be racing the 1/2 race with us.
The Friday Road Race consisted of small climbs at miles 20 & 40 and an 11 mile rolling climb up Mt. Gaylor at mile 70. I figured if I could get to the base of mile 70 intact with the leaders, I'd be able to not lose 15% (~a little less than an hour) to the leaders over the next 40 miles and be able to race into the weekend. The first two pre Mount Gaylor climbs ended up being certainly effort-inducing but not fatal. The only hiccup was dropping my chain on the second one early in the climb when shifting from my big to small ring causing me to fall off the back, fix it, and chase back on - not the worst effort in the world, but an effort nonetheless. The miles went by quickly and soon enough we were at the base of Mount Gaylor (which I assumed I'd get popped on). My only objective at that point was to see how long I'd stay on. The climb wasn't straight up but instead it rather rolled up, so it'd go up and then flatten out a bit, and repeated like that all the way to the top. The draft was rather immense through this section with nice wide and paved roads, so sitting midpack really helped mitigate its difficulty. Mile by mile rolled by and I was still within my limits and I started having the thought that I could make it over this thing intact - which would be huge, because the remaining 30 miles would be all slightly downhill, which would almost be a full recovery ride to the finish line. Some of the front guys kept trying to get away, but the pack seemed fresh enough and attentive enough to not let anything go, which effectively made the back half of the climb a little easier than it probably should have been with some of the stronger guys beaten up and/or discouraged from trying to get away. Finally I saw the feed zone, which indicated the top of the climb, and it was all downhill from there. I was a little amped at this point and started being a little overly active at the front, trying to pull back the breakaway group and even momentarily seeing if I could get into a chase move. Eventually, I pumped the brakes and tried to save what I had left for the finish. The finish ended up being a bit more technical given the rain than expected (which it was doing for half the ride - luckily it wasn't the tornado that they had forecasted though!). The finish had several decent kickers in it which I think surprised everyone. I positioned myself relatively well entering the technical section with roughly 1k to go. Immediately the rider in front of me dumped it, which put me into a full brake mode as I was able to cut to the inside of him and carry on. The final corner approached, I thought I baby'd it a bit too much entering the turn but saw the rider's wheel in front of me slip out (he saved it) - which caused me to feather the brakes again as a few guys whipped by me for the sprint. I kicked as hard as I could just trying to see how far up I could place. I hit the line - good enough for 22nd place. The breakaway group stayed away putting roughly 30 seconds into the field. Taylor (9th @ 0:32 stage, 10th @ 0:39 overall) finished really strong. Several of us made it through the day intact with the leaders and started positioning ourselves better overall in the race: Tyler (22nd @ 0:35 stg, 67th @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (30th @ 0:43 stg, 26th @ 1:07 ovr), and Austin (41st @ 0:35 stg, 59th @ 1:47 ovr). There was a split in the group caused by a wreck and the officials sort of arbitrarily gave some guys the same time as the leaders and others not. Ryan was an unfortunate casualty losing some time here even though he finished ahead of guys who gave up less time. If you're confused, I kind of am too...
The Saturday road race was a three lap circuit that totaled 86 miles and contained a good short climb each time. The route had more elevation gain than the 110 mile road race and certainly proved to be a more difficult course - as Briney put it: 'it's a course that feels like you're always going up'. And if any of you went to San Luis Obispo with me, generally, climbing is not something I have excelled at - so again, the intimidation factor was high.
The group hit the first climb together and it was certainly tough, but doable. The climb consisted of a good steep mile long section that crested with a feed zone at the top, followed by a nice short recovery descent, and then followed by 1.5-3.0 more miles of steadier climbing. We hit the feed zone at the top of the first peak and everyone, per usual, seemed to start ramping up the pace making getting a feed chaotic. After my experience yesterday and at Boulder-Roubaix at feeds, I was done getting caught out at this point and made a point to make sure I was moving up through the feeds. I heard a lot of people had to do some chasing to catch back on, so yeah...
The 2nd lap climb came and all of the sudden it seemed like people were hurting (as was I). One of our former teammates who was there was moving up the left side. I quickly sprung on his wheel and just tried to relax while ascending it - mentally, I was just trying to act like it's just me and him on a group ride (not in a 1-2 national level race going up a hill). He cruised up the hill, and with me in tow, we ended up passing dozens of people which certainly gave me some confidence. This was a point where many people ended up getting popped and where even a few riders who I expected to be far stronger than me actually pulled out of the race. I made it to the top again and focused on trying to recover for the next 15 miles.
The 3rd lap climb came and it seemed a little neutral at the beginning and then the attacks came. Even with a slow start we ended up ascending the climb much faster than the other laps. Uneventfully, but ever so thankfully, I made it to the top intact with the leaders.
There was a break that went off earlier in the day that was a minute forty up the road. This would have knocked Taylor out of the top 10 on GC. Although gassed after the climbs, we needed to organize a chase and inject a little pace into the race in hopes of bringing the group back. Ryan came by me yelling that we organize a chase and communicated with a few other teams to put some guys on the front. We found Austin as well and moved our way up front for some digs. After a few rotations, the Hincapie team was lined up on our wheels putting in some good pulls and helping bring back the chase. Eventually we had the breakaway in sight and reeled them in with 10 miles or so to go. With 6 to go there was a big wreck, I hadn't seen O'Boyle much after that so I assumed he got collected.
I was trying to figure out where the finish was, but was mostly happy to know that I was going to certainly finish with the leaders time again today as there was nothing else challenging about the route towards the finish. We made a right hand turn and low-and-behold, the finish line was 200 meters away. Completely unaware that the finish was so close I launched a sprint and ended up finishing 18th on the day. We ended up with 3 Top 20 finishes on the day as a team which was incredible in a field of this caliber. Just as shocking was how hard the course was on the field. Many riders who I expected to make it through the day had a lot of time put into them. We continued to move up the standings in GC, however O'Boyle came limping through 4 minutes after we did having been collected in that wreck. He had some serious gashes in his leg and his prospects of even lining up tomorrow were in jeopardy. However, as a team we generally continued to move up the GC standings: Taylor (6th @ 0:00 stg, 9th @ 0:39 ovr), Austin (11th @ 0:00 stg, 42nd @ 1:47 ovr), Tyler (18th @ 0:00 stg, 45th @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (60th @ 4:21 stg, 56th @ 5:28 ovr). Ben, Randy, and Tom did an excellent job getting through the day as well and avoided the dreaded time cut which means we'd be lining up our full squad in the crit on Sunday.
We got to the crit course and I was a little stunned by how hard the course looked. The first thing you notice is the climb. A good 25 second steep uphill kicker right before the start/finish line loomed - to make it harder it was sandwiched in-between two false flat sections that would end up taking their toll on the field. However, at the time I was much more concerned that what goes up, must come down - and on a 2.5 minute course, the descent/speed/corning combination on the backside would have to be intense. I wasn't able to preview the course, so I was a little timid entering the 'recovery' part of the crit.
Anyways, it was clear that positioning on this course was going to be hard to come by. The pro race was immediately in front of our race and so everyone lined up on both sides of the fencing ready to pounce towards the start/finish line as soon as the race was over. The main pack of the pro race finished up and everyone was getting twitchy to line up. After a few seconds someone was ballsy enough to pull the trigger causing everyone to pull the trigger on racing up to line-up. A few stragglers of the pro-race came through complaining (rightfully so) and the chief judge told everyone to take a lap. I rolled through the line and immediately got off the course and rolled back right before the start/finish line until the officials actually called us up. This gave me decent positioning for the start.
The race went off and my timidness on the backside of the course showed a little as I let a few people go by through the turns while I gained comfort moving through them (which came quickly). The hill came and was tough - I think by the 2nd or 3rd lap I was already thinking about how long I'd be able to solo off the back without getting pulled, but I ended up doing a really good job of finding recovery points throughout the course - especially mentally - whenever I felt like I wasn't going all out, I was reassuring myself that I was relaxing and recovering. The first time I looked down at my Garmin was the 25 minute mark (halfway). This was significant because 1) it meant half the race had already gone by and 2) it meant that I had officially not been time-cut from the race as you would be scored even if you didn't finish. My main goal for the week had be complete, however, I knew that if I could somehow stay with the pack and score the leaders time, I'd likely move up onto the first page on General Classification. The officials finally gave the call - '7 laps to go'. The next 5 laps or so were fast. At one point a split in the field about 4 guys ahead of me occurred - luckily I felt ok enough at this point to put in a big turn of speed and leapfrog myself back onto the main pack, but I'm pretty sure a split in the field occurred at that point. Soon enough we were on the last lap and it was all bonus at this point. I kicked as hard as I could up the hill and ended up 20th on the day. Taylor finished well again and was able to secure a Top 10 finish in GC, which was our team's main objective entering the race. O'Boyle, who I was just happy to see on the start line, finished the day incredibly well after a tough wreck yesterday in the lead pack. Only 34 of the 100 starters would finish on the lead group's time, proving just how hard that course was. Again, our team did a fantastic job of putting up some good results: Taylor (9th @ 0:05 stg, 9th @ 0:39 ovr), Tyler (20th @ 0:05 stg, 33rd @ 2:03 ovr), Ryan (24th @ 0:05 stg, 53rd @ 5:28 ovr), Austin (45th @ 0:52 stg, 41st @ 2:34 ovr), Ben (64th @ 1:30 stg, 78th @ 31:28 ovr), Tom (70th @ 3:55 stg, 84th @ 53:22), Randy (79th @ 3:55 Stg, 83rd @ 49:42 ovr).
You see all those? Those are times behind every rider's name. Our team came down to the race with seven guys and crossed the finish line with seven guys. That's a huge accomplishment. Further, we ended up finishing 5th in the team classification (which can be found here
It was a great weekend of racing. The race itself is top notch. From being able to use the full roads without center-line in the P/1 and 1-2 fields to the quality of the numbers themselves, it felt like a professional race. It's a race I'll certainly do in the future and if you haven't done, you should do once. A huge thanks goes out to Kevin Whitford and Dean Warren for providing feeds and helping out the team a lot during those first few days of the race - very much appreciated. Anyways, probably one of the better starts to the season on the road our team has had in awhile. Looking forward to seeing how our team builds off of it for the rest of the year!