The Valley of the Sun Stage Race was a true timed stage race event consisting of a time trial, road race, and criterium. The race had separate P/1 and 2's fields so Jake, O'Boyle, and I tackled the P/1 event while Aaron, Austin, and Ben did the 2's race.
We showed up to the time trial in classic Bad News Bears fashion. Given our mismatching kits, our last minute thrown-on clip on bars, and whatever other aero equipment we could find we set out to ‘compete’ against a fully aero-legal field in the more-likely-trained-than-us southern portion of our country. The time trial course was roughly 14.5 miles long, which is among the longer individual efforts you’ll find to start off a stage race. One thing you can bank on if you use power and haven’t trained your time trial position is that your power numbers will not necessarily equate to your normal numbers when pushing in the aero position. My numbers looked a bit low, so I poorly decided to give it a little more gas and ended up paying for it on the back half of the course. I wasn’t used to pushing those numbers in that position. In the end, we all gave it a good effort, but none of us really posted a result—which was completely expected. O’Boyle actually posted a really good time given his setup (maybe even worthy of a top 20 result had he had a full aero setup). I think we were mostly relieved to have that effort behind us and were looking forward to the true tests coming up, particularly the road race the following day.
The road race for both fields was 95 miles long, seemingly matching the temperature outside (it was hot). We expected the course to be pretty flat with a little hill each circuit that with our YouTube reconnaissance looked like it might be an effort but not something to worry about. The first time we hit that hill, I can tell you it was something to worry about. It ended up being a roughly 3 mile ascent and at least for the last mile was at a concerning grade…the fresh legs in the peloton made sure we felt it. The feed zone was classically located right before the top of the climb, which is a seemingly nice place to put it as speeds are lower, except for the fact that that’s when the race is most on as you’re either attacking or struggling to stay in contact. Thankfully Ben’s brother Chase was in the feed zone for us throughout the day, but given the race conditions, it often was a challenge taking feeds as the decision to take one often meant that you were signing yourself up for a nice 60 second all-out effort afterwards to stay in contact. The P/1 race settled down afterwards. With about one lap to go, O’Boyle got caught behind a crash and put in a massive effort to catch back on while the race was at its hottest. As we approached the final climb, I felt relatively okay and Jake decided to move me up into position. I was placed right up near the front third of the field and Jake pulled off. The speed up the climb proved to be too much for me, and I just barely was able to hang on to the group until becoming detached near the finish. Always disappointing to not be able to deliver a result when a teammate did a ton of work for you, but it was super promising to be able to work that well as teammates in February, especially in the finale of a big P/1 road race. The 2’s race had a breakaway group get off the front and stay away. The course was great for Baker, who ended up coming up the climb 8th in the field (good for 19th), while Austin and Ben were right behind.
Sometime inbetween the road race and crit I assume Jake ate three bags of jelly beans, O’Boyle had a gallon of Dairy Queen ice cream, Baker Soda made two death-defying last minute four lane highway changes, Austin cooked all of the bacon, and I fell into a pool. But Ben made us all incredible recovery drinks, so we were ready.
The crit was fairly wide open as the course had a massive passing zone on the backside into a soft headwind. I don’t think we felt the need to get a result as a team, but I think it was understood that we wanted one. I felt great all race and focused on moving up through the pack from the halfway point on, finding several nice passing zones throughout the afternoon. I was able to position well late, but messed up the last 200m as I lost momentum exiting the final turn when I thought I was chopping someone as I was about to come out of my saddle to sprint, which made the finish more of a drag race for me. But I ended up finishing 16th in a good early season P/1 field which bodes well for the year ahead. After Jake, O’Boyle, and I finished, we got to kick back and watch the 2’s race, which was a nice scheduling surprise. They raced so well together. Aaron was off the front, then Austin was off the front, and sure enough Ben was in perfect blocking position each time. They raced smart, they raced aggressively, and just unfortunately nothing stuck. However Baker and Ben positioned well late, nabbing 10th and 15th place honors in the sprint.
It was a fun weekend getting our racing legs back under us. We had a lot of positive takeaways, and in the end it was absolutely a great first test event before a big season ahead.