San Dimas Stage Race, California, USA, March 18-20, 2005
Stage 1 - March 18: Glendora Chevrolet Time Trial, 3.8 miles
What happened to Symmetrics in the TT yesterday? Several of their riders got caught in a massive freeway traffic jam due to a jackknifed tractor-trailer rig. We also found ourselves held up, but with a little radical driving we exited to take surface streets and make it in plenty of time. We joked that Californian drivers mash the brakes and spin out if a car ahead uses their windshield wiper, thereby spraying the following car's windshield with a few drops. You'd think that with the tremendous rains of the past six months they'd all be getting used to wet weather driving by now.
Controversially, I chose to ride my Giant carbon fiber TT bike today. I'll never know whether it was the right choice; too many variables mean that I can't say it was faster than a road bike. For me, at 150 lbs and presenting a larger frontal area, it wasn't a bad choice. Scott Moninger weighs far less and he was convinced that "Eddy Merckx" style normal bike was better for him. He certainly smoked us all handily.
I overheard a competitor bragging about his teammate's fine ride and how if the course had been longer, the teammate would have done even BETTER! Woulda coulda shoulda. How about looking at it this way? Scott was putting 8 seconds a kilometer into you, buddy, and had the course been longer, you can just keep adding more of a deficit! Had the course been downhill, noted strongman and descender Svein Tuft would have dominated! A result is what it is.
Stage 2 - March 19: Incycle/Cannondale Road Race, 56/98 miles
We planned on riding hard tempo with six men today including myself (3rd overall) and Jones (4th overall). Can't get too greedy. If it means that Jones and I slip a few spots on GC then so be it. The organizers have instituted six huge intermediate time bonuses of 10 seconds to win each, and 20 seconds to win the race. I can't recall ever having done a race with such HUGE bonuses, but so be it. It'll make the race interesting for sure.
Rain and 55 degrees (F) greet us, and we're smiling back at Mother Nature. The mood of the peloton ranged from youthful enthusiasm to surly "this can't be SoCal!" annoyance. The majority of HN isn't youthful or ebullient, but every one of my teammates accepted the weather and went to work. It's another day at the office, and we're thankful to have the entire country as our workplace.
During the opening laps we tried to get a man in the break to suck up time bonuses, but after several failed attempts we let a small break go without representation. Several early breaks were killed by the numbers game. This is when several major teams each have a man in the move it looks to be going away. Then SOMEBODY decides- "well, I have a teammate up there already but what the heck, I'll go across TOO, giving us the advantage of two men in the break!" Only problem with this thinking is that everyone else isn't satisfied with being outnumbered, and every team fires another guy across. And HN certainly isn't going to let a move go with a dozen guys in it!
Danny Pate (Jelly Belly) and Davide Frattini (Colavita) attacked us pretty hard on the steepest 1 kilometer climb with under three laps to go. It was a sweet move but we didn't panic and remained in tight formation. I'd already tried to go bottom to top earlier in the race, and with the cold and resultant "hard muscles" it's a difficult proposition. Sure enough, they pretty much blew half way up and we settled into a rhythm behind. I groveled a bit over the false flat summit to get our speed back up, then recovered on the fast twisting descent. Slam down to the 53x12 and out of the saddle, bring our speed up to 55 kph, and I'm not worried at all. We'll get them on the long headwind stretch going to the start/finish area, as we do. Justin got ejected thanks to the acceleration. He was working his way up through the field a few kms later before somebody decided to have a yard sale for no apparent reason right in front of him through the feed zone. Our talented young climber hit the ground, but thankfully didn't exacerbate his back injury (sustained in Chile).
Needless to say we didn't see Justin again…the race was fully on and we needed to finish off the breakaway and fend off the advancing lead out trains of the other teams. Last time up the climb I tried to gap off Jones to force an opponent to chase a bit on the hill, but that didn't do anything but send me fifteen guys back. The legs are a bit dead now and I can't quite match the accelerations. Surprisingly the KOM sign comes quite soon and I realize that not only can I grit my teeth and fight off cramps but I'll make it over in the first group. On the false flat I get fired up and dig deep to repass everyone and take a few more turns for Gord, Chris and Scott. At 2 km to go I'm done for good and can only watch and hope from behind. I'm not going to be dropped but there is now a swirling mass of fresher riders going for stage honors just ahead of me. Gord seems to be boxed in a bit but as the real sprint goes out of my view I know that his massive experience is going to play well today. It's deceptively long to the finish line, slightly uphill, and patience is key no matter how close that banner looks. I wished that I wasn't cooked because a nice straight wide sprint like this is custom tailored to my abilities. As the announcer screams "Health Net wins!" I'm relieved and pleased, not so some of my competitors nearby who use four letter curses to express their frustration. Hey guys, I spent years resenting the dominance of Mercury and Saturn in their days. And that dominance went on ALL season. The NRC calendar has just begun, and while I hope that we can put together that kind of year, we're taking nothing for granted.
Team Advantage Benefits / Endeavor and Webcor both put up good fights today. Webcor worked tirelessly for their on-form Charles Dionne, while AB/E's Karl Menzies only needs a few time bonuses to move onto the overall podium. Who is Menzies anyway? He's AB/E's new Australian acquisition, coming off the Down Under season with top form. We've nicknamed him TEN-Menzies. His team is overflowing with enthusiasm and they've all worked very hard with preseason Arizona training to be where they are now. Good on them, to use an Australian expression. Unfortunately for the peloton, us HN boys have also put in a tremendous amount of work! I've never trained this much before, and I think it's showing. I'm stoked with going from 17th in the TT last year to 3rd this year.
Aaron Olson (Colavita) and Eric Wohlberg (Symmetrics) certainly didn't roll over after our Stage 1 TT domination either. Eric attacked relentlessly until he finally got away and then racked up huge time bonuses on the road. Their break was always doomed be caught, since we thankfully have the horsepower to roll a small tired breakaway back without too much trouble.
Some observers may think we blew it today as Ben Brooks (Jelly Belly), Menzies, and Wohlberg all made big gains and tightened the GC up considerably. However, with Gord's stage win he also moved up a bunch on the overall. We did the right thing and rode our best to defend first place. Whatever we can score in the minor placings below will be a bonus.
Tomorrow it's supposed to be 60 degrees (F) and partly sunny. Perfect timing; the future of the race depends on spectators coming out for what the organizers call the Grand Finale. My allergies/head cold are definitely worse after today but I'll suck it up and have a ball on the tough six-corner course. If you got to this point, thanks for reading!
Racer's note: The SDSR race manual states several times "NO public urination". Some organizers will tell you this is the number one hurdle they face when trying to renew in an otherwise cool venue. We cyclists are generally law abiding doctors, lawyers, college students, firemen, whatever, and don't view ourselves as doing anything wrong. The term "public urination" brings to mind some dirty old man opening his trench coat and flashing families. Cyclists spend 2 to 6 hours a day on the road training, and in America public toilets are few and far between. Gas station facilities are often for customers only, and often training routes don't pass many of those. So whizzing in the bushes or on a lonely country road is perfectly natural to us. At five minutes to start when you suddenly realize your bladder is full AGAIN, and there is a long line for the porto potty at a busy downtown venue, it's not much of a stretch from our normal training habits to find what seems like a private bush or fence to pee on. Only it turns out to not be as private as you thought, and unbeknownst to you, the appalled resident angrily calls the City Councilors on Monday. We wonder what the fuss is about, like; "why was the prude looking, huh?" We all know the USA is different than the laissez faire attitudes of other countries. So I'll try to change my habits right now.
Email John at firstname.lastname@example.org