Over the course of this season, Tricia Bailey had been talking to a few regional competitors at some of the tougher races in the Northwest about their plans for the Cascade Cycling Classic. Cascade is known for long, hot, dry stages that are crazy to undertake without team support. Tricia began thinking that if she could put a team together with some of these girls she usually races against, they could be competitive.
After quite a few emails the team started coming together. When Michael Engleman of the USWCDP agreed to be the director, they knew they were going to have a great chance at a great race. The team consolidated regional racers with some USWCDP girls, plus one who raced with Tricia and Michael at Nature Valley. The women that came together to form the Wines of Washington (WOW) team for the Cascade Cycling Classic were Ally Stacker, Annie Malouin, Gillian Moody, Leah Guloien, Tricia Bailey, Alisha Welsh, Amity Elliot and Lindsay Meyers.
Stage one began on July 21 with the Smith Rock Road Race. The sun was intense and the temperature was high. Hydration and nutrition were going to be the biggest challenges over the next six days and everyone wanted to get off to a good start. The course took in some beautiful scenery. However, most of the racers were too busy with their eyes on the kits ahead or anxiously looking down to grab a water bottle to enjoy the view. The stage rolled along at a reasonably relaxed pace until the end of the stage loomed.
Unfortunately, just before the racing really started, Tricia and Amity went back to get a caravan feed. Although an experienced feeder, Tricia’s reactions were too slow either from dehydration or boredom and she was punished for letting the peloton get too far ahead. Even working together, they were never able to close the gap. They lost more than four minutes and effectively destroyed their chances for high overall results. The lapse in concentration would leave them to focus on the teams result. The finish was flat for the sprinters and the WOW girls tried to hang on to wheels. It was good to get the first day under the belt and open the legs up for the five to come.
Stage two was the Three Creeks Road Race and the racers travelled north from Bend to Redmond, rolling through the lush farmland that borders the eastern flank of the Cascade Range. The town of Sisters is where the climbing started for the day. It was a long, steady climb that made its way up to the finish at Three Creeks Snow Park, with beautiful views of the North and Middle Sister Mountains along the way. Early in the race, Lindsay Meyers impressed her teammates by covering a ton of moves. Tricia Bailey would cover intermittently, but said afterwards that Lindsay had put in an incredible effort. Tricia called back to teammates for help figuring that the magic couldn’t continue forever. The team showed up and covered, but somehow a well-represented break went off without us. Over the radio, Michael Engleman told us that all of the big teams had a strong rider in the break - all of them except Wines of Washington.
Michael told us to wait for a bit and see how big the gap was going to grow. When the breakaway were three minutes ahead of the peloton, Michael instructed all of the WOW girls - except for the climbers - to get on the front of the peloton and work with the other, smaller teams to close the gap. Except for the occasional representative, we didn’t really see any of the smaller teams up front. Tricia pointed out to Lindsay that this was a heck of a punishment for not having missed the move: Never, never, never let it happen again. In spite of intentional interruptions from one of the other teams, we worked well enough to whittle the gap to the leaders down to just one minute before we started the final climb of the day.
From here our climbers, Alisha Welsh, Gillian Moody and Ally Stacker took over and stayed near the front as the breakaway was swallowed up on the final climb. A few of us were cooked from our time on the front and were dropped as the general classification riders fought it out out. With the effort up front, we had not been as focused about eating and drinking as we should have and we knew it would hurt as the pack spread and the opportunity for feeds disappeared. We were already past our soigneur Elliott in the feedzones, who would spend his entire day so that we might have a chance at a feed when we came through. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about our individual GC positions, it was about how we raced as a team and everyone did their job. Michael was pleased with us and other racers let us know they were impressed with our efforts.
Stage three was the Skyliners Time Trial and it was two miles longer than the previous year at 18 miles. There was a headwind on the way out which made it difficult to keep the pressure on the pedals; however, the way back was fast. The biggest challenge of the time trial was manoeuvring on the rough and bumpy road. The surface saw racers curse their saddles and hold onto tightly to their bars. Alisha Welsh had the pressure of Michael in the follow car, but came through with a great ride.
This was the first race for Alisha to ride with a full team and a directeur sportif. She was in a tough position to be the GC rider and felt a lot of responsibility when she knew her teammates had buried themselves so that she was relatively rested and ready to climb. She handled the pressure well, gave it her all, and was a gracious, fun teammate to have in the team. Most of the rest of the team were less excited with their TT results. Everyone took it as a learning experience and went home to the house to dissect where they went wrong and where to improve….as athletes tend to do after most races!
Speaking of our accommodation, we had one central house, with a large garage for the bikes, that we used as a base. Most of the girls and Michael stayed at various host housing locations nearby (Cascade has particularly nice host housing). Testament to Tricia’s planning efforts, we actually had 2 teams that were using the same small house as a base. The house was walking distance to the recovery river, riding distance to the start most days (Cascade and Bend is great for logistics in general) and walking distance to food, town and any entertainment we could muster energy to get involved in. Imagine the attention we got from the neighbours with 16 girls, typically in bike kits or swim suits, and 32 fancy (perfectly maintained) bikes. Bend is notable in its attention to the race. Often in other towns, people don’t even know a race is happening. In Bend, they know the day’s stage, course details and most likely the top competitors. Most folks were extremely tolerant, some were pretty excited to see us coming and others were pretty happy to see us leave.
Stage four, the Cascade Lakes Road Race, started in Wanoga. Because of their GC position after an incredible TT, Michael told us that Tibco was going use all of their fire power to drill it from the gun and to be ready to be in every attack. No more chasing down the break: we must cover. Sure enough, Tibco took off at the gun and thankfully Annie Malouin, who was always well positioned, made the early break which stayed away for about half of the race. Once Annie’s break was pulled back in, Tricia was able to cover the next and Leah, Ally, Lindsay and Amity continued to cover when she got back.
Gillian and Alisha, supported by Annie (who recovered instantly from her time in the break) and Amity were sticking together and maintaining good position. The WOW girls were all relieved that they didn’t miss the break again. The race was hard and aggressive. There were attacks and counter-attacks continuously which made it difficult to drink and eat. The day was long, hot and again finished with several miles of climbing. The climbing wasn’t as steep as the second stage; however, fatigue from multiple days of racing was making any climb seem more taxing.
Stage five was the downtown criterium also known as the mini-Tour de France. The people in Bend, Oregon were out in full force in the thousands so excited to be watching the races. Leah and Gillian met the super fan of the day who could barely stay in her seat, she really wanted to see Floyd Landis win. The criterium was four corners, flat and fast with the 3rd corner causing a bit of a bottleneck. Going into the criterium Alisha was the GC rider who need to get pack time to hold her overall position and the teams’ hopes were on Tricia for a stage placing.
Tricia had pointed out before the race that Alisha was not positioned well at the start – the race before the race - but was too worried about her own race to actively do anything about it. The race started from the gun, so positioning was key. The peloton was strung out the entire race and made it challenging to move up (Tina Pic never seems to have trouble, but I do). We didn’t come up with a stage win and Alisha won’t ever line up at the back of another crit. We were a bit unhappy by our overall showing as a team, but all 8 of us were still in the race, which is more than most of the smaller teams could claim. So we shook it off and looked forward to the hardest day of all.
Stage six was the Aubrey Butte Circuit Race and it started mid-day which made the heat once again a big challenge. It is a super hard race, but it is a chance to throw in all you have and do something to distinguish the team. Alisha, Ally and Gillian were out of the money and probably too far back to get into top 20. At the start of the stage Ally was the only rider in a money position. She was in 3rd in the Best Young Rider competition. It is a tough category with some of the top racers in the field including Julie Beveridge and Rebecca Much, both on full contracts with pro teams, plus a few others coming up closely behind.
Amity got a chance to show herself off as she covered an early break that stayed away for most of the race. Ally was in the front of the pack, racing aggressively and things were going well for her. Then, suddenly, she was on the left side of the pack, slowing and we heard her on the radio: her shifter wasn’t working. She needed another bike. We had a second bike on the car, but it wasn’t set up for Ally. Tricia slid to the back to see if Michael could come up with a solution. With none of the neutral support vehicles around, there was no replacement bike for Ally. She rode the rest of the race on her own with one gear, while the rest of us rode on in the pack.
It is a very difficult team race and most people are left to do what they can on their own or at best, convince the people with them to work together to catch the small group ahead. In the end, no stage podiums, no top 20 GC, no top-3 young rider. Nonetheless we did have a great experience, made new friends, and I am pretty sure any one of us would jump at the chance to race together again.