Ben Jacques-Maynes is pedaling in his 14th and last professional road season, the culmination of a career defined as much by versatility and longevity as it has been by victories.
Now in his third season with Jamis-Hagens Berman, Jacques-Maynes has won prologues, individual time trials, team time trials, criteriums and more than 50 races as a pro. But beginning May 10 he'll compete in the Tour of California as the only rider to start all of the race's 10 editions. He's finished eight times while riding for three different teams.
As much as any event in his career, the TOC has allowed the now 36-year-old rider to showcase his skills in his home state. It's also the event four years ago in which the lingering effects of crash put his life in jeopardy.
"The Tour of Georgia was like the first big resurrection of cycling in the United States," Jacques-Maynes said. "The biggest stars in the sport at the time. It was Lance Armstrong but also Mario Cipollini and all the big European stars were coming back to America. I think the promoters saw that as an opportunity to bring it to California and take it to the next level.
"Coming into 2006, there was already a lot riding on the Tour of California. But at the time it was in February and it was going to be a training race and a spectacle for the Europeans. Still, from the first prologue going up Telegraph Hill, it absolutely fulfilled its promise. The crowd was there and there was a buzz in the peloton."
After finishing 24th overall in 2006, Jacques-Maynes was third a year later in the TOC prologue, five seconds behind winner Levi Leipheimer. As he's throughout his career, he's excelled as a climber, stage tempo rider and a team rider, often getting stage and race KOM honours.
But in 2011 TOC, a crash in the long fifth stage from Seaside to Paso Robles provided Jacques-Maynes' departure from the race with a fractured collarbone. A subsequent staph infection required a second surgery, followed by months of recovery in what he described as a "life-altering medical intervention."
"It was a nothing crash somewhere in the Salinas Valley near King City," Jacques-Maynes recalled. "Some guys were grabbing water bottles. One guy was drinking water right in front of me and hit a bump, lost his handlebars and fell straight on his face. His bike reached out and grabbed me and I crashed. I landed on my shoulder and I knew it was broken straight away.
"It was a pretty serious infection with five months of antibiotics, intense home nursing visits. Somehow I put it back together and started racing again. At the end of 2012, I ended up winning the King of the Mountain jersey at the Tour of Utah."
Last August, after taking the lead of the KOM competition on stage 1 in the USA Pro Challenge, Jacques-Maynes announced this season would be his last. He surprised himself when he won the overall KOM title. That accomplishment and the break between seasons allowed the father of two to fully access his pending retirement and reiterate his decision several years ago not to pursue his career with a WorldTour team.
"You gotta stop at some point," he said. "I am racing against guys who were born the year I graduated from high school. For the past several years, I've reached a point when I am not progressing. I am fighting tooth and nail to hold onto to what I have. It's the ability to perform at the highest level when the opportunity presents itself. I can still put out top performances. But it's a matter of do I get to do anything new or stimulating?
Last year, Jacques-Maynes raced in Mexico for the first time in his career. He said he "put his hand up to go" for a new experience. But he's also looking forward to further raising his family while his wife expands her business. He doesn't regret not moving to Europe, although there was interest.
"At the time, we had just had our son and my wife was in chiropractic school," he recalled. "We would have had to uproot everything. I didn't sound that interesting to her. I didn't sound that interesting to me.
"And at that time, I had heard hints of the state of cycling in Europe and now the Reasoned Decision and Floyd's (Landis) story and Tyler's (Hamilton) book, I am so happy I didn't go over there. I would have absolutely been in the mix of everything that was described in those horror stories. I had a feeling about it, but I had no hard evidence.
"I remember having some talks with Levi about maybe living in Gerona and that there may be this opportunity, but he didn't say anything about the whole dark side. When all of that came out, I didn't have any hard questions to answer from my kids. I had questions from them, but I had good answers for them. They asked, ‘Why is USADA coming to the house all the time and taking your blood?' I said because other people cheat."
Following the Tour of California, Jacques-Maynes hopes to again compete at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge. His team may have the opportunity to compete in the team time trial on home soil at the Richmond World Championships this September.