John Garbo, our team sprinter, scheduled a Tuesday night red-eye flight out of Ontario in a rented mini-van and that began my trip to Bend Oregon for the 2014 Cascade Cycling Classic; a race I had barely heard of until this season. Teammate, Dakota Gracey, and our manager/racer, Rick Thomas, were meeting us there. This was the final stage race on our team’s aggressive race calendar which began in Arizona in February, went through New Mexico in May and included a few trips to Oregon this summer. Rick’s race schedule drew me to the team and was a key reason I asked to join Pacific Premier Bank (PPBI) in its opening season, and as a result I got to meet and race with a fantastic group of bike racers along the way. For each of us the races played out differently, presenting varying challenges and obstacles. At the same time it brought new-found skills and unforgettable experiences. Here is my view of the longest running stage race in America.
Stage one was the time trial and the main reason I wouldn’t be contesting the GC in my first stage race as a Cat 2. It was a 16 mile course, 9 miles out and back along a winding road with rollers that bit at the legs, and a strong wind that sapped the power. While warming up for the TT I was stung by a bee on my thigh, but didn’t think too much of it. The time trial was all about pacing for me. I needed to try not to lose too much time, but save some energy for the road race the next day. All things considered, I accomplished my goal and finished 79th, just over five minutes down. It wasn’t the best result but I did save something for the next day.
For Stage two the road race was 96 miles of fairly easy rollers, with a solid 10 mile climb to the finish. I was looking forward to this stage, a little worried about the distance, since it was going to be the longest race yet for me, but I was excited for a good hill top finish. There was one small problem. When I woke up my left thigh, where the bee had stung me, was now pinkish-red and swollen. I didn’t know if this was an allergic reaction or not, but decided not to worry about it until after the stage; I wanted to stay focused on the race. The first half of the race was tough, with a lot of attacks, and constant accelerations to bring back riders trying to break. The feed zones were absolute chaos! I was dodging bottles and riders trying to feed left and right. It didn’t help that the field would hammer through each feed zone. The last feed zone, just before the final climb, was taken at a much slower pace, but was riddled with crashes, one of which I had to dodge one handed, my other hand reaching for a bottle. I made it around the fallen riders safely but missed getting a bottle. When I began the final climb, I had three empty bottles along for the ride.
The climb started off pretty easy, a fast but steady pace being set for the first three or four miles. By the time we crested the first part of the climb half the field had been dropped, and I was now sitting in the top portion of what was left. For the next five miles I endured attack after attack, and an ever increasing pace. The field was knocked down to just 35 riders and as we came within the final mile I found myself well placed, feeling ready for an uphill field sprint. Unfortunately, as we came within the final 200 meters, there was a sharp left, one I didn’t know about, and I almost missed it. I turned late and was just able to make the corner, however, I was now the last rider of the remaining group. I began my sprint there and passed as many riders as I could in the final 150 meters. Just as I got near the line two riders crashed in front of me and I had to slow to squeeze past their tumbling bikes but managed to finish in 25th place with no time lost. Josh Ruiz, of Incycle-Predator, made a great effort in the final 200 meters, putting a Socal rider onto the podium with a 3rd place on the day. I was tired, sore, and had an itchy swollen left thigh, but was happy to finish with the lead group.
Going into stage three I was in a good amount of pain, my bee sting had gotten worse overnight, and I was sore from a tough two days already done, but still motivated to race on by a good result the day before. I had moved into 45th. The crit was a basic four corner rectangle with the first corner being somewhat narrow, but all in all it was a fairly easy course. The pace was fast and for the first four laps I dangled off the back, my left leg struggling to push the needed gear. By the fifth lap I was back in, and I did my best to sit out of the wind and save energy. With four to go I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling certain that I was not going to lose any time. My relief was premature. The first corner of the next lap hosted a crash right in front of me. I avoided going down, but ended up on the sidewalk, and had to stop, scoot passed a rider-less bike, and then begin to chase after the field as they powered on. I chased hard for those last laps, but never caught the field and lost nearly two more minutes.
The last day had come and I was glad to start the final stage, a hilly 67 mile circuit race with some steep grades. I managed the first lap with the field, but my left leg was still struggling to push down the pedal. The group hit each hill hard and the steep grades were sprinted over with ferocity. I lost contact with the field just as we started the second lap. I road that lap solo. I knew with my leg the way it was, I wouldn’t be able to finish the day, and so, as I passed the line, I gave the referee the signal for my pulling out. Back at the medical tent my swollen leg was wrapped with ice again and I sat waiting to see the finish of my field. The riders came flying up the last hill in a stream, strung out by the final push for the line. A small group of about 20 led the charge and I was glad to see another local Socal rider, Daniel Willett, of Monster Media Junior Development, with a solid finish in the lead group.
My final impression: the Cascade Cycling Classic was a hard race. The racers were fast, and the courses were hard. It was run well and supported excellently, with good wheel support, medical at every stage, and prompt result postings. I plan to come back to this race next year in spite of the bees with unusually powerful venom, and would recommend it to anyone looking for some tough days on the bike. Aside from the road race, my results were far from good, but I think as far as a learning experience goes, this was one of the best races.
By Chris Wyman, Pacific Premier Bank Cycling Team (PPBI)