Today would be our first real test on who was riding well and who would be the guys to watch out for here at Redlands. On tap for the day was a circuit which we would do 6 times, and following the sixth time around the circuit we had a 9km climb. Last year was the first year for this race and they only did five laps. Depending on who you talked to it was tough or easy and basically all coming down to the final climb. All in all, it would be a 90 mile race with just under 10,000 feet of climbing. The best part of today though was that it was overcast and in the 60’s. Basically ideal temperature and after going through what we had to do yesterday I think it’s safe to say that everyone was more then happy with the conditions.
But lets get to the racing. We started our race at the top of the circuit, so the first half was basically downhill with some flat spots in between but more or less down. We made it through the first corner which was a plus after what happened yesterday and then the attacking began. All the attacking on the descent just made for a fast start as nothing was getting away. Once we hit the bottom we started our gradual climb back up to the top and attacks kept flying. Nothing was sticking as everyone seemed to want to be in the break which allowed for a good hard steady pace up the climb. About three quarters of the way up a decent size group got up the road and I followed a move to bridge across as I noticed Squire was there as well. This was a fairly large group with maybe 20 riders present and being that we were just completing the first lap, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be the move. So I just sat towards the back. Once we hit the descent the field reabsorbed us and the attacks started again. About half way down the course there is a good steep kicker of about 200 meters and Robin attacked up it basically splitting another large group of about 20 riders off the front. There must have been a hesitation after this gap opened because they opened a fairly large gap pretty quickly. Coming up the climb back towards the top, the field started to slow down as everyone was checking to see what the case was with who was up in the group. We were looking good at the moment as we had Robin, Mac, Andz, and Travis present up there. Heading into the third lap, Jelly Belly went to the front as they noticed that they missed sticking one of there riders in that move, and with the horsepower present from most other teams they couldn’t let that move go up the road. For the next lap (3rd lap), Jelly Belly rode the front at a good tempo with the goal to bring them back before it was gone. We came into the 4th lap and they were still out there. Once we hit the climb back up to the top we could see them in front of us and it was around this time that Robin who was in the break saw that we were coming and he attacked the break drawing 4 other riders with him. Towards the top of the climb we caught the large group and the new break of 5 riders with Robin present were free to keep going. At this point we were on our fifth lap and Jelly Belly came off the front and the team leading (Team Jamis), moved to the front to ride the next couple laps.
This was a somewhat challenging course, but with the real race being that final 9km climb, I worked on saving as much energy as I could throughout the race. I would work on being at the front of the field going into the climb and during the climb I would slowly sit up and move towards the back until I was one of the last riders still with the group going over the top, and then use the descent to move back towards the front. I worked on this every lap until we finally completed 5 laps and we were on our last lap, time to race. I joined with my teammates and we went to the front to hold position on the descents as we knew it would be lined out going up the climb to the final climb. We did a great job at keeping everyone up front and once we crested the top of the circuit we had about 5km of flat/rolling terrain to the left hand turn which would take us up the final 9km climb which averaged at 8%. We started today with around 180 riders and I would say about half made it into the group which would be going into the final climb together. I really tried to take it easy here and not spend too much energy in the wind or fighting to be on the front as I knew we still had about a 20 minute effort ahead of us and it would be not too hard to move to the front on the climb. Once we started the climb I hovered in the top 20 or so as teams rode the front to whittle the group down. We had a tail wind going up the climb, so it made for a pretty fast ascent and also made it just slightly more difficult. Once we got to 5km to go there were maybe 30 riders left and Robin was still out front solo from the break. With 4km to go riders started to look at each other as to who would be the first to hit out with the attacks. Looking over the results last year there were pretty big time gaps, but this year the race added another lap to the circuit and with how hot & hard yesterday was I think most of the riders were a bit more tired and less explosive. The first attack came from just over 1 km out and at this point we just caught and passed Robin. Another slight lull in the group, but once 1km to go came the group basically fell apart with riders attacking or getting dropped. As everyone broke apart, I did my best to give that last little dig and crossed the line with 4 others to finish 12th on the stage at 11 seconds down on the win.
A decent so so result on the day and I was more happy that I didn’t lose too much time. I was just missing that final punch, which I know will come around with some more racing, but at least I was at the front end of the race and not going out the back. The GC also changed quite a bit after today, but the team rode strong and the Holowesko / Citadel Team has 3 riders in the top 20 and the team is leading Team GC which is always nice. Tomorrow we have a Time Trial, so it’ll be another shake up. ‘Til then.
Jon Hornbeck, rides professionally for the Holowesko | Citadel Racing Team p|b Hincapie Sportswear Team and is also is the owner of Spandex Stampede Cycling Fundo Events. You can follow Jon on social media at @JonHornbeck.
Photo courtesy Jon Hornbeck