Redlands has been one of the most prestigious weeklong races on the American Pro Road Circuit for the past 30 years. The entire Redlands community comes out in full force to welcome and support this race. It’s more than just a bicycle race; it is a tradition for the families and community of Redlands. The race is only five days long, however the quality of field and the difficulty of courses lead to a very selective race by the end of the week. Just like in any race, each rider has to set their own definition of success and tries to accomplish it. For some, it is winning or placing high on the results page and for others it is to help a teammate get that high finishing. When racing at this level, success for most of the amateurs in the field is just surviving to the end. For some of those amateurs, Redlands will have been the largest race they have done to date. Racing with the SoCalCycling.com Elite Team, this is the case. We were the local elite amateur team invited to this prestigious race. With a pretty young team, (four of us under 23) this would be the largest and hardest race so far for many of our riders. Making it through the heat, hills, crosswinds, crashes, and misfortune was the daily goal with the ultimate hope of racing into the sunset on the final stage.The first stage this year was a short undulating time trial in the open space between Redlands and the foothills of Big Bear. The weather was warm and the air was dry which led to quick times on the day. The first half of the course was a gradual uphill that kicked up a bit before the turnaround which meant the way back was fast and slightly downhill. Time trials are called the race of truth for a reason as there is nowhere to hide. The form you have is shown very quickly on the results page. Four of our guys, Callum Gordon, Chase Goldstein, Jason Cianfrocca and I, all had decent rides and finished about mid-pack on the day. Nothing superb about finishing in 100th place, but with the quality of field it is also nothing to be ashamed about. With recovery being the most important step after the race every day we headed home as soon as we could to prepare for the next day.
Stage two was a road race that navigates around Yucaipa and ended at the top of the notorious Oak Glen climb. This would be considered the Queen Stage of the week. The race does a hilly 14 mile circuit six times and then would finish by climbing about 12 miles into the mountains that look over Yucaipa and Redlands. This day would be all about getting through the heat, as the average temperature during the race was in the mid 90s. A breakaway escaped in the first 10 minutes of the race and, due to the sweltering temperatures, the field was content with the composition of the break after the first of six laps was completed. The heat allowed the race to be controlled nicely by Jelly Belly who had Serghei Tvetcov in the leader’s jersey. For the rest of the day the entire field was just preparing for the hard uphill finish. In that type of heat the largest priority is to stay as hydrated as possible so cramping doesn’t occur. As we got closer to the finish, the speeds increased and the breakaway was caught on the sixth and final lap of the circuits, before we headed upwards to the finish. I was dropped just as we finished the last lap and found a small group of five or six guys to ride with the rest of the way to the finish. The time cut on this stage was ten percent of the winner’s time which equates to about 25 minutes. About 50 riders didn’t finish within the time cut or had to abandon the stage. Unfortunately many of the guys on my team struggled with the heat, in conjunction with the speed, and didn’t quite make the cut. Just Callum, Chase, and I would continue onto the next day. After a grueling day two, the 200 man field was already down to 150.
Stage three was a shorter 20 lap circuit race in Highland with a hill like a wall in it. The finish was at the top of this “wall” and once over it we would plunge down a fast decent at 45mph into a neighborhood with quite a few twists and turns until we made our way back through the feed zone and onto the hill once more. Just as usual, the first three or four laps were blazing fast as a breakaway tried to establish. Once this happened, Team Holowesko/Citadel, the team of race leader TJ Eisenhart, controlled the pace which was steady until about 5 laps to go when the pace started to quicken to catch the break. My legs started to fail me in the last couple laps and I ended up coming unhitched from the back of the dwindling peloton with two laps to go. Callum on the other hand still had some spring in his legs and rode to a top 20 on the day. Again, we had survived another day and would recover that evening to prepare for the criterium that followed.
Stage four is an iconic downtown criterium in the heart of Redlands; with nine corners and 140 riders this was going to be a fast and hard crit! The streets were lined with spectators and every corner café was packed with people enjoying their afternoons at the Classic. Weather was much more welcoming than the prior days as the temperature had dropped close to 40 degrees since stage 2. I was hoping my legs would be good and that I could get up there in the end, however with the prior few days of heat and hills my legs didn’t have the snap in them that I wanted. Again, the speeds were high until a breakaway was formed and had a decent gap. The break was fairly large, 8 or 9 guys I believe, and it wasn’t going to come back. With this scenario, in combination with my less than stellar legs, I made the decision to ride conservatively to the finish. With the breakaway synching up the win, we rolled in to the finish of stage four and looked towards the sunset.
Stage five, the Sunset road race, is one of the most legendary races in the United States. The atmosphere before the start is complex. For some riders it is extremely stressful as this is the last day to get a result or to keep their high GC place. For others it’s relieving as they have met the goal in starting the last day of the weeklong race. The weather had made a 180 degree shift from the beginning of the week as it was a pretty cold day with some rain and eventual hail. The stage starts off in the same downtown square that the crit took place in the evening prior and rolls out towards a relentlessly undulating circuit just outside of downtown Redlands. The speeds are high from the gun and the pack drag races to the start of the circuits, everybody jostling for position. Immediately as the first circuit is started the road kicks up and the speed stays high. Gaps start to open up as there are some tired legs in the less than 140 man peloton. The peloton starts whittling itself down very quickly and within a few laps 30-40 guys have already been dropped. I was one of those guys that came off pretty early but stuck it out until I was given a pro-rated time. The Sunset road race is such a hard race that typically only 20 guys actually pass over the finish line and the rest are given a pro-rated time as they don’t finish the entire length of the race. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for longer so I don’t know what unfolded in the race, but I’m sure it was a grueling finish to the weeklong event for the few guys that completed the day.
With Redlands Classic over with I am just glad to be able to say I was there every day and the experience I have gained from a race like that is so valuable toward the rest of my racing career. I am grateful for Socalcycling.com and all the sponsors who support the Team that give me opportunities to race my bike at this level. With Redlands now in the rearview mirror I look toward the rest of the season of racing my bicycle across the country.
SoCalCycling.com Team Sponsors:
SoCalCycling.com, Jenson USA, Voler Apparel, Caravan Canopy, Clif Bar, FSA, Union Sport, ROL Wheels, TRP Brakes, KMC Chains, Fuji Bicycles, Julbo, Larsen’s Restaurants and Forze.
Report by Quinten Kirby, SoCalCycling.com Team
Photos © Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com