Since the beginning of the season, I’ve been aiming at one goal. I was optimistic about my broken collarbone in Redlands, because it meant a stronger second half of the season when USA Cycling selects six U23 riders for L’Avenir (the most prestigious U23 stage race) and the World Championships. Yesterday they sent out the preselection of eleven. All eleven could and should compete, so it all comes down to Survivor Utah.
Tour of Utah: 6 days
Prologue: 2.8 miles
Geesh, 6 PM race starts make for a slow day. Breakfast, ride, movie, movie, movie… and no internet! So I’ll update as often as possible. As one of the last riders off, I watched rider after rider come across the finish looking like they just got strangled in a sauna. It was going to hurt. “I’m tasting blood” Bjorn said after his ride. The course was out and back, winding up and down a gradual hill. The effort was violent and over before I knew it. I’ve had a nagging cough for the past few hours. It could be the dry air, but I think I’m just allergic to prologues. Of the 160 starters:
Time for the real racing to begin.
Stage 1: 140 km
There are races with courses that intimidate everyone. When hardened pros who have raced the grand tours go on about the difficulty, you know it’s no joke. Tour of Utah is one of those. Today we faced two steep 10 km climbs. I wanted to avoid preemptive attacks and try to make the selection on the climbs, but before the first climb I found myself off the front with two other riders for 5 or 10 minutes. I thought they would let us go, but for whatever reason it came back. The majority of the field stayed together on the first climb, but on the other side there was a lot of attacking. I got excited and wasted energy attacking and closing gaps. Trying to watch Chris Jones, who notoriously makes the breaks, I often found myself in promising groups, but nothing would stick. Finally, Sam took off with an Ouch rider, and built up a 3:30 gap. BMC rode tempo to the base of the last climb. I battled to ride at the front but everyone was so bunched together that there was no space to move up. Every time someone tapped their brakes, I slipped back. Sevilla and Mancebo (two Rock Racing riders) attacked 5 km from the summit, and the field stretched as riders dropped off the back. As we approached 7500 ft elevation it was too much effort to jump around the groups of dropped riders. When TT specialist, Tom Zirbel, opened a gap in front of us, I had nothing left to close it, and we settled into a chase group. Sam held off the catch until the top of the climb, and wound up in the front group along with Bjorn and Julian. Tomorrow I’ll try to make some better luck for myself. Overall, the team is doing great, but I need to step it up if possible.
Stage 2: 130 km
The last 35 km of today were straight up a mountain climbing to 9000 ft. Since we lost time yesterday, Ryohei, Ryan, Jesse, and I tried to get into a break early on. When we missed the one that finally stuck, it was time to settle in and let Rock Racing ride the front until the climb. Starting the climb at the front was critical, because Rock was riding so hard on the early slopes. I surged up to the top 20 but got swept back 3 or 4 times. When the climb started, I was around 100 riders back, and for 2 km I worked to move up and help Bjorn. Finally in the top 50. In fact, there were already only around 50 riders left by now. All of the sudden, the pace seemed too fast. I was confused, until we went through a switchback and I almost wrecked. My rear tire was completely flat. I had to wait for neutral support, and then ride the grupetto to the finish. The climb was brutal, but the views on the way up were spectacular. I wish I was in a position to describe how Bjorn “manned up” and is now in a position to crack the top ten on GC. The other U23 riders here are proving their potential and the value of the various development programs we’ve been a part of.
Stayj Foor:… I mean Stage 4: 160 km 14000 ft of climbing
Thinking the best shot at a stage result was to get in the break, I went with the first move. It was a good combination of teams, and Rock was happy to let us escape. We settled into a rotation for the long day up to Snowbird Ski Resort. However, Garmin was determined to put someone in the move and brought us back on the first short climb. A new break formed and we waited for the first long climb. 30 riders split off the front. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable on the bike. My seat hurt. My feet and back hurt. I was dehydrated and hunger bonking. Axel’s thermometer read 116.6 degrees on the climb. My group was the largest on the road, but we still never went easy. On some of the descents we hit 65 mph. We tried joking around in the group, and shared a few laughs (anything is a welcome distraction) but on the final ascent I hit a wall, or a heat wave, or a 15 km 10% mountain. “Ooooh… he doesn’t look so good,” observed some of the spectators as I crawled past. I feel like a raisin. Days like this reduce your mental capacity to that of a six year old, but if you’ve just started reading these updates, I promise it isn’t always so wretched. Alex Howes won today (U23 road champ). Keep following and you’ll see the good days to come.
Someone caught these charades on the way up… It wasn’t so funny at the time.
Stage 5: 90 minute criterium
Flat, four corner, classic downtown crit course. 20 minutes into the race I had a mechanical. My rear hub locked up. I went to the pit and hopped on a spare bike, but had no time to adjust the position. I spent the next 45 minutes pedaling on my tiptoes, and then bailed out with a big chunk of riders at 25 minutes to go receiving a prorated time. Hoppin on a redeye tonight. The quicker I get out of Utah and forget about this race, the better. Next year we’ll be back and hopefully snickering at these updates.