Redlands Bicycle Classic. The name evokes flashing images of an enormous pack of cyclists snaking through urban neighborhoods, legs freshly shaved, their fitness a culmination of a long winter’s work, and a distinct nervousness buzzing in the air.
Unfortunately for myself, I suffered some knee issues the week prior at San Dimas, compounded with a stubborn bronchitis induced by the pollen raging through the NorCal air, so after taking the week off leading up to Redlands, getting my legs shaved was a mere afterthought at 11pm the night before stage 1. Luckily though, I could sense that my Cal Giant/ Specialized teammates were ready to wreck some serious havoc on this race, and I wasn’t about to let any health issues get in the way.
Our plan heading into the first stage was simply to stay attentive for breakaways and set up our sprinters for the finish. After Ansel Dickey nabbed second in the first intermediate sprint, Brendan Rhim launched off the front first with 3 others; then alone, for the last 8 laps of the race. As we hit the hill lap after lap, we could see Brendan cresting it, and although the pace was increasingly unrelenting in the pack, he was not getting any closer! Finally, with 2 laps to go, the Hincapie Racing Team and Jamis Hagens Berman p/b Sutter start to panic, leaving it almost too late; catching Brendan with only a few kilometers to go.
In the crazy lead up to the finale, we did our best to be in position, but I could only manage 28th, the team’s best result for the day.
The TT at Big Bear must have the worst driving time to racing time ratio of any race in the US. The 2hrs of driving each way take almost a bigger toll than the 15min effort itself, but we headed up the mountain early to have a stress free afternoon.
I was really looking forward to this TT, being my first since I tweaked my position on the Shiv at the Specialized Wind Tunnel, and was hoping to better my 49th place from last year. The time trial itself was a blur; I vaguely remember some wind, some ferocious spinning of my junior gearing, and a fair bit of coasting! It’s a fun course, with the series of tight turns before the turnaround, and it was over much more quickly than I expected. In the end, I managed 17th place, shaving 30 seconds off my time from last year, and putting me in the top 10 overall as well as in best amateur’s jersey.
After the time trial, we made an obligatory stop at the North Pole Fudge Shop in Big Bear. My teammates introduced me to fudge for the first time, and all I can say boys is that I think I’ll stick to croissants.
Along with the TT, I was really looking forward to stage 3 and the summit finish atop Oak Glen. I hear the pace was fast in the first 70 miles, but I was so focused, and so well protected by my teammates, that it was a breeze. Seriously, it felt almost too easy to have bottles and food brought up to you as well as not having to stick my nose in the wind to move up. Thanks guys.
As we turned onto the final 5 mile climb, Optum hit the front hard, and we cruised up the first ramps at 20 mph. Quickly the group was down to 15 or so, and Phil Gaimon (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies) only had Mike Woods left, who undoubtedly sensed there was still a good 5km to go and slowed down quite a bit.
I decided to take a chance and slip off the front, hoping that a bit of a stare-off between the likes of Horner (Safeway-Airgas), Gaimon and others would ensue. I was joined by Gregory Brenes of Jamis, and we rolled well, but Woods upped the pace back up, and I decided not to force the issue. Rolling up the rest of the climb, I didn’t want to be the one to take the initiative especially with Woods still in the mix for Gaimon, and I wasn’t alone.
Looking around and realizing the elevated company I was climbing with quieted the screaming legs and was, quite frankly, a really cool experience. Attacks only flew within the last kilometer, with Gavin Mannion (Jelly Belly) going, followed by Gaimon. I waited on Horner’s wheel for a response, but when there was none, I surged hard into the last 800m with Woods and Brenes on my wheel. I had the duo in sight, but wasn’t able to claw them back. Brenes popped, Woods jumped past me at 50 meters to go, and I finished 4th, 14sec behind Phil and right behind Woods and Mannion.
Overall I couldn’t help but be stoked on the day’s work!
After a nice breakfast-taco seeking morning spin, we headed into the crit eager to defend my 3rd overall and grab a result on the stage with one of our many hitters! This crit is notoriously technical, with its multiple 120+ degree turns, and I was content to float in the first 30 wheels all day.
About 30min into the race, I remember seeing Brendan fly by me and quickly get out of sight in the front of the field… then I didn’t see him again. We motored along, busting out 30mph laps, and looking up at the Start/Finish I could see there was a break holding 30 seconds up the road! I had no idea how that was even possible at this speed. After another hour of dizzying laps eventfully filled with crash dodging and gap closing, the strung out field hit the finish and I heard “Brendan Reeeeeeemmm!” booming on the announcer!!! As an amateur development team, it’s a huge result to get a win at a race of this calibre, and morale was extremely high heading into the infamous Sunset Road Race.
Dubbed one of the hardest road stages in American cycling, the Sunset Loop strikes fear in the heart of all cyclists, and we were determined to defend the green and white jerseys, and 3rd overall, we had fought for all week. After Brendan sealed the deal on the sprinter’s jersey at the sprint point 1km into the stage, the boys did a fantastic job keeping me out of trouble on the very physically, and mentally trying circuits.
Slowly the group was whittled down, and slowly I realized I was not on the best of days. Hanging on best I could on the closing laps, I was extremely thankful once we plunged back into downtown Redlands… almost too much so. A moment’s inattention and a gap opened up on the gradual descent, and I struggled to spin back into the group at 45mph. The 5 crit laps at the end lasted an eternity, but after 95 miles of racing, I had done enough to conserve 3rd overall.
It took a solid half hour of sitting down, panting, coughing, and pizza gorging after the stage to feel ready enough to stand up, let alone get to the podium. It was an honor to share the final GC podium with two such renown riders as Gaimon and Mannion, as well as being able to represent Cal Giant with my teammate Brendan with the white and green jerseys!
We really couldn’t have imagined this week going much better, and it just goes to show how powerful teamwork and cohesion can be. I’d also like to thank our wonderful host family, the Cal Giant staff, without forgetting Specialized, Sram, Cuore, Oakley, and all our other wonderful sponsors for giving us that winning edge!
Adrien Costa lives in Los Altos, CA.