Words by: Brendan Rhim
Race Report: Redlands Classic 2015 Stage 4 Criterium
A quick summary of earlier events in The Redlands Classic: I spent the last 8 laps of the Highland Circuit Race off the front by myself. The gap to the field was a maximum advantage of 1 min 55 seconds with about 15 km to go. I was caught with about 2km to go. My 17 year old teammate, Adrien Costa (California Giant Specialized) had great rides everyday and especially the Big Bear ITT and Yucaipa Road Race to hold 3rd overall and the White Amateur Jersey.
Stage 4 Criterium
The plan for my California Giant Specialized team in the criterium was twofold: 1. Protect Adrien’s GC spot and, 2. Have representation in the day’s breakaway.
As expected, the race started at a pretty furious pace. Apparently everyone else had been told to get to the front too! Just before the 30 min mark of the race I made a big push to get to the front of the field for a sprint point. I followed an attack by a SmartStop rider and went for the sprint points. Crossing the line I had a sizable gap to the field and 5 riders were coming across the split. The riders joining me were were Luis Amaran (Jamis Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home), Chris Riekert (Mikes Bikes p/b Equator Coffees), Ray Alexander (Silber Pro Cycling), Ulises Castillo (KHS Maxxis JL Velo), and Peter Disera (H&R Block Pro Cycling). Once we all settled in and began rotating smoothly the gap hovered at 25 seconds.
The bell was rung every 5 laps or so for cash primes and sprint points. My break mates seemed set on going for the cash primes and I gladly watched them sprint all out for them. When the point sprints came Amaran (Jamis) and Disera (H&R Block) battled me for position in the tight final three corners. During one point sprint Amaran (Jamis) jumped super early before 3 turns to go I was trapped third wheel coming onto the home-stretch and wasn’t able to come around. I quickly learned that if I wanted to win a sprint I would have to be second wheel or leading through the final 3 corners.
As we entered the final 10 laps the gap had dropped below 30 seconds. We could see Optum Pro Cycling driving the pace through the double sided pit and at this point I thought we would surely be caught.
At about 8 laps to go Riekert (Mikes Bikes) and Disera (H&R Block) hit the deck in turn one reducing the break momentarily to 4 riders. We came through the start finish seeing 5 to go and I expected the bell for a points sprint lap; but the officials were all over the place in some sort of confusion. We wouldn’t find out until after the race that the yellow jersey, Phil Gaimon (Optum), and nearly all the other GC contenders including Chris Horner (Airgas) had crashed the previous lap.
The officials were deciding whether or not the “free laps” were over or to give the crashed riders pack time because they were within the “grace point” in the race. (“the grace point” is when riders no longer lose time in the event of a crash in the final kilometers of a stage race)
Nobody in the break knew what had happened but the gap shot back up to 30 seconds; we knew we would be sprinting for the win. The last 4 laps were a blur. Nothing but screaming people, cowbells, burning legs, and the sudden realization that I had the opportunity to take home a win on one of the biggest stages of cycling in America.
On the last lap everyone took one last short pull and the looking games began.
We hit the final 5 turns; Travis McCabe (SmartStop) was quickly coming from behind. The first to panic was Castillo (KHS) from about 600m to go. I jumped into 3rd wheel. I knew that 3 corners to go was where the race would be won, so I sprinted for that corner like it was the end of the race. Foot down knee out through the final turns and Amaran (Jamis) was glued to my wheel, while the other 3 were gapped off.
Hitting the home stretch sprinting, I had the sun at my back, my shadow in front of me. And nothing behind me. I knew I had it. I hit the line, and put my hands up. Redemption at its finest: One second you are driving the break desperately trying to stay away from the field, the next you have your hands up in front of hundreds of cheering people.
I was excited to say the least.
Brendan Rhim lives in Norwich, VT.