Thursday, July 23, 2009

World-Class July Stage Race... In Oregon!?

It's late July - which means there's a big stage race well underway. An assortment of World and National champions, Grand Tour winners, and a fresh crop of up-and-coming talent leaving everything they have out on the roads. Today features a crucial, hilly time trial, followed by a mountainous road race, and finishing up with a circuit race on Sunday.

Sound familiar? Well, it aint the Tour de France! It's the 6-stage Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon, and I'm slugging it out with some of the best cyclists outside of France right now. Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla, Victor Hugo Pena, Freddie Rodriguez, Floyd Landis, and Ivan Dominguez may be the most recognizable names pushing the pace, but the next generation of superstars are impressively strutting their stuff as well. Young guys like Peter Stetina, Danny Summerhill, and Taylor Phinney as well as the entire Garmin U25 and Livestrong development teams are holding their own against the old guard. Throw in the top domestic pro talent as well as a slew of amateurs and you have the best - and biggest - ever field for this event.

A Hot, Fast "Union Race"

The heat wave that hit us at the Boise Twilight crit has followed us here. Temps are well into the 90s this week, unusual for this mountain town.

The first stage was a 70-mile, mostly flat road race. The 190-man peloton zig-zagged through farm roads surrounding Bend, with sections of the course featuring a lot of slowing and reaccelerating through bendy roads and corners after corners. I kept waiting for a crosswind section to shred the field around the next corner, but it never happened.

The night before the first stage, many of the team directors seemed to be conspiring at the manager's meeting. Something was up, and the amateur teams were clearly being excluded. During the meeting, two pro teams made the unusual (and preposterous) suggestion that the amateurs be excluded from Saturday's criterium. I guess they were concerned about having so many riders on the technical course.

The pro teams opted for another solution - attack in the feed zones. "Union Race" is a bike-race-insider's term for when the Pros get together and determine how to get rid of the amateurs and make sure they reap the rewards. The well-supported pro teams can drop back to their team cars during the race to grab food and drinks, but the amateur riders typically need to wait for designated feed zones. So, just as we hit the first feed zone, 20 pro riders gunned it off the front of the pack and established a break-away. With all of the big teams represented, their was no one left to organize a chase. The break put 5 minutes into the pack and built a solid lead in the contest for the overall.

For me personally, it was actually a pretty good day. Coming off of heat exhaustion, I was happy to sit in, follow wheels, drink as much as I could, conserve, and hope that I continue to feel better every day. We were ripping along at over 30mph for most of the race and I was happy to be mostly in tow, rather than beating my brains out working in a breakaway.

My goals have shifted. Play conservative the first two stages, put in my best possible time trial, and see where things stand.

Stage 2: Going Up!

Wednesday was an 80-mile road race with rollers early and an 8-mile climb to a snow park at the end.

AGAIN there was an attack in the feed zone. There's not much we can do about it, even if we know it's coming. The heat's intense and we need to replenish our fluids. This created a big split in the peloton, with me and my teammate caught in the back half of the race. Although we did rejoin the lead pack, we had to burn up extra energy to do it. Every little effort in a stage race adds up - unfortunately, this one will have repercussions later on.

The next mishap occurred just before the climb. A crash took down a bunch of riders. I had decent position, in the first 1/3 of the peloton, so, while I had to unclip and slow down, I didn't go down or lose too much time. Another match burned to get back onto the lead group.

As we hit the real climb, I settled into my own pace and let the mountain goats leave me in the dust. There was no point in attempting an effort I couldn't sustain, and I'd still like to have some oomf for the time trial. I lost about five and a half minutes to Sevilla and Mancebo and came in feeling like I'd given a good effort but not jeopardized the rest of the week.

Stay Tuned! Thursday is the Time Trial - my first race on my BH Global Concept Time Trial Bike. It's the brand new 2010 model and, as far as we know, this marks the North American debut for the machine! Will have some sexy bike pics, a race report, and a brief bike review posted in the next couple of days. I'm pretty excited, hope I can do the bike justice...

Photos courtesy of Pat Malach.

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