The Cascade Cycling Classic has always been one of my favorite races on the calendar. It was my first NRC race, which meant it was also my first experience with the top American racers and teams, so I was bummed when I realized that I might miss it when I broke my collarbone at Gila. Luckily, I got the go ahead to start racing a week or so before the race, which meant that I was going to be able to get back to racing with the rest of the guys on the team!
The drive to Bend from Boulder is a fairly long one, so we split it up into two days. We decided to stop in Boise for two important reasons: first, Mac’s aunt, Jo, was kind enough to let all 8 of us (and 2 more riders from Boulder as well!) stay in (read: take over) her house for the night. Second, the Boise Whole Foods gave us a good chance to stock up on beet chips and Fabio’s signature 5 pound bags of Cheerios (we go through probably 10 bags a trip).
With our food stores replenished, we hit the road once again, and thanks to the magic of time travel, we drove for 7 hours and arrived in Bend 6 hours after we left Boise. Time zones rule, as long as you’re going west! Fabio and Emerson were both targeting the first road race, so along with Kit they decided to go and pre-ride the climbs on that course. The rest of us decided to roll around a little closer to the host houses. This turned out to be a good thing as well, as I ran into one of the riders who had ridden in the ambulance with me at Gila. It was good to catch up and see that a few months later, we were pretty much back to normal. More importantly, though, he mentioned something that we hadn’t realized: the finish of Sunday’s circuit race wasn’t at the school, as it had been for the past few years. Instead, it was going to be at the top of a very steep kicker, changing the end of the stage significantly! I rode back to the house to let the guys know, but as I walked into the house, Dan (one of our awesome hosts) let me know that the first road stage was going to be changed due to a large fire! It also turned out that the crit was being run backwards this year, which meant that the race was going to be very different from in years past.
The next day was the start of the race, with a short prologue in the evening. Mac, the TT man, crushed it, with most of the team coming in midpack. Late evening races are always a little odd. There’s a lot of time before the race, and you don’t really want to do anything that could make your legs tired. So you sit around (maybe have a short ride in the morning) until race time, then have a caffeinated gel, race, and then have to go to bed, as there’s invariably a stage that starts at 8 AM the next morning. Of course, since you’ve been sitting around and have just had a bunch of caffeine as well as adrenaline from the race, you can’t fall asleep.
There were some tired faces at the breakfast table the next morning (I’m pretty sure Mac said he got about 2 hours of sleep) before the drive up to the start of the changed road stage. The course was 2 trips around Mount Bachelor, meaning 2 times up the fairly difficult climb to the Bachelor resort. Having been away from NRC racing for a while, I was on survival duty – I was to help out the team where I could, but my main objective was to make it through the race and hopefully get stronger as the days went on. Luckily, it was pretty obvious to me that the team had everything well under control – every time I went back to get bottles for the boys, Kit, Jackson, Mac, or Kennett was already back at the car. It was awesome to see how far we’ve come since the start of the season – the team works together amazingly! It was also lucky for me that I didn’t have to do too much work, because it also became obvious about 10 miles from the finish that the race was going to be about 10 miles too long for me. I came off the back the second time up the climb, and luckily Kit was with me after having set up the rest of the guys for the climb. After pulling me up the climb (he commented later that he thought I looked like I was dying as I struggled up it), we crossed the line together and rode over to the guys. Emerson and Fabio had finished in the front group with Chris just behind, which was awesome. While we didn’t get a stage result, things were looking good for later in the week.
Day 3 was the TT, a long, flat, and hot course an hour out of Bend. This was going to be my first long TT in a long while, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was excited to see how the rest of the team (and specifically Mac) would do. I was out fairly early, and while I had a pretty iffy first half, I was able to get into a rhythm for the second half. While my time wasn’t great, I took this as a good sign that my legs were finally coming around. A little while after I finished, Mac came in and was 6th place when he crossed the line. He was sitting in the top 15 for a long time, but once the top GC guys came in, he ended up right around 30th, which was a solid ride in a deep field.
To keep things interesting, the start for stage 4 was going to be down in Bend rather than on top of the mountain, with only one loop (in the other direction) of the mountain. The start to the stage was through the same neighborhood that we raced in the prologue. Unfortunately, there were two crashes in the neighborhood that really affected the team. In the first, someone ran into Jackson’s bike, and although he didn’t crash, his bike was broken. I was caught up in the first crash, and as I chased back on, I saw another crash happen just up the hill. I saw a familiar jersey on the ground, and as I rolled up I realized it was Mac, and that he was holding his shoulder in a way that was all too familiar to me. It was a huge bummer to see Mac break his collarbone in my first race back from my own broken collarbone – cycling can definitely be a cruel sport! Unfortunately, the race must go on, and after a short neutralization (about a half mile late for Mac) the race was back on, with Jackson on a bike from neutral support. On the road up to Bachelor, I realized that I was actually feeling pretty good for the first time in the race. We were all worried about the climb back up to the resort – we had ridden down it the first road stage, and it seemed like it was going to be tough, but apparently we shouldn’t have worried. The climb was easier than it seemed, and although I got gapped off right at the end (better than the first road day, though!), Chris, Fabio, and Emerson all finished in the main group, just behind the successful break of the day.
The crit was another evening stage, and I was focused entirely on making sure that I stayed safe throughout the race, so I found a pocket near the back and stayed out of trouble. Kit, Fabio, and Emerson were active on the front and helped put on a show for downtown Bend – it felt like the entire town was out watching us!
The final day is a very challenging circuit race with a short climb that has a pitch that is around 20%, as well as two other short, tough climbs. The plan was to get into the early break, and we definitely tried very hard to make it happen. I saw everyone in at least a few moves, and I personally tried a move the first time up the steep climb that put me into the red for the next two or three laps. The race was insanely fast, and nothing rolled for essentially the entire race. Unfortunately, we missed the move when it did roll, but on the bright side I could tell that my legs were finally really coming around and it looked like everyone was riding well. The last lap, Emerson asked me to set him up for the final climb, and we were both there when a group rolled off the front. There were about 15-20 of us chasing the break, but unfortunately we weren’t able to pull them back for the finish. Emerson did a good job in the sprint up the kicker to the line, and I rolled in near the back of the group, happy to have made the final selection after a rough first few days.
While we didn’t come away from Cascade with any stage wins or jerseys, I think that we showed that we’re still one of the top teams in the country. Sometimes, things don’t work and you don’t get any major results, but that doesn’t show all the work that goes on behind the scenes: Kit, Kennett, Mac, and Jackson being on top of keeping everyone hydrated. Guys working together to set up for the climb. Fabio, Emerson, and Chris consistently being in the front group at the finish. Mac is on the mend after surgery a few days, and will hopefully be back on the trainer soon!
There’s still quite a bit of racing left in the season, and I’m looking forward to throwing down at some Colorado races and then heading to the last NRC race of the season at Buck’s County with the rest of the team to cap off a great season!