The 2015 Redlands Bicycle Classic was the 31st edition of the race from April 8th-12th and it was my first participation in the race during my 7 years as a bike racer. Held in and around the city of Redlands, CA, the race provides some of the most difficult stage racing on the National Racing Calendar. This edition promised to be one of the most difficult in recent memory due to the strength of the contenders as well as the addition of the very difficult Oak Glen road race stage. From the onset of the race we were as a team, extremely impressed by the amount of support for the race and the racers provided by the organization, the volunteers, and the community as a whole. All 8 of us racing and our 2 staff members looked forward to giving it everything we had to give throughout the week.
The 5 stages of Redlands Bicycle Classic were as follows:
Day 1 - Highland Circuit Race - 20 laps - 58 miles
Day 2 - Big Bear Time Trial - 7.8 miles
Day 3 - Yucaipa/Oak Glen Road Race - 76 miles
Day 4 - Redlands Downtown Criterium - 45 miles
Day 5 - Redlands Sunset Loop Road Race - 94 miles
The Highland Circuit race stage looked to start off the race with a promise of pain and attrition with 20 laps around a 3 mile circuit which boasted a climb that topped out over 14 percent gradient. The race had a nearly 5,000 feet of climbing in total over the laps and none of it to be taken lightly. I was very attentive in covering breakaway moves early on but the relentless pace did not make for the ability to breakaway. And when the pace slackened slightly, moving around in the peloton was made all the more difficult because of the technical nature of the course. Picture yourself in a crowded airport where everyone is running late for their flights and all trying to navigate the same escalators, lines, moving sidewalks and trains at a breakneck pace. Then imagine that you’re doing this all while your heart rate has leveled off somewhere in the realm of 175 beats per minute and you’ve painted something of the picture of moving around in this race. Eventually, Andres made it through the hustle and bustle into the most significant breakaway of the day which lasted until about 4 laps to go in the race. The rest of the team kept in the multiple groups on the road to make sure and finish within the time cut and thus be able to move through to the stage 2 time trial.
I was reminded somewhat of my Colorado home in Big Bear, which sits at a high elevation in the mountains above Redlands and hosts the technical and fast time trial stage of the race. The team prepared themselves for an incredibly fast race which had a time cut of only 3 minutes from the winning time. I’ll put forth another analogy to describe the time cut scenario in a time trial. Imagine that you are in a grocery store with 170 other people. All 170 are lined up and have the same list of items to buy and each person starts their shopping exactly 30 seconds after the previous person. Some rough math tells you that the fastest shopper will take approximately 15 minutes to finish their list. So if you do not finish your own shopping within 20% of that winning time or about 3 minutes, it is game over. So navigate those aisles and that shopping cart fast and try to catch the person 30 seconds in front if you but don’t get caught by those behind you. Back in the bicycle race, many riders in the field who had not been eliminated on Stage 1 were not able to make the time cut in the time trial. Fortunately all 8 of our riders were comfortably inside of the elimination time and able to start the 3rd stage in Yucaipa.
The Oak Glen Road Race was 5 long laps around the city of Yucaipa followed by a mountain top finishing climb up Oak Glen Road. Although it was a brand new race course to Redlands this year, it was not as notable a difference to me being as this was my first edition. The advertisements for a mountain top finish were certainly not out of my frame of mind when the race before the race began. However when it did get underway, the race was extremely aggressive from the onset. There were many teams searching for the breakaway of the day but a contrary number of others seeking to keep the field all together; the pace was therefore relentless. The addition of multiple King of the Mountain sprints during the laps acted like dynamite in their cause of blowing apart the field. The significant splintering unfortunately caught out our sprinters Demis and James, among many other casualties of the day. After the mountain top finish we learned that nearly 25 percent of the field had either been eliminated through attrition or time cut. For myself, I had never been so close to a time cut throughout hundreds of race days. I had an unpredictable mechanical issue which made shifting very difficult for the final 15 or so miles and exacerbated my fatigue from the difficult day. When the dust had settled across the finish line, I found myself within 75 seconds of being time cut after nearly 4 hours of racing. The other 5 guys did not come nearly as close as I did and we would be starting 6 riders in the stage 4 criterium.
Taking place on the wide streets of the quaint downtown Redlands, the Stage 4 was a fast course with slight elevation changes in and amongst its 9 turns. The general classification teams took control of the race early into the 40 laps of racing and for the 2nd time this season really impressed me with how consistently fast they can make a criterium after multiple hard days of racing. How a breakaway managed to pull itself away from the field, I am not sure but it looked as if it would be brought back by the teams working. Both Conor and Bryan did an excellent job of staying near the front of the race among the teams pulling the breakaway back. And Bryan used some perfectly legal, if admittedly assertive, movements of his head to maintain that good position. If you have never ridden a bike close enough to someone to be able to give them a nudge on the shoulder with your helmet, I can tell you assuredly that it is not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, there was a late crash involving the overall race leader, his team, and Conor and Bryan, among others. This confusion caused the breakaway to be able to stay away for the victory on the day and did not leave us in a position to contest the stage victory. Once again father time had teamed up with the grim reaper and whittled down the field of riders to only about 60% of those who had begun the week of racing. There was one more day to leave it all on the road at the infamously difficult Sunset Loop.
On the southern edges of the city of Redlands, the Sunset Loop stage is 12 laps of a technical climb and descent bookended by short laps in the downtown streets. After 2 laps of the downtown circuit, the race headed uphill toward the Sunset loop. Knowing full well by this point in the week of racing that I was not one of the best climbers in the race, I rolled the dice on getting into an early breakaway and therefore have a head start on the climb itself. 3 other riders and I attempted the escape just before the climbing of the loop started but we were caught at the base of the first King of the Mountain climb. After a difficult week, Andres, Conor and I found the back of the second group which split up the climb. Fabio and Kevin held strong in the front group of the race as the phenomenal climbers battled it out. Bryan joined the second group a few laps later but Fabio and Kevin did the entire race of the loops in the front group. At the end of the day, the General Classification was won by a rider coming off of a full season on the ProTour and who had won a previous edition of Redlands. Possibly even more remarkable, it did not even see a former Grand Tour winner finish in the top 10, speaking volumes about the difficulty of the race overall.
The team would have liked some higher finishing results but we were proud to have finished 6 riders through the 5 stages, an accomplishment not seen by most teams. I feel confident that both the fitness and tactical savvy gained here will serve the team well throughout the rest of the season.