With the majority of the east coast of the United States under considerable snow it may seem somewhat silly to be commenting about the dry Arizona weather. However, on Saturday February 14th, Valentines Day, my teammates and I learned why the Phoenix area is called the “Valley of the Sun”.
Having done a quick Google Search to learn more about the event, it was little surprise to me why the Valley of the Sun Stage Race got its name, being as it is held in and around the Phoenix Valley area. The nearly 100 mile road race event, which was to be the second stage of the race, took place on the south east side of the “Valley of the Sun” near Casa Grande. The boys and myself (my KHS/Maxxis-JLVelo teammates) had already been treated to two days of Arizona ‘dry air’ and were not immune to its dehydrating effects.
We set out for six laps on the Casa Grande circuit, right in the middle of the day, with a peloton of 75 or so riders, all with their own plans for glory on what was to be a grueling race course. As our team had anticipated, the race was active early and it did not take long for break-aways to try and establish themselves. Our team had the luxury of a full contingent of eight riders contesting the stage to make sure we were represented in every break-away.
Our plan was centered on gaining a stage win without losing our positions of 2nd (Chris Barton) and 3rd (Fabrizio Von Nacher) in the General Classification. In order to do this were going to have to be aggressive, but also very cunning in order to get our GC riders into a break-away that could unseat the race leader.
My teammates were attentive early and often, with David Santos, Shawn Daurelio, Shawn Wayland, Sergio Escutia, guest rider Ulysses Alfredo, and myself all covering early attacks. The field was relentless with attacks and counter attacks throughout the first lap. The pace was blistering from the moment the motor-official allowed us to start racing, through the climb on the first lap and all the way into the crosswind section of the course that begins the second lap. Just before the crosswind section I followed a move from Heath Blackgrove, a rider who we identified could threaten our GC positions. Almost immediately other riders came across and this attack became a break-away with some potential, swelling to nearly ten riders before my teammate and lead GC rider, Chris Barton, came across. Now with Chris in the move, we were free to put some pressure on the race leader and establish the break-away.
The following sixty miles were a whirlwind of adjustments to our plan as we did not have the luxury of consistent time splits. In fact, we did not receive our first time check to the peloton until nearly 2.5hrs of race time. It was then that we were notified that we had over four minutes to the chasing peloton, it was clear that our move would produce the race winner.
Mr. Barton had already won the first time bonus sprint in the race and we were hoping to get a chance to get him more bonus seconds in the event that the break-away would be caught by the peloton. Almost immediately after the second time bonus sprint the break-away started to split apart from attacks and counter attacks. With only two laps in the race remaining the race dynamic changed and all of a sudden it was every man for himself in the break-away. Chris and I did our best to follow every attack and keep the break-away together for his GC position, as he was the virtual leader on the road. However, when a powerful attack came from Chad Beyer, which was followed by Heath Blackgrove, I knew we had to go. I was able to get on the wheel of Blackgrove before the splintered break-away could organize a chase. My goal was to protect Chris’ GC position.
One lap later I had spent a whole lot of time in the gutter fighting for a draft and found myself in a three man group set to sprint out the finish for top road race honors at the Valley of the Sun Stage Race. Did I mention yet, that each of us looked like a salt-lick fit to be a horse treat? It was a warm and dry day on the roads of Casa Grande.
Despite having been in the break-away for over three hours and working throughout the day, my legs (and mind) were ready to fight for the stage win. I knew I had spent energy early, valuable energy that my competitors would hope would increase their chances in the final kilometers of the race.
The three of us were all together with 500 meters to go and it was looking like a three-up sprint was going to settle the days honors. This was mostly true until Chad Beyer got a quick jump on me and went for the finish. I sprinted with all that I had, and found every bit of power possible out of my tired legs, but could only manage to close the gap slightly. I crossed the finish line in second place, a bittersweet result as we had hoped to win the stage. The race had not played out the way we anticipated in our strategy meeting but we had managed to earn valuable bonus sprint time and gain valuable time on the leader.
After a brief congratulations to my two break-away companions, I worked my way back to the finish area where I saw Fabrizio powering to a very solid result. Later I was to find out that he, Ulyssis and Sergio had come together (after various attacks) off the front of the peloton, collected Chris Barton and rode like a four car freight-train to gain him as much time on the peloton as possible. As it was told by some of the riders who they caught, it was an impressive display of team work and power.
Despite losing the stage, this second place finish was a highlight for me personally as my climbing was not up to standard for the first race of the year at Boulevard. My hope is that my fitness continues to grow and the confidence gleaned from this performance will help me and my team achieve more results in the coming weeks as we prepare for our first big targets of the season.
It must be said that this result was made possible by the help of many great people in and sponsors of the KHS/Maxxis-JLVelo team. In particular I would like to thank my wife Joy, our Team Manager Paul, our Team Mechanic/Sponsor/Supporter Gary, all of my very supportive teammates Santos, Daurelio, Fabi, Sergio, Barton, and Wayland, Kate and Linda from JLVelo who ‘wo’-maned the feedzone for us as well as my Dad who made special appearance in the feedzone.
On a lighter note, I learned that with my Dad in the feedzone a bidon hand-up can have the force of a football hand-off. Apparently he must have learned to hand-up bottles from one of the offensive coaches on the New England Patriots football team. He made our team feel like we were ‘trying-out’ for the running-back at spring training! Thanks for the feeds Dad…and the mark on my chest.
I would also like to thank our sponsors who make this program possible: During my race aboard my KHS Bicycle I ate plenty of Kramp Krushers while seated on my Velo saddle, laying down the power through my Shimano drivetrain, transfered to my Maxxis tires from my Xpedo pedals, while enjoying the venting from my Kali Protectives helmet from the comfort of my JLVelo bib shorts and saw the beautiful Valley of the Sun scenery from the clarity of my Serfas sunglasses. And to anyone I forgot, thank you, you are appreciated greatly!
Until next time be safe, ride hard, and have fun,
Thank you to our sponsors: KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, JLVelo, Serfas, Shimano, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Xpedo Pedals, Kali Protectives, NDXSports, Bike Religion, Bicycle Blue Book, WD-40 BIKE, Chamois Butt’r, Cycling Illustrated, Rennie & Associates, Kramp Krushers, Ultra Cycle, and Q2.
Valley of The Sun 2015 Final General Classification with Brian McCulloch 3rd, Fabrizio Von Nacher 4th