I had a rough few weeks when I got back from Portugal at the beginning of March. Between jet lag and fatigue from a month of racing in Europe, I wasn’t able to put together a good block of training, so I signed up for the San Dimas Stage Race to see where my fitness was. The stage 1 uphill time trial suits me perfectly, and I’ve won it twice, but I finished fourth this year. Not what I’d hoped for, but not bad.
I was tempted to continue the stage race and try to improve on my GC, but I nearly died crashing myself in that race in 2013. I thought I’d conquered my fear last fall when I returned to the scene of the crash. I found the spot where my body was helicoptered from a puddle of blood to the hospital where they sewed my face back on. I stood on that spot, and I danced. Then I peed on it. I probably won’t get to dance or pee on my own grave, but this was pretty close.
The ultimate conquering of fear is to get back on the horse, but I decided to head to Big Bear instead, to do some long rides with teammate Mike Woods, and get a little altitude into my system. As much as I wanted to conquer the San Dimas circuit race fear, I had bigger fish to fry.
The Tour of California is a fish.
Actually, I did fry a salmon for dinner one night in Big Bear. That is, first I fried it, then I forgot about it on the stove, so it was also blackened.
I put in some good miles and hard climbing in Big Bear, and went to all my favorite restaurants. I didn’t go to the fudge shop, but not because I was watching my calories. It was because they close at 8 p.m. (who closes at 8, and who wants fudge before 8?). A few days later, after a good result in the stage 2 ITT at Redlands, I went to the fudge shop by bike, dragging half my team with me (they’d wondered why I wanted a 45-minute cool-down). Before you call me a hypocrite for eating fudge that early, I left it in the bag and ate it at 9 p.m. that night.
I was sitting second overall after the time trial, ahead of the GC riders we were most worried about. With a mountaintop finish the next day, the team liked my odds to take yellow. Tom Zirbel led me into it, and then Bjorn Selander, Will Routley, and Jesse Anthony lined up at the front from the bottom of the climb. Every time I looked back, the group was smaller and smaller. Mike Woods was up next, and his super pull left everyone behind us gasping. I just had to counter Gavin Mannion’s attack at 600 meters to go, taking the stage and the race lead.
After that, aside from a crash on my butt in the criterium (it hurts to wipe now), there wasn’t much stress. The Sunset circuit is notorious for GC shakeups, but our climbers rode perfectly, Tom Zirbel took insane Tom Zirbel pulls, while Pierrick Naud and Tom Soladay ripped the twisty part of the course. They kept the break close, and team Jamis helped us bring it back, with Cal Giant behind us, ready to pull for their two jersey-wearers if we needed it. I barely saw the wind.
It was touching to return to Redlands. I’m not a crier, but every time I edited that chapter in my book, I’d tear up. Some of the folks who made it special last time were missing, but most were still there, and I have a lot of new friends from my time in Big Bear and LA. My fiancée was racing, so I even had someone to take care of my podium flowers. So many familiar faces and kind words (on and off the bike), I felt like I went out to lunch and it took three years.
When I won the overall at Redlands in 2012, it was my first big win. My team wasn’t invited to the Tour of California that year, so I went back to Georgia and had a good celebration. Perhaps a little too much celebration. This time, the win still felt great after such a team effort. We went out for burritos and had a beer, but we’ll celebrate later. We have bigger fish to fry.
I didn’t mean that literally, but I think I will cook a fish tonight. I’ll keep an eye on it this time.