Two years ago I wrote up this cute little article (http://wp.me/p3tHad-1) about my first major foray into the world of National Racing Calendar events at the 2013 Cascade Classic. In it I remark on the big, bad scary nature of the 200-rider pack and the difficulty of throwing down with the battle hardened professionals of the sport. I barely scraped through that race. By the last day, I was seriously considering skipping the circuit race to get an early start home and avoid another day of desperately scrambling for wheels in the sweltering heat. I often tell people that I stay in this sport because I am addicted to my own progression. Let’s just say that I am glad to have progressed beyond that sorry state I found myself in racing around Bend two summers ago.
My 2014 race was better but barely. Having already raced about fifty days on seven different teams, I didn’t have much left in the tank by the time I rolled into Bend. At least I was racing though. I made attacks (many of them ill advised) and could actually move to the front of the massive 230-rider pack if I committed myself to the task. Still, I languished in the 40-60th place region, the land of hard-fought mediocrity. The race just seemed too big, too fast and too much of a puncher’s parcours for a pushover racer like myself to succeed.
So despite the consistent year of good results I have had thus far and working up some of my best ever form in training, I had little confidence going into this year’s event. I could not squash the negative imagery of myself getting tailed off the peloton yet again on the way to Mt. Bachelor or getting punted to the back in the fight for wheels leading into the crucial Archie Briggs climb. I also felt the pressure to perform and impress at my last big event ahead of September’s Tour of Alberta and Quebec ProTour races. A good result would be critical to a chance of participation in those big-time races. The drive from Bend out to the Stage 1 start in rural Madras felt long as my stomach grumbled and my heart thumped with a will of its own.
It is a big sports cliché, but the moment the flag dropped at kilometer zero the nervousness blew away and my fears were dispelled. I moved to the front of the peloton naturally and started battling alongside my young teammate Dannick Vandale try to infiltrate the early breakaway. In just 10km I did all the things I could never do in previous years. I rode at the front, I was aggressive and I was strong enough to feel in control of my own race. In my head the words “Game On” repeated over and over and I got excited about the racing ahead.
The early stages weren’t immediately rewarding. The first 205km stage turned out to be much ado about nothing with a stiff headwind marginalizing the impact of the finishing climb and producing a frustrating bunch sprint. The Stage 2 time trial bore a little more aggravation as my legs never quite engaged on the super fast, flat course. I still shaved almost a minute off last year’s time, but it was hard to settle for 18th after my TT success this year. Still, the result bumped me up to 11th GC and put me in striking distance with two hard stages to come.
I hammered it into my mind that I needed to make my mark in the 180km Stage 3 race to Mt. Bachelor. With many miles of gentle gradients and a high altitude finish, it didn’t suit my strengths very well. Still Stage 3 was a better opportunity than the Stage 4 Nascar-style crit or Stage 5’s hectic circuit race. I went on the attack from only 10 km into the race and after 2 hours of aggression in the pack, finally made the decisive 30-rider breakaway. As a solo rider up against 5 Hincapie riders and multiples from many other pro teams, I tried to break free again and improve my odds to win. Those efforts proved to be wasted as the Hincapie boys neutralized me over and over. I struggled to recover from my efforts in the high altitude run-in to the finish and saw the stage slip away but fought on for GC time. By the time I dragged my empty body to the finish I had done enough to move to 7th overall.
The next two stages were somewhat of a nervous blur. With a solid GC position in hand I engaged my typical crit survival mode on Stage 4 and actually managed to move up to 6th GC.
The final day’s 132km circuit race my hard training paid dividends and my body performed perfectly. Unlike the final day of Beauce when I was crushed with fatigue, I felt strong and fresh the whole day. I played it fairly conservatively but I was able to follow the many daring attacks volleyed by Mancebo and the other strong men.
I also couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I watched the 19-year-old rookie Dannick scamper up the road in the break of the day. I did the small job of bringing Russ Hay’s young talent to the front ahead of his attack and it was gratifying to watch him escape and ride in front of the peloton for 80km. On the final lap of the race I overcame my usual hesitation and rode at the front all the way to secure my GC result. I also watched teammate Cody Canning pull off a magic trick to rocket from the back of the race to a 9th place stage finish. After two baffling and discouraging years at the Cascade Classic for me and the Russ Hays/Accent Inns team it all seemed to change in an afternoon. We finished the job and finally I felt satisfied with my efforts in North American cycling’s big leagues.
A note of appreciation: My success at Cascade this year was supported by some big extra efforts.
- My Ride with Rendall team made sure my equipment was in order and I had what I needed across the continent from our home base in Ottawa.
- The Russ Hays/Accent Inns team was very generous to have me back as a guest rider for the race and went the extra mile to support the squad in a logistically difficult race.
- Our hosts in Bend Anne and Ken were beyond fantastic and kept the morale of the team high with perfect accommodations, logistical assistance and some of the best food (and margaritas) I have ever enjoyed.
- Fresh Air Concept in Kelowna for dealing with my usual pre-race mechanical problems and making sure I am always ready for race day.