Steve walks us through his big win of the Queen stage in the Redlands Bicycle Classic
I’ve had two experiences on Oak Glen in the past. In 2015, I was 21st. In 2017, I was… not good. Coming into the race this year I knew it was going to be a big test. I hadn’t been at a big race with real form since the summer of 2017, after which I took an extended break to deal with cystic saddle issues and subsequently began a lengthy comeback. 18 months is a long time in bike racing, and while I knew I’d been putting in the “good trainings” over the off-season in preparation (including one ride with 45x40second intervals), I was nervous about coming back into the racing. There’s always an unknown element going into the first big contest of the season.
After a pretty poor showing in the time trial, Ryan encouraged me to write it off and have faith in my form. I think we were on a great track to take yellow with Jarret on Stage 2, before we were beset by blowouts and bungled-up riders in the finale. Stage 3 rolled around with another crash for Jarret, leading to some heroic mechanical antics where he swapped bikes with Ryan on the road (in Jarret's continued quest to ride every bike in the peloton). With Jerry on a foreign bike, it was reasonable for me to give an honest effort at a stage result.
Going into the climb, I was actually able to get a pretty good “recovery” on the flat section between the circuit climb and Oak Glen proper- dropping the power and heart rate quite a bit for about 5 minutes. This was pretty critical as it essentially broke the effort into 2 20 minute segments, instead of a continuous 40 minutes. I jumped up the inside on the critical left turn onto the dog-leg off of the main circuit. I sag climbed this part just a few spots and then used the very short 20 second dip in the climb to surge up to third wheel. I stayed there for basically the rest of the climb as everyone behind gradually got dropped. Honestly, I just kept waiting to get dropped myself until about 5k to go, when I punched the lap button on my computer and let my racing instincts kick in. Looking around, I was surprised to find myself in an elite group—it was all guys I’ve historically (and hypoxically) watched ride off into the distance once the grade turns skyward. Soon the real deal attacks were launching as Frayre (Elevate-KHS) and Vermaerke (Hagens Berman Axeon) traded punches. I was able to use those guys to close down each other’s efforts and ride the wheel across each time. I hit out of the group at about 300m and went full gas. As I crossed the line all by myself, I just started freaking out!
Becker grabbed me and held me up and it was really fun to be able to share that moment. I’ve been working so hard to get “back” to my old level—so to take that next step with the biggest win of my career was hugely gratifying.
I’m so impressed with the work this whole team has put in to get here- the boys long-hauling the van across the country, the 5 hour rides in beautiful 45 degree “rainforest” weather in Asheville, NC, and more. There are no salaries on this squad- but there is solidarity (aka GOOD VIBES), as indicated by the reactions of my teammates as they realized I won the stage below.
The team had a great week at Redlands, so be on the lookout for more recaps to be posted here soon!