Valley of the Sun was the first major race for the team this year and it was also a great time to get to know some of the new riders and practice working together as a team. I raced in the Cat 2 field along with David Benkoski, Dean Haas, Willy Zelmer, and Jeff Perrin.
The stage race started off with a 14 mile TT in the desert. I received some good tips from a few of the masters who raced earlier in the day about what kind of conditions to expect out on course. I hopped on my trainer and began my warm up and also get myself mentally prepared for the half hour I was going to spend in the pain cave. After about 15 minutes, it was time to roll on over to the start house. Not the best warm up I've done but it will do. I was a bit nervous in the start house since it was the first TT of the year and I didn't quite know what my body's limits were and how hard I could push myself. The last TT I did before this was at l'Abitibi back in July. 3...2...1...go and I was out on course. I rode conservatively because I didn't want to blow my engine in the beginning of the race. The first half of the course was very difficult. The road is a false flat almost all the way to the turn around and to make it even harder, there was a nasty headwind which isn't the greatest for a skinny guy like me. I kept looking down at my Garmin, checking the speed and how many kilometers I had left. I caught two people by the time I made it to the turnaround and when I made the u-turn, I couldn't even see the riders who started behind me. Coming back, I finally got into a solid rhythm and got myself into a very aero position. I remembered all the times Chris Lyman has told me to tuck my head down low kind of like a turtle in its shell. I kept my eyes focused on the white line painted down the road and began to pass more guys as if they were standing still. Coming into the last 2 km, I gave every last ounce of energy I had in me to get to the finish line as quick as possible. I crossed the line and my legs shut down. My time was 31:43, exactly a minute faster than my time from last year. I was very pleased with the result and it put me in 10th.
The next day we headed out to the venue for the road race which could be a set for a wild west film, middle of the desert with cactus and mesas surrounding the area. The wind was picking up as we got our bikes ready and put our kits on. We were racing 90 miles in the bright, Arizona sun. The first lap was relatively slow with a couple of attacks but none of them ever got too far up the road. On lap two as we headed up the climb, some guys to the right of me were getting a bit aggressive trying to fight for a wheel and ended up causing a big pileup which Jeff was involved in. The crash split the field up and I was in a group of about 30 with David and Willy. David and I, along with many other riders from other teams went to the front to drive the pace. For about 10 minutes, we all took turns at the front trying to bring the tiny peloton to the finish without anyone rejoining the pack but other teams lost motivation and the pace dropped and riders caught up in the crash were now back together with us. On lap three, another crash occurred in the same spot as the previous lap. This time someone slammed into my rear wheel pretty hard which knocked my brake out of alignment. I hopped off my bike, fixed it, and chased back on with David, who was involved in the pileup. Fortunately for us, a semi truck passed us while we were chasing back on so we were able to get a little draft back to the pack and the race official was okay with it. Next time up the climb, David bridged solo up to a breakaway. Instead of focusing on my spot on GC, I immediately began to do what I needed to do to make sure the breakaway stayed away to give David a shot at the "W". I covered attacks and disrupted teams chasing at the front until I knew the break had a big enough gap. With half a lap to go, I rolled off the front in an attempt to finish ahead of the pack which contained many guys that were high on GC. A few kilometers later, the pack caught up with me and the leader's jersey was at the front with a few others trying to bring back as many seconds as they could to the break. Since I knew David was far enough up the road and was never going to get caught by the peloton, I went to the front to pull back as many seconds to help with my GC standing. The breakaway survived and David managed to get an impressive 3rd place, even after crashing. I rolled across the line with the pack and dropped to 13th on GC which isn't too bad. I also got the my first tanlines of the year. Yes they are pretty bad!
The final day was the criterium. Our race was only 45 minutes on a somewhat technical course. I rode in the pack and stayed out of trouble. There was no need for me to be fighting at the front and bumping elbows with the big sprinters. I knew that all I had to do was cross the finish line in the pack to keep my 13th place on GC. The bell on the final lap was a great thing to hear and then we all crossed the finish line. Stayed safe and finished 13th overall! I also got the first few upgrade points to put in the piggy bank.
It was a great weekend of racing and spending time with the team. I am sure we all learned things in our races and we will be ready for the upcoming ones! I also want to thank Kyle Torres and Diego Binatena's parents for hauling the RV's all the way to the races. It was great being able to relax before the start of stages in the RV and make lunch afterwards. Made us feel like ProTour riders!