Race Report: Valley of the Sun Stage Race

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Hello everyone,

I’ve not done my reports as on time as I should have so sorry for that. It’s been a busy season so far so I will do my best to get you up to date, briefly.

The VOS stage race is in Phoenix, AZ at the end of February. It is a three day, three stage stage race consisting of a fourteen mile, Eddy Merckx style, (no aero equipment) time trial on FRiday, a seventy mile road race on Saturday and a one hour criterium on Sunday. We had all six 17/18 riders here and this was going to be their first meeting as a team and for some of them, their first dealings with me. Since we have been getting bigger and more successful and I’m getting older, I’ve looked for someone to come onboard and help out with directing duties. I found that person in Taylor Tolleson, a former professional racer with the TIAA Cref / Garmin program and later with BMC. Taylor was run over by a drunk driver several years back and that, for all intents and purposes, ended his professional riding days. He is now a fireman in Santa Cruz, CA. Taylor had expressed to me that he wanted to be involved with the team and share some of what he’s learned and we were his chance to do that.

All assembled in AZ the day before, introductions were made but no race plans formed. Firstly, it’s a TT so how do you plan for that as a team? Secondly, I didn’t know where everyone was, fitness wise. Fourteen miles is a long time trial and longer still with no aero equipment. We finished third with Jack Maddux, our California rider followed my Jonny Brown in sixth, Phil in tenth and Michael Hernandez in fourteenth. It was a good start and gave us options for the road race on Saturday.

The road race plan discussed at the IHOP the next morning was simple, get in a move with guys below you in GC. That was hard for Jack since he was marked so heavily and easier for Jonny, Phil and Michael. It was a long loop without the ability for me to watch or follow or leapfrog to other spots to get updates so I needed to trust and adjust.

One lap, all together, second, still the same. Lap three Jonny was in a group of three moving away. I didn’t know it at the time but they were not getting race splits so they had no idea what the gaps were. As they came in for the finish, Jonny lead it out looking for time since he was the highest placed in the break. What we realized after was that they were four and a half minutes up on the field which came in in a bunch sprint won by Phil. Jonny was the new leader on the road by over a minute so barring disaster, we would win this.

In the morning of the last day, as Taylor and I discussed different race strategies, we were met with a unified team that had decided how they wanted to race the criterium. Taylor and I stood and listened and didn’t offer an opinion. “We want to ride the front of the race like they do in the Tour de France and keep it all together, like a team time trial.” I asked if they thought they were strong enough to do it. We were greeted with a look like a sixteen year old getting the family station wagon keys for the first time so I said OK.

After they went off to warm-up Taylor and I discussed it briefly. He didn’t know if they could do it or not. He had dome it in the pro bunch and knew how but he had no experience with these guys, junior racing and what you can or can’t do. Now, I have all the confidence in the world with my team, their character and their commitment but I knew on that day, what they wanted to do, was beyond their knowledge. I said yes because I looked at it as a good learning example. I could tell them they couldn’t do it, that it was better to race aggressively and maybe win from a small group a few seconds up the road with one of our guys but where is the faith or lesson there? I knew it was unlikely that, even if they failed at their plan, we would lose the race overall so I decided to let them race.

The plan worked for about ten minutes. The pace was just to fast for all of them to get to the front, all at the same time and they had no idea how hard to go and be able to recover. What it ended up looking like was most amateur criteriums in the US. A solo rider would get away for a lap, get caught and not be seen again. In the end we got second on the stage with Phil narrowly losing the sprint.

The lesson was learned and they learned it without my stepping on their confidence and we won the race overall so all in all, a great opening team race. Next up training camp in the North GA mountains where they will learn how to race a team time trial and how to control a race.

I’m looking forward to introducing Taylor to the rewards of bike racing from a perspective he’s not seen as a racer. Stay tuned,

Thanks for reading,

Toby

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Alumni Update: Nate Morse

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Well how do you like that? Nate went to the Furman University sports banquet yesterday along with all of the other team sports athletes and coaches. Imagine his surprise when after all of the individual team recognition was over, his name was called for Furman club sports “Athlete of the Year”.

I asked him how the award was introduced and what the guy said before he called Nate’s name, and Nate said that he had no idea because he really wasn’t paying too close attention because he assumed that it would be given to a baseball player! He was totally shocked. This was given primarily in recognition for his efforts at Cross Nationals this January in Boulder. Sometimes it isn’t about bringing home medals or the jersey, its about bringing home the spirit of competition and the will of the athlete. Good on ya, Nate!