The Death and Life of a Great American Stage Race : Cascade Classic 2019

There’s a particular type race on the domestic calendar that inspires a mythical following. Ones that inspires people to trek cross-country to toe the line, to use superlative phrases such as “best race ever” with absolute sincerity. Races that motivate training stimulus in a way no other office park crit could even hope to. As riders, we all have these favorites, they’re why we bust our asses in training.  Whether they’re stage races or crits, we seek out these events not only for a chance at success, but to experience the unique challenges of their course designs, soak up the adventure in exploring a foreign vernacular, or take in the opportunity to be a part of a race a history that spans generations, hoping to leave a mark.

The Cascade Cycling Classic is one of the greatest of these races.

With a postponement last year, many were doubtful if the legendary race would make a comeback. We’ve become trained pessimists when it comes to the shrinking of the race calendar. We’ve watched in sad silence as many of the awe inspiring races of the past have drifted away, despite the best intentions of the promoters.

This is what made this years resurgence of the Cascade Classic that much more special.

With a complete redesign in courses, the promoters hoped to use the gap year to re-invent the race, in a model that is sustainable for racers and spectators. Shorter circuits punctuated by gravel segments, queen stages that took us deep into the stunning heart of the eastern Oregon landscape, swirling neighborhood crits, there was a familiar excitement to this years race, but the stages were nothing we’d ever seen before.

Some were afraid that the redesign of the stages would kill the heart of the Cascade Classic, but it is safe to say that after 5 days of racing through rain, hail, and welcoming sunshine, on some of the most unique and invigorating stages we’ve seen in a long time, there was nothing lost in the 39th edition of the Cascade Classic. We were treated to a fuller look of the high plains of Bend and beyond, through stages that spanned geologic timezones, or focused on intimate community developments. It was clear that in this years race, the spirit of the Cascade classic has been kept alive, burning strong for another generation.

In a time of doubt in American cycling, this year’s edition of the Cascade Classic should serve as an encouragement to racers and promoters who want to grow in this sport. With focused new energy and respect to the spirit contained in the history of the sport, cycling and racing as a whole can adapt and grow in a way that will continue to inspire generations of cyclists to come.

Self-Discovery in a Waffle, Stephen Recaps BWR

While some of the guys were at Gila, Stephen, Roman, and Sam headed to So-Cal to compete in the Belgian Waffle Ride, one of the most competitive/crazy one day gravel races out there. A 134 mile course of road, dirt, single track, sand, and everything in-between (including Tequila handups???) it’s hard to do a race like this and not get cracked open like a nut.

Here’s Stephen’s take on the ride

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Belgian waffles come in two types. Brussels (traditionally leavened with ale and/or egg whites, light and airy) and Liège, which is a denser style based on brioche bread dough. If the races reflect the regions of waffles, you have the punchy but fast climbs of the Ardennes classics (Liège) and the heavy, cobbled and dirt tracks a la Flandrian classics (Brussels). 

 There is only one Belgian Waffle ride, and it's the American Belgian waffle. You don't really know what makes it Belgian, it can be kind of gross (think motel continental breakfast waffles) but also damn delicious, and those that partake are going to be lured into eating too many, hating themselves, but loving it anyway. 

Set in the San Diego County foothills, BWR was started in 2012 with a rumored 100 participants, and since has grown to over 1500. A 134 mile course, with 14 sectors of dirt & sand, from fire roads to singletrack, totaling 46 miles, 12k feet of climbing, it has an element of the kooky mixed with incredibly serious. I mean, it's waffle themed and it starts and ends in a brewery. You have WorldTour riders going flat out on bike paths still open to the public on Sunday strolls. Through it’s evolution, it’s become one of the most hotly contested single day races in the “gravel” scene. I was admittedly nervous as hell for it,  but equally drawn to the vibe, media, hype and general partying associated with the race. Roman, Sam & I gathered in sunny Del Mar by the beach to enjoy the weekend and destroy ourselves on Cinco De Mayo.

 After a mariachi band send off, our wave of maybe 400 people rolled off the start. Quickly, the 11 miles of neutral rollout turned into a hectic affair, with guys of all types trying to assert themselves. It's like they wanted TV time (gotta get on that highlight reel!). It was honestly the most terrifying part of the day, so I rolled to the front on the long downhill leading to the turnaround into the first dirt sector.

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Race organization had told us there'd be a U turn marked with cones, easy enough. Psych! This was really the only time where not pre-riding the course bit us, and it bit us hard. Sam and I were at the very front as we approached what quickly looked like just a left hand turn, unmarked without any cones. Nevertheless, we rolled passed it with expectation to see at least a cone or two to circle around. We were found out when we turned around and saw a few hundred riders funneling into a narrow entrance to the singletrack…behind us. I cursed a few different things, and we rode into the mass of slow, clamoring riders, some already walking their bikes. 

The next hour was a cross race, full gas. I passed riders, crashes, flat tires with laser focus to get up to where I wanted to be. It worked, I felt completely awesome, but it was only once we'd finally caught up to the front group that I to realize how many matches those efforts burned. I'd been a bit overzealous and raced a harder race than anyone around me yet had, only 25 miles in. 

The group remained pretty cagey for a while, as there were a few teams there who animated things with attacks, each reeled in. Justin Oien of Arapahoe Hincapie eventually got up the road with one of the MeteorX-Giordana riders. They put in a few minutes on us, which Stetina was not happy about. He rolled off the front with an eager Marc Pro rider (looking at you, Blake!). This sent the group into high alert and on the rivet as we hit the first major climbs of the day, Black Canyon.

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Hanging onto third wheel up the first of the two peaks on the dirt fire road was encouraging. I was sitting behind Eddie Anderson (Axeon Hagens Berman) and Ted King (WorldTour ex-pro, current gravel pro). Sure, my watts per kilo were eye watering and not sustainable, but being naive to the course I figured this was the bigger climb of the section (psyche number two!). We soon crested and dove into the canyon. Things got real as we were on road bikes charging through sand on the side of a cliff. Imagine a roller coaster at full downward tilt, but without any safety gear, with tracks coated with Crisco, and your roller coaster actually only has one track, and you have to balance on that track and not crash into any other roller coasters that may have the balls to pass you. There's also all this heavy sand on the track, so when it levels off just a bit, you have to pedal like hell.

 

Sam and I dropped a lot of fast guys on the descent, so for a brief second I was feeling pretty awesome. But, I the previous efforts took a lot out of me, and fatigue was setting in. I needed answers. "Sam, how much longer?" I could hear the empathy behind his words. "A lot, at least half of it left". I knew the outcome before they even got up to speed again. I was cracked. Bonked. Off the back. The group dropped me in what felt like the slowest, cruelest way possible. For every 500 meters, they only gapped me by about 10. Many a racer has been there before: seeing where you want to be and still denying any reason why you can't get there. I felt like screaming and suddenly I hated everything about what I was doing, why I was there, what I had done wrong or not well enough compared to those riding away from me. I felt inadequate and defeated, but it was some consolation to see Sam dancing on the pedals away from me, tucked into the middle of the group, with a lot of cards yet to play.

 

I'll admit my only reason to continue, as I climbed alone in those moments, was the realization I was even more screwed were I to stop. It was a pretty dark 20 minutes. I sure as hell didn't know where I was or how long I was going to wait around for a race vehicle or some sympathetic citizen to pick up a dejected man in spandex. Thankfully, I figured Roman wasn't too far behind, and once back on to the road it was only a few km's before I saw his group of 15 rolling towards me. 

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Once tucked in with them, I downed some Gu hydration, chews and gels in a desperate plea for energy. Eventually I came back to life and began to contribute. It was still a group of hitters, notably with Eric Marcotte. He's a guy I've considered a legend for a long time. Former US PRO crit and road champion, he'd been a leader on the teams based out of Winston Salem when I lived there and began racing. I'd never actually met him, and I laughed to myself that my first actual ride with him was on this crazy thing. That's a big part of these events, it seems.

 

We rode smooth for the next 30 miles until we hit the base of the Black Canyon climb. I looked around and realized I'd dropped everybody on a chip-sealed narrow road descent so decided to keep the pace up a bit and settle into my own rhythm.  

 

The not so great thing about this climb back up Black Canyon is that the Wafer (the shorter ride) and slower Waffle riders are still coming down. It's the sandy, loose, twisting track on the side of a cliff we'd come down a few hours earlier. Things were going safely enough until I saw a guy swing wide out of a corner, heading into my path definitely out of control with no recourse to stop. He shoulder checked me and sent me down hard onto my right, so fast that I didn't even put a hand out. I landed with a thud and a sharp pain on my side. I sensed immediately I'd broken a rib (5 days later as I write this, breathing still hurts). 

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Of course the only thing that mattered was to get back on my bike and catch Marcotte, who'd kept grinding up the hill. The next 30 minutes was a blur of charging through sand and advising oncoming riders to please stay the f#%@ to the right (please).

 

After some energetic solo time trialing (Gu, you're amazing) I caught back up to Eric. We worked well together and I was glad to have such a skillful wheel to follow the narrow singletrack. Things hurt less and less, and dare I say they got fun.

 

When it really hit me, probably 110 miles in, I almost started crying. Blame it on the endorphins. I was barreling down a sinuously narrow dirt track, following Marcotte's wheel. Five hours into racing, my body numbed to the jarring fatigue and mind drifted into a space of clarity & calm. I wasn't suffering, I was floating. Labored movements became reflexive, hands light on the bars as I danced and swayed between the rocks hazards studding the trail. That moment on the Black Canyon climb where my sense of self-worth and value was shattered seemed like a lifetime ago. 

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I laughed to myself with the thought that every single type of ride I'd ever done was, one way or another, shaping my performance on this one. Racing roads of every size, quality and grade. Bombing down city park paths like a kid oblivious to usual etiquette. Diving onto trails so closely resembling the ones I'd been lured onto along the American River Bike Trail in Sacramento, barely older than a toddler, riding my bike newly freed from training wheels. The same trails I'd continue to weave in and out from the bike path on my road bike. Or all those years mountain biking with my dad, sharing an unspoken desire to push each other for the sake of type 2 fun. Getting my shit kicked in in North Carolina cyclocross and mountain bike races, where the local legends showed me time and again what it meant to drive, not ride, your bike. My own drive to stay in the top 10, to ride this culmination of everything I'd learned and knew about riding a bike up to that day, was fresh. My race wasn't to the podium, it was to fulfilling my own affirmation that I belonged in this.

 

But seeing Sam on the side of the road killed my buzz. We came upon first Colin Strickland, looking like he'd sent it off the trail, and then Sam, working on getting a wheel from the caravan vehicle. I offered up sympathy but knew there was little else I could do as we passed. It was sad realize Sam's bad luck after such a crazy good ride (I learned later that Sam had evaded Colin's crash only to suffer the flat).

 

Marcotte and I continued on in our steady pursuit. I began to wonder if he was bluffing when he said he was fatiguing. Rule one of bike racing, especially with such good racers, is to be skeptical. He seemed no BS, and I was OK with keeping the pace steady gaining on the top 10.

 

We entered the last feed zone dubbed "The Oasis", resplendent with costumed fans slapping your butt with dyed powder and offering tequila shots to a background of house music. I just really wanted water, so I pulled a few shots of what was thankfully nonalcoholic drink mix and continued on.

 

The last big test of the day was Double Peak, as the name implies, two steep road pitches culminating in a few Ks of 12-20%. A front group rider who'd flatted surged up to us and rolled through, so I figured this was a time to kick up the pace as well. I pretended I was gassed and let him pull us for the majority of the climb (bluffing is easy to do when you have 40lbs on a guy). We made it up and over before a twisty singletrack descent back into town. This is where things got a little weird, as the stop lights were all open to traffic. So, after 120 miles of racing, he and sat at a light for a few minutes while an elderly traffic cop took his sweet time pressing the crosswalk.

 

In the last couple miles I felt the euphoria kick in once again. I'd done it. I didn't care too much how the final played out with this guy I was riding with. I knew I was top 10, I hadn't flatted or had a mechanical, and I'd overcome a stronger desire to quit than I may have ever felt on the bike. I rolled through in 8th, 20 minutes down on the winner, Pete Stetina, but just a handful from the podium. I sat down for a long while, too tired yet to celebrate with the obscene amount of beer and waffles available. Sam and Roman both finished in the top 25, super impressive given what they each had to deal with.

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I'm realizing more and more that my ability to endure is a big strength of mine.  There's something satisfying about managing yourself through all the crazy elements of a race like BWR, especially when it leads to success from perseverance. I hope to come back to this next year with new goals and also am inspired to add a gravel schedule to my race calendar. 

 

Huge shout out to Matt Adams for supporting TMBEquator in thriving as it does and letting us experience amazing races all over the country, my teammates Sam and Roman for sharing this crazy thing with me (Sam would've been on the podium, I know it) and the people at Specialized for providing these fantastic new Roubaix's for us. This would have been a much different story if I'd been on anything else. The bike is amazing and deserves a story of its own. 

 

Thanks lastly to all who read this, it's about as long as the race was, but who can keep a story like that short? Until next year, BWR. Just thinking about racing you again exhausts me, but I can't wait. 

 

 

Tour of the Gila 2019 with Cooper

The team just got back from the deserts of New Mexico racing the 2019 edition of the Tour of the Gila. Widely renown as one of the most challenging stage races in the PRT circuit, Gila attracts a wide crowd. Young riders hoping to strike a claim square up against veteran outlaws still on the run. Unforgiving winds and steep climbs in the baking sun make for dramatic showdowns akin to a high noon draw. By the end of the race there’s blood in the streets; but also smiles, high fives and salty hugs of empathy. Such a demanding race brings out a range of emotions, for some it’s a disappointment landing just off the podium, for others it’s rejoice in finishing the Gila Monster stage.

We caught up with Cooper who rode an impressive race finishing just outside the top 20 and picked his brain about what it was like to race one of the hardest stage races in the nation.



Having done Gila in the p12 race the year before, how did the transition to the Pro field feel?

The cat 1/2 field was much more akin to local racing in that there was less predictable tactics and random attacks flying all the time, just overall a less controlled race. In the UCI field with the strong teams that were present it really just came down to if you had the legs to hang at the front on the climbs or not. I like this style of racing. There’s no hiding. 

Silver city is a unique town to say the least. What were some of the places you'd suggest to a modern prospector?


To a prospector? Well, there is plenty of mining around... but on your way you might want to stop by Don Juan’s burrito drive-thru (they’ll still take your order if you’re on a bike). Once you get back you might want to check out The Jumping Cactus for some ‘cowboy coffee’ or maybe just head straight to Little Toad Brewery. I also hear there are plenty of natural hot springs in this area...

Tip: for the non-local you should decide if you like red or green chile before you arrive because you’ll be expected to know when placing your order. 



How did you prep for such a demanding event coming from sea level? 

For Gila I just tried to do a lot of long rides and focused on being good at the longer climbs. We don’t do any climbs like this on our normal racing circuit so having two proper summit finishes was a new challenge. Luckily it got pretty warm at home in the weeks before the race so I could spend some time climbing in the heat, which is supposed to help with altitude but I’m not sure if it did. 

What were some of your goals leading into the race? 

After Redlands I thought I might be able to ride into the top 20 overall if I didn’t have a similar implosion to my day on the Sunset Loops.  So we rode for that all week and almost pulled it off. 
I’m super glad the team was able to send a squad down to New Mexico so we could race against a UCI field on some of the hardest courses on the PRT. Stuff like this is what motivates me so I’m just happy we got the chance. 

How efficient is Dairy Queen as a recovery routine? Asking for a friend...

With DQ’s wide ranging menu there’s definitely something to meet everyones recovery needs. There’s only one rule, you have to finish the stage first. 

Redlands 2019 with Sam

Redlands 2019 with Sam

This years edition of the Redlands classic was filled with quite a lot. A lot of emotional ups and downs as the peloton mourned two of its own, a lot of scenic views of snow capped mountains overlooking super blooms, a lot of hungry new faces and teams, and finally, a lot of racing. We caught up with one of our racers Sam Anderson-Moxley and asked him some questions about the race and his 10th place finish on the overall GC.

Grasshopper Adventure Series Numero Uno: LOW GAP

Imagine with me a place where people show up with their bikes, in a parking lot, early on a weekend morning. Those who've been there before can set a familiar scene - lots of groggy eyed, generally stoic if not unhappy looking men and women outdoing each others' thousand-yard stares, grumpy over entry fees and port-a-potty lines. The bragging of past results mixes with excuses over recently failed training plans or equipment. Stone faced people with giant headphones on trainers holding expressions denoting either mass murder or impending emesis.

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Now, travel with me to one perhaps less familiar. It's still a parking lot, and still pretty damn early. But first, find yourself among redwoods, green hills, and a quiet town. North Bay, perhaps North Coast. Next, multiply the number of cars & people by about five. Add in a sponsor expo with swag, free nutrition, and generally stoked looking people happy to chat. Replace any impression of ego with conversation about past rides or the day ahead. Some here have shown up to race, some to ride hard, and some to finish. Some roll with the newest 39.75c 20-million TPI flat resistant cotton sidewall wet weather file treads, some with grip-shift 26-inch mountain bikes.

It's a Grasshopper Adventure Series. Long having been a cult attraction among NorCal cyclocrossers, mountain bikers, and adventure enthusiasts, it has grown in popularity with the droves of riders buying into the gravel market.

But by the types of people showing up each morning, you know it's bigger than a "mine's better than yours" consumer craze.Because when over 400 people show up on a given Saturday in rural Mendocino county to ride (or is it race?) their bikes on Miguel Crawford's road and gravel du jour, there's gonna be some variety. This is what sets these events apart. Hundreds of enthusiastic bike riders of all ages and abilities starting an adventure together. The skill level is all over the place but the stoke level is uniformly set to high.

And when I mean skill level, I mean good god, the skill level. Where else will you line up with the North American Cyclist of the Year (Katie Hall), former WorldTour pro and current gravel "pro" (Ted King), living legend in the cyclocross, endurance & enduro MTB (Geoff Kabush) and an O.G. gravel master and advocate (Yuri Hauswald)?

What other bike race has the assumption that everyone will go as hard as they want to, which generally means ridiculously hard, but in the most casual way possible? For those at the top of these events, it's a healthy dose of escape from off-the-line expectations so pervasive in road racing, but it still feeds the instinct to ride the legs off of your co-riders (or racers). On top of that, it tests your backwoods B roads & gravel handling skills against literally some of the best in the world.

So, with that, Low Gap. Up in Ukiah as an alternative to Old Caz (even gravel races suffer from permit issues. Until next year, dear friend...), the course featured 22 miles of road followed by 22 miles of dirt. What's both enticing and slightly terrifying about that in a Grasshopper is, unless you've ridden the course before (unlikely because of how remote these places are), "road" and "dirt" can mean any combination of things, from pristine mountain highway to bombed out chip seal, or from smoothly packed gravel to rutted, rooty, and muddy jeep tracks. You pick a bike & tire, if you can, and make it work. Send what ya show up with. Rung what ya brung. You get the idea, but unless you've done it you can't really understand how much fun it is. 

The aforementioned idols of mine were all present, chatting it up with any one of the cheery 400 others crowding the lane at the start line. As is tradition, Miguel says a few words about the day, about the sponsors, with just barely enough time for us to cheer in thanks of his hard work. The countdown is changed and everyone rolls.

This route featured about a 20 minute road climb from the gun, which usually sets an interesting scenario in these events. Will the front group act cool and casual, staying together and chatting it up? It's not a race, after all. Or will someone go rogue and lay down the hammer? It can be made a race, after all. Today it was the latter, with a gung-ho guy on his road bike attacking the front and getting 500 meters on us pretty quickly.

I'm just as guilty as anyone to follow the action, and I admittedly wanted to test the climbing legs after some big blocks of training. Also, I'd seen in the past where someone is let go at the beginning, never to be seen again. These courses  can be so gnarly that groups can't really work together to chase a strong solo or pair. Anyway, I set a good pace to reel him in. Mind you, I decided not to go full on roadie attack, because this isn't a race. About halfway up, I tacked onto his back wheel, at which point I looked back to find Ted King with me (not surprised) but also a Bear Dev Team rider on a mountain bike (surprised). Damn, that guy's gonna blow up at some point I immediately thought. It's a safe bet that anyone on Bear Dev is skilled and strong, but I didn't expect him to roll 2.3 mountain bike tires at our clip over 22 miles of pavement.

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After skirting over the ridge with just enough time to take in some glorious views of the coastal mountains, the three of us dropped into Hopper Time. Downhill, one lane, pot-holed road with grades up to 12% and plenty of damp hairpins. Unfortunately (or, thankfully?) the sketchiest sections were slow as we caught behind a pickup truck. After they graciously moved off the road, it was full gas again.

The valley was dark under redwood canopies, still wet from last week's rain, and a minefield of pot holes. This is where we quietly bid adieu to our roadie friend, whose bike couldn't keep up with our smashing of California Cobbles. So, behind the mountain biker, Ted and I traded lines and pointed out the rim-smashing holes that could end our day.

I took a few digs that still couldn't shake the mountain biker. Even up the final road climb, he kept the gap to me and Ted pretty small as I stepped on it. Kabush had tagged on, having floated over the valley roads only in a way a bike handler like he could. Ted and I hit the feed-zone first, which also happened to be the sharp left onto dirt.

In the Hoppers, these are funny spots in the race...er, ride. There's ample Osmo and often lots of snacks laid out in enticing fashion. Do you stop, chat it up, refill bottles, pound a few mini cinnamon rolls? Or do you count precious seconds and go for just a handup? We chose the latter, but shortly after decided to make a pit stop to drop some pressure in the tires (again, another gamble you'll only find yourself considering at a Hopper). Mountain biker kid and Kabush passed us soon after we stopped, meaning a dig to close the gap even though the dirt climb had only begun.

We were still in the trees, so climbing turned a heavy grind through the ruts and often mud. Mountain biker kid now in his element, he had ample watts and grip to work with every time he got out of the saddle. It was all I could do to dig in and put out some extra seated power. The smaller descents between climbing, rutted and wet, made it difficult to really recover. I had definitely set into watching the wheels and turning over my legs. 

On one of the more rocky descents, Ted flatted as we tried to keep up with mountain biker kid. It was a bummer, as it's always more fun to finish off races fair and square. Again, too, the unique Hopper vibe comes in - I find a certain sense of comraderie in whatever small group I find myself in after navigating so many country lanes, dirt tracks and ridgeline roads.

Anyway, now it was just me alone chasing the Bear Dev rider. With a twenty minute dirt climb to go before the nine mile descent, the course really played to his favor and I was starting to fade. It's not super encouraging to realize going full gas to tag back on during the climb only sets up getting on the descent. This guy was strong and talented, and I'd long dismissed any advantage I'd had on a gravel bike. 

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So with that perspective, I shifted towards holding onto second knowing there was a one Geoff Kabush ripping it on the descent behind me. Having somebody like him behind you on anything with turns involved is a hell of a motivator. The descent of the ridge wasn't too bad, although a fair number of washboard bumps and potholes kept it interesting.

I crossed the line in second, with mountain biker kid about a minute and a half ahead of me and Kabush heading in two minutes behind me to round out the podium. All in all, I was happy with the day, especially since there's so much in these races to account for. 

So, as it turns out, mountain biker kid is actually Sandy Floren, U23 XC mountain bike national champ. He's also as friendly as he is strong. With that, I cut out all jokes about not dropping him, will never call him mountain biker kid again, and now get to add him to the list of Hopper Hitters that make these rides (ok, races) so rad.

Onto the next!