The Race Where Legends are Born
The thrill of hearing Aria's name over the PA as he slipped on the best amateur jersey was enough to forget the gut wrenching miles of Oak Glen. Minuets earlier we were clawing our way up a mountain, racing against the best in the nation, puking from dehydration and shivering in the heat as our legs cramped beneath us. Now, we were seeing the materialization for these efforts, in the form of a PRT jersey we all dreamed of wearing. There's never a doubt if it's all worth it, mostly, because it's a question you can't afford to ask. The dream is best pursued blindly
The 2018 edition of the Redlands Bicycle Classic got off to a bumbled start as the first stage's Big Bear Time Trial was canceled due to snow. We were relieved not having to drive an hour up a mountain to do a TT at altitude, but tense in knowing the next day would be fireworks from the gun. With no clear leader it felt like the pack was cobbling together a bike race on the fly. Teams tried to control the field, send guys up the road, split it up, then sit in; it was a bit confusing from the pack. The day's finishing climb sorted out any of this confusion, as a clear leaderboard was established. Aria was 11th, barely a minuet from the podium, miles ahead from the next best amateur.
"Good things happen when they cancel the time trial!" Andreu joked as we waited for the presentation. It was clear that Aria had a good day, and a better chance at white without the TT, but it was also clear that Aria made good things happen. He had a proper winter, trained his ass off and came into Redlands flying. He made the race and took what was his. As a team we basked in his glory, and soaked up undeserved pride. For the night, we were on top of the world; we had a purpose to our suffering.
The next day Aria went down in a crash, torched his bike, and couldn’t finish the stage. We didn't even make it half-way through the Highland Circuit till we saw the white jersey on the side of the road; cheering us on none the less.
The circuit race is arguably the most brutal stage in that aspect; if you fall victim to a crash or mechanical, you have less than a slim chance to make it through without being time cut. Dreams of success can be stamped out in a turn, months of preparation killed by an errant water bottle or pothole. Our guest rider Tim was another victim of the day, as an untimely flat caused him to be pulled from the race.
With just Roman, Cooper and Andrew left in the race, the team was feeling a bit slim, but we still had fight.
In the crit Cooper showed his scrap as he kept his bike upright while another rider plowed into his rear wheel, and again when he got caught in a massive pileup that neutralized the race. When asked how it went, with dried blood and a beer he replied, “Fuc%*ed from the start.”
We were all feeling that in one way or another.
As we lined up on the 100+ heat for the final stage, the Sunset Loop, there was no hiding our fatigue and weariness. As one of the hardest days on the domestic calendar, we knew it was going to hurt. And yet, somehow, once the whistle blew, we forgot about it all and raced our asses off.
We attacked, bullied moves, stayed away, and fought for our position. We raced with guts and tried to find some glory, we made it last till the end, falling just short of the final crit laps.
Being a smaller domestic elite team at a race like Redlands, you know your options are limited. You know you’re racing worldtour prospects and fully funded programs while dreading going back to work on Monday. It’s not an excuse for a lack of results, rather just the reality of being “almost good enough”. Legends are born at this race, but before they are they all struggle with flats, crashes, illness and the human condition before their big break. Sure legends can be born, but reality is instilled too. It’s a sharp double edged sword.
But no matter what your trajectory, you know damn well that the feeling of ripping a break on the Sunset Loop, attacking a strung out field on Oak Glen, bumping elbows with pro teams, even if it’s fucked from the start, is something that will stick with you for a lifetime. You won’t regret trying, you bask in blindly chasing a dream. Because in the end you’ll find, it’s not the success or big break that breeds a legend, but rather, the journey.