The Americans flew out on Wednesday morning, to arrive in Barcelona on Thursday morning. David and I arrived first, with Tolley (Chris), and Sammi arriving not long after. Thankfully the riders and their bikes all arrived on time and in one piece. It is pretty standard to arrive at least 2 days before race day. This gives us enough time for the riders to adjust their internal clocks, as well as for us to fix problems like lost or broken equipment, or even canceled or changed flights. I always breathe a sigh of relief when all the riders and their equipment make it on time and unbroken. After a quick nap it was time to retrieve Olivier from the train station, just 1 mile from the hotel (a 7 hour train ride is a lot better than a 18 hour plane trip, but when we went to London, it was Olivier’s bike that didn’t arrive until the next day).
As usual, the Friday before the race revolved mostly around making sure our equipment was working, picking up race numbers, checking out the race course, and letting the riders do some “openers”. Openers are basically pre-race day short hard efforts to just get the blood pumping. After getting yourself to the airport, a short layover, waiting for bags, and then getting to the hotel, transatlantic flight usually winds up at around 24 hours of travel. 24 hours of just sitting around and walking through airports isn’t exactly great for the legs, so these openers are really key when you are flying all the way from the US to a European race. Luckily, riding around to test the equipment and get race numbers is a great way to see the city as well. On the way to the race course, we took a detour through the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. If you find yourself in Barcelona, a walk or ride around the Gothic Quarter is a must do.
Race Day starts out with qualification. The riders go out in qualification groups, and set their fastest lap time to make it into the final race. Over 300 riders enter the men’s field, but only the top 85 go directly to the final. The women’s field is much smaller and everyone qualifies, so honestly, qualifying is less of a concern. The racers take off like a rocket the first few laps of the final, so a good starting position is key. Olivier and Santos were in the top 10, with Tristan and Tolley in 31st and 49th. While Sammi started off 16th in her group.
There is a big break between qualifying and the final, 4 hours in this case. 4 hours is a long time but it isn’t long enough to do anything other than hang out in the team area, stay hydrated, get a little food, and try to relax. Barcelona was hot and humid, so the hydration part is essential. After the long break and the men’s last chance race (the top 10 from that race get to go to the final), it was time for the women’s race.
Sammi is up. Bam. First lap, everyone is on the gas. The first few laps were very aggressive, and Sammi didn’t qualify as well as she usually does, so it definitely took her a while to get to the front. Once she finds her way to the front she gets aggressive, and makes multiple attempts to get off the front with a small group. There were a few times when I thought the move would stick, but they never quite made it. In the end, pro rider Rachel Barbieri was just too fast for everyone. She led the group into the last corner and then sprinted out of the corner to be first across the line. Sammi finished 7th, less than a bike length off the podium.
I knew that we could win this men’s race going in, and we would be racing for the win, not just a high finish. Santos and Olivier were riding really well, and Tristan is one hell of a bike racer. Tolley is just coming off an injury, but is a powerful rider. Tolley would be our workhorse, his job to pull break a dangerous break if we weren’t in it, or try to set up Tristan if it goes to a field sprint. Olivier’s high starting position put him in a good spot, and he was off at the gun, leading the group at over 30 MPH down the first straight. Dave was right there, near the front, ready to go as well, while Tristan and Tolley worked on making their way up. The first few laps of these races are always SO FAST that it’s tough to move up a first. But good fitness is rewarded, and after a few laps go by, more and more riders have trouble holding their position and the fitter riders slowly make their way up. About 7 or 8 laps in, there is a short pause in the action and Dave attacks. He’s got a small gap, of a few seconds and it is holding strong. The best case scenario here, is that another strong rider bridges up to him, and they stay away. We want maybe one of the Allez- Allez/ Specializd guys, or maybe one of the Cinelli or Bahumer guys to get up there to Dave, so that he has someone to share the work. That also means that the other guy’s team isn’t going to chase and they have a better chance of staying away. But it wasn’t meant to be. I look up to see big Aldo and Colin from Specialized working to drag Dave back, taking the whole field with them. Ideally Olivier will be in a position to counter attack and soon as David is back in the field, but the pace is just so high that there isn’t much Olivier can do at the moment. The next several laps see Olivier and David attacking when they can, trying to get off the front with a small group, Tristan is now in the top 10 waiting for his move, while Tolley is slowly moving up. Around the halfway mark, Tolley shouts at me “Sean, David crashed!” Oh shit. I hope he’s ok. I start running alongside the course looking for our fallen rider, and at the 180 degree turn before the finish, I see David standing there looking pissed but uninjured. I’m glad David is ok, but bummed that we’ve lost one of our major tools in getting a win. Olivier remains aggressive, but can’t seem to make anything stick, while Tristan patiently waits for the right move. Tolley is moving towards the front to help his 2 remaining teammates, when he narrowly misses a crash. He stays upright, but he loses around 20 places. Shit. He fought hard for half the race to make his way up, and now he’s practically back where he started. The race is a flurry of attacks, and Olivier is in some good moves, but nothing sticks. We are coming down to the last few laps when: BAM! Colin Strickland pulls his big move. He gets a gap on the field and has about 10 second. This is exactly how he has won the last several races. It was later in the race than usual, but still the exact same solo move. With 2 laps to go, the gap looks like it is holding steady and Colin is going to stay away. When out of nowhere Tristan rockets off of the front of the race and is closing the gap on Colin. Hell yeah! He has been saving his energy the whole race, just waiting for this one big move. Tristan catches Colin with almost exactly 1 lap to go, and I can see the frustration in Colin’s face. These two guys race against each other all the time, and Tristan beats Colin more times than not. But Tristan is in Colin’s house today, so it’s anyone’s race. For the next minute, I am jumping up and down though, because I am almost sure Aventon is going to win. 45 seconds later I see the two riders coming down the final straight before the last corner when Colin hits is hard. Tristan is on him like glue, and the race is to the final corner. The first rider into that corner already has a head start to the finish line. But Strickland beats Tristan into the corner and to the line. 2nd place for Tristan and Aventon, with Aldo Ilsec and the rest of the pack breathing down their necks (Olivier was well placed with a lap to go, but crashed during that final lap). Normally I would be pretty stoked with 2nd place in a Red Hook Crit. But we were racing for the win, and I knew we could take it. We’ll be rolling to Milan with a fully healthy and healed Tolley, a more RHC experienced Tristan, and hopefully Dave will stay rubber side down. We’ll be taking a couple of strong women as well. We’ve got one more chance for a big W in 2016. We’ll be smashing the pedals and keeping our fingers crossed.