While a few were battling at the front for glory on the Queen Stage of the Amgen Tour of California, for most, it was a matter of surviving the tough and hard stage to not be time cut and be able to fight one more day. Standing alone, the course was a hard one with more than 15,000 ft of climbing. over the 75.8-mile course from Claremont to the top of Mt Baldy. But to make it even more difficult, it came after some hard days of racing that included crashing for some.
It was obvious that it would be a long hard day for some, when riders were shelled as soon as the roads went up, a few kilometers into the race with attacks flying at the front. There were bodies everywhere on the road. And the carnage continued while Radioshack settled at the front of the field, keeping a fast tempo which they increased at the end of the stage on their way to a stage win and solidifying their GC lead.
Here are two stories of survival from Sergio Hernandez (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) and Andy Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL).
“It was definitely a lot of fighting on my part.” The day started great for Hernandez. After a flurry of attacks, Hernandez made into the break that formed on the bottom slopes of the first KOM, just 6.5 km into the race. But then bad luck.
“I was in the break and I was crashed out of it. I was feeling okay, I went over my bars, my bike got tangled up with the BMC guy. That just takes the momentum away.”
With that Hernandez was shelled from not only the break but the main field but he made it back.
“I fought through the descent, through the cars and finally got on by the dam area. Just tried to conserve and eat and then going up the climb, I was 20th wheel, I was in good position, really comfortable and towards the top, I was running out of water and went to get a feed, and Danny must have been the last car so it took forever.”
Hernandez had to go back to his team car, the last one in the caravan to get bottles. It was mayhem on the descent with cars moving up for feeding and riders coming back, all at the same time, all at 50 mph. “Radioshack was putting the hammer down and they were single-filed. I got back on at the tail of it but people were letting gaps open up. I think I would have been a lot better today if I would have gotten a faster feed, and if I didn’t crash, my knee is a little bit sore. ”
And with that Hernandez was unhitched from the main group. It became a matter of survival. “When I crashed out of the break it put me in a bad place, there were groups coming off. I thought my race was over really. I got to suffer to the top of the KOM and hoping for something to come. I was able to get in.”
Hernandez made it into a group and his knowledge of the road came in handy. “I’ve done the climb before a few times. It’s just about pacing yourself, if you try to jump from group to group, it’s hard to recover from it so from the start, you just get yourself in a good rhythm. Then, around the switchbacks, I like to go down a gear and sprint through it because I’m light I can do and then I sit back down and get back to my rhythm. The group I was in, we were catching quite a bit of people and really pacing ourselves.”
It was simply a very hard day. “Everybody is already tired, the day before the time trial was one of the hardest day I’ve ever done, it was probably harder than today I want to say.” said the Southern Californian who was hoping to do well in home turf. “I had a lot of friends here, all over the road it was 155 Sergio, it was pretty cool. I got a call up today , I was totally surprised.”
But now, he’s looking towards the final stage on Sunday.
“I survived, I’m really glad that I kept fighting because I thought my race was over, I thought I was going to be gruppetto for sure.” concluded Hernandez. “Tomorrow is going to be fun. Something about being the last day, and then my mom and my sisters are all coming out tomorrow.”
“The gruppetto is a pact amongst all the racers.” Bruised and hurting from crashes on stage 5, the fast start was just too much for Jacques-Maynes.
“The whole first hour was straight uphill and it was just game on. There was a bunch of attacks right from the gun, there was a little group just hovering and Radioshack just setting tempo but they were doing it so hard because they only gave them 100 meters, they were doing it so hard that guys were shelled, the field just split in half.”
He added, “There was a gruppetto formed only 10 k[ilometer] in, and then there’s even a subgroup gruppetto, guys yo-yoing off the back of that. I was in the cars up until the KOM and so was Phinney and so were a lot of guys. Oh man it was such a tough start.”
But the 30-man gruppetto also had to watch the clock with a time cut of 15%. “Then, because we were off so early we were basically racing, UnitedHealthcare lined up four guys at the front and they were just driving it so that we could make the timecut, everybody rode pretty damned hard all the way to the bottom of Glendale Road.”
Finally, the group could take a breather. “Then we were at 6 minutes at that point and then we started feeling ‘okay okay we might make it’ and so we calmed down a little bit, but oh boy.”
The gruppetto is an all or nothing strategy for dropped riders, they ride together and hope to make the time cut. If they don’t, then they hope that the officials will not cut a large group of riders.
“The gruppetto is a pact amongst all the racers, either we all make time cut or none of us make time cut.” Jacques-Maynes explained. “that’s the risk we take, all or nothing, so we have to watch out for each other. We have to ride hard enough to make the time cut and not so hard that we just shell half the guys, they’re not going to make the time cut. It’s a tricky balance to play and there’s a lot of yelling from the back ‘piano’, and you’re like ‘okay okay slow it down’.”
He did start to feel better as the stage went on. “At the start, I was the guy that was off the back, yo-yoing, and at the end, I was the guy sitting at the front, ‘okay okay we can get more’. So I was on both sides of the coin today, I was just hoping to make it so we can do a race tomorrow.”
One more stage. “I want to finish.” stated Jacques-Maynes. “I had no personal ambitions today except for survival and to waste as little energy as possible and maybe be good tomorrow. We’ll see, a lot of the sprinters are in the same boat. At least tomorrow doesn’t start with a climb.”
In the end, both riders survived to race another day. Hernandez finished 41st at just over 9 minutes 56 seconds down and Jacques-Maynes crossed the line with the 25-rider gruppetto, in 95th at 32 minutes and 31 seconds
One more stage, but not an easy one. The 82-mile (132km) stage from Santa Clarita to Thousand Oaks includes the final KOM of the race, Balcolm Canyon. This is a wicked climb that is relatively short but steep with an average grade of 9.4%. It all ends with five times around the 4-mile flat and fast finishing circuits.