Nate English called it on Sunday when he tweeted ‘@Benjm1 @ajmiac @jimstemper pretty sure that if Jim gets in the break he’ll be the most aggressive rider for the day, pretty much any day.’
After a long brutal day in the break as the temperature crossed the 100 degrees F line, Jim Stemper of the 5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda Pro Cycling was awarded the Most Courageous jersey after stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California.
The twitter exchange started when Stemper’s former teammate Andy Jacques-Maynes told him to wait a few stages before getting in the break.
“I tend to be aggressive and he was joking about telling me not to be too aggressive right away and his brother Ben (Jacques-Maynes) was like ‘no, definitely go’. They were joking about being in that jersey and honestly today I thought I might get it when I was in the break by virtue of Carter (Jones) getting the (King of the) Mountain jersey. “ Stemper told podiuminsight on Sunday evening.
“I was kind of laughing, that’s funny we were just talking about this last night. You never think that it’s actually going to happen and it did and I’m sure happy.”
For his hard work in the scorching heat, Stemper received the Most Courageous jersey during the podium ceremony. “It was great.” he said of standing on the podium. “I hadn’t thought about all these people that would see me doing it, I had all these emails and everything after the stage to get through. It felt great, it’s crazy to be at the Tour of California and have a jersey so I’m very happy.”
Getting into the break was simply putting the team’s strategy into action. Early in the 165-km stage, Stemper was off the front with Carter Jones (Bissell), Marsh Cooper (Optum) and Zak Dempster (NetApp-Endura).
“The plan was to get one rider in the move that was smaller and so that was our job. The guys and I were trading off picking moves. I picked a good one and I quickly realized that today wasn’t going to be about strength, it was going to be about dealing with the heat because right away I was out of the water.”
Though the Tour of California opening stage featured three categorized climbs including the slog up Palomar Mountain, the soaring heat was the major difficulty for all involved.
“I pretty much figured that if I kept up on my water and kept myself cool, I would be able to last through the day and we had such a big gap that I had some motivation on the stage, that was kind of the plan so I just kept dumping water on myself as much as possible. I was so lucky to be in the break, I could have all the water I wanted. A lot of the guys unfortunately were not on the same boat as me.”
Stemper admits that he had his eye on another classification jersey. “I actually was thinking about the mountain jersey and I figured out after the first KOM that Carter was probably stronger than me and so I didn’t think that it was worth the effort, the waste of energy to try and race him for the rest of them so he and I just rode really well together.”
The four men pushed the gap over the 10-minute mark before the field woke up at the bottom of the Palomar Mountain climb. By the time the break, now down to three riders, crested the top, the gap has decreased to 8:30. The field had started to chase but the trio was not giving up. The pace and heat was too much for Cooper on the climb up Cole Grade, leaving only two riders off the front.
Stemper and Jones continued to cooperate, holding the gap at four minutes with 30 km to go. The goal was now to get to the finish line and contest the win. But it wasn’t to be. The pair was caught with five km to go.
“I think both of us had the stage win in mind and so we set together, it was just good riding, it was gentlemanly stuff all day and we just didn’t make it.”
Stemper is not done. He still plans on getting into more breaks in the next few days but not on stage 2 where once again, record-breaking heat with a high of 108 F is forecasted for the finish in Palm Springs.
“For sure I’ll got for a break later on but that’s depending on surviving tomorrow.” he concluded. “Monday is going to be about surviving and protecting our GC guys, we need to make sure that they have all the water they need. Just like today, Monday is going to be about dealing with the heat, not about strength.”