ThirstyBearCycling dominate the Mt. Hood Stage Race
Mt. Hood Stage Race Report by Tom Lyons
Ken and I went to Mt Hood looking for a high GC finish. Max was in good form looking to help out and a top stage finish. Ken had me in a little better TT shape than him but I knew we were pretty similar. I told the guys well in advance that I would be useless in the crit (sit in the back wearing my district champ jersey) and was unsure how I would handle the technical downhills on the last day. With that in mind, it was important for us to have both Ken and I in contention coming out of the TT. We were sitting 6th and 8th and after Bryant crashed in the crit we sat 1:00/2:30 out of yellow heading into the final stage.
How much does the lack of headwind help in the TT? In 2010 I did 7:30 slower than 2013. I used my road bike back then but the wind had to account for at least 3:00. I was told by the TT gurus that if you can still go 13mph uphill, stay in the aero bars. I was able to do both climbs at about 14-15mph so I never came out of that position. Ken told me to keep pedaling through turns even if we sit up so I did that too. I could tell I was having a good day and really went for it on the last 5mi bike path section. Finishing only 7 secs off the district champ Craig Roemer gave me some confidence (but he was not on good form here) and only 1 sec behind Boynton was good too. I was ready for the final stage! But, first … the crit.
They gave a call up in the crit to the top 5 in GC. I was sure glad they didn’t go deeper. I would have been the first guy in history to go up to the line and then turn around and go right back where I belonged after they called my name. In the crit, Ken jumped on a prime lap and they let him go. Knowing he had been in a break last year, I figured “here he goes!” And lucky for me, Max was right up on the front the rest of the way so I stayed back. Ken was gone for half the race and eventually got reeled in at the line but it was amazing to watch him out there. And, to see Max go on everyone who tried to bridge. I got to see all the action from the course as I spent the whole race just watching it unfold. Right after it, Ken was so fired up that Max and I knew something big was going to happen the next day.
I talked with Ken about the final stage reiterating that I didn’t want him to do anything special for me in case I couldn’t get down the twisting wet roads with the pack. I race best when I know what my teammates’ intentions are and I told Ken to race how he wants and go win it. His plan was to hit the climb after the first descent. Simple. Max and I were ready to react accordingly. If he got away, we sit in and cover. Perfect. I loved the plan. Since I’ve raced with Max plenty of times and knew he was climbing well, I felt we could make this work!
The three of us have different styles. Ken rides on the front and never sees even mid-pack. Max loves riding anywhere in the middle of a tight pack. And, in this race, I preferred to sit in the back row. We climbed. Ken led it. The roads got narrower and wetter. I saw two guys collide on a wet/muddy flat section near the first KOM. Thought they were going down in front of me but they didn’t. It was about there that Roemer fell off the pace. He was in 4th (7 secs up on me). I got up in position for the downhill glad that Ken had popped off half the field. I saw the top 12 guys go screaming down (or as Ken put it – pretty carefully). I was off the back following one guy and a couple more dropped off (including Brenon’s brother). I would crawl through the turns and fly down the straights keeping the peloton in sight using Max as my reference. They got about 300m ahead nearing the bottom. On the long straight to the bottom I could see all the way down it and it was dry. I went as hard as I could and caught up! It helped that Boynton flatted because I think they slowed down to get around him (he had gone off the front on the descent). With him by the side of the road and Ken about to light the fireworks, I became 3rd place in GC on the road.
Ken’s surge up the hill dropped half the group and it was here that I came by him, Max, and Sargent (Evolution). The four of us took off dropping the yellow jersey (Larson, Bend) and 2nd GC (Browning, Evolution). Matt Slater (Evolution) was still there and he brought those guys back then sat up and was done. I really think if he wasn’t there to sacrifice for Browning, we might have got away. I made the move because I wanted Ken to get away solo. I figured if a couple of us could go here it would be easier for Ken to be solo soon after and I’d have the top two behind me. All the Bend guys were gone by here so Larsen was on his own. Once they caught us, we hit another hill and I followed Ken into it easing up to let a gap form. He slowly pulled away and no one went. I sat there and made sure no one jumped as we watched Ken go. Sargent went to the front a little too late and made a big dig on the steepest part dropping the yellow jersey. But Max and I were there with him and Browning. We sat on Sargent. Yellow came back. We were down to 6 and then picked up the last survivor of the break. Ken was with the lead car up the road and the gap was 1:00 (I was timing it when I could see him). Sargent did everything he could to keep Browning close to Ken. And Larsen benefited because he just covered Browning. Max covered everything and I sat in the back behind the other two guys who were not GC guys.
We went down the final descent at high speed but I knew Ken was going faster (have you ever seen him go down hill?). Max was amazing. He was an incredible teammate racing for Ken and I. Helping Ken by covering things and then I asked him to sit 3rd wheel on the descent so I could watch him through the turns as I sat 5 bike lengths off the back trying to get down the hill without crashing. I had asked one favor – if he didn’t see me at the bottom, to hold on and bring me back to the group on the flat. He didn’t need to as I came into the flats right with the pack. We hit the bottom with 20K to go and were told Ken had 2:30. It was here that I told Max I felt great and was going to be ready to jump the group anywhere from here to the finish depending on the gap. If Ken could keep it at 2:00 range, then I would wait as long as I could to preserve his chance of winning the GC. If it started to drop to 1:30 range or less, then I would have to make a run at winning this thing and I needed to win by 1:00 to make it worth it. I wasn’t interested in a stage win. I wanted us to have our best shot at the GC. That was the two pronged plan. By about 10K, the gap was still in the 2:00 range so I decided to wait until between 3mi-4mi to go. I told Max that I was going to be able to beat all these guys up the final hill and all he had to do was cover Browning and Larson. Sargent was starting to suffer and Browning alternated pacing duties (he needed to keep Ken within 1:45 and beat Larson by 20 secs to win GC). I figured another mile on the front for Browning would help tire him out so I waited patiently. There was some surging but we covered easily. Max was looking the strongest of anyone and I was right with him too! Larsen kept looking at me (I was behind him, waiting). He knew what was coming. We were the team that was making this race difficult for everyone and we were in the perfect spot. It was so fun I could hardly stand it.
With about 5K to go after another surge, things settled and Max put himself off the left side of the rear wheel of the guy in front who surged. Browning and Larson were along the white line behind him. I jumped to the left of Max as he unknowingly had the others pinned in. I could have easily rubbed elbows with him as I went by – I wanted to leave no room for anyone to come with me. I got a good gap and was off. Larson made a dig to shake everyone and he was coming solo after about a minute. When I saw he was coming across solo, I stopped pedaling and got on his wheel. I think I could have stayed ahead of him but I didn’t want to be a carrot for him to chase up to Ken. Now it was up to him to reel back Ken all alone. If he hadn’t come, I think I could have got close to beating him by 1:00 over the last 5K. But with him there, I made him do it all and I stuck to his wheel. Then, I looked back and here comes Max solo bridging with about 1mi to go. I waited and waited on Larson’s wheel. He was working so hard trying to save his jersey and I was trying to figure out when I was going to leave him to try to get the 40 secs on Browning who was now drifting backwards. Max caught us with 1K to go and Sargent looks at me and say “I guess you guys are going 1-2-3 today.” He was a champ out there and well deserved win, but it was close. I jumped hard with 500m to go and got close to 20 secs on him. Max came a little later and as we approached the line I motioned for Max to come up and get 2nd. But Ken was cheering so loud it reminded me that I should keep pushing to try to get the time on Browning so we came across as we were.
We went 1-2-3 and it was one of the most satisfying races ever for me. Max was amazing and I was so happy to have him to race with. He is the reason that we were able to put two guys on the GC podium. And, after all that he moved from 19th to 6th in GC on the last day. Just goes to show how having a strong team will inspire each of us to race well. I loved the team aspect of our racing this weekend where each of us communicated clearly and were able to have the races that best suited our strengths. It made it so much fun.
Thanks for reading. Too long I’m sure. But, some interesting team stuff going on during the race. My mind was calculating as I sat in that chase group thinking strategy the whole time. And, I think we did as best as we could only to come up short by 13 secs on GC.
When the race director announced the top-3 for the stage, he said that in the 11 year history of the race no team had ever swept a stage in any division. It was a fantastic way to close down this great event for us.
Mt Hood Stage Race Report by Ken Gallardo
Stage 1, missed the break and had to chase for a lap. Pulled it back to 7 secs from a high of 90 secs. Got gapped a little in the last 300 m, 18th @ 21 secs.
Stage 2, had a decent but not great TT. Was glad for my laziness and kept the 55 chainring on the TT bike because there was no wind. 8th @ 3:06 back from Bryant who torched it under 45 mins.
Stage 3, first few laps sucked and guys could not corner. Sad to see Bryant crash out (broken collarbone). About halfway through everyone’s legs started complaining so I attacked hard and got a nice gap. Held onto a max 20 sec gap but the last couple laps took their toll. Got caught at the line and finished 2nd. Max surfed the front and sprinted nicely for 4th.
Stage 4, the plan was for me to go with the attack from distance (the 2nd climb which is over 30 miles from the finish). Tom and Max would sit on and counter if I got caught. There were a few guys who attacked early but were way down so the group let them go. When the gap got to 3:30 and the moto said the 3s were closing in, I went to the front on the 1st climb and rode hard tempo. This cut the field in half. The descent was wet so we all went down pretty carefully. Sad to see Boynton puncture near the bottom of the descent as he’s on good form and was high overall. We hit the 2nd climb and I hit the gas. The group clawed back so I kept the pressure on. Then Max comes around me and turns up the power. After a couple mins of this Tom attacks and as he goes by he says 2nd overall (Browning of Evolution) was dropped. I look back and the group is disintegrating. Max rolls off behind Tom and nobody wants to cover them so I bridge. In hindsight this was too greedy…I should’ve sat on and let Tom and Max go. The group catches up when the road levels off but I know there’s another steep section coming up and Max again gives me a great leadout. This time I get a gap and I’m gone. By the top of the climb I have a minute. By the bottom of the descent (after a long false flat around the top of the mountain) I have 2 mins. There’s a long flat section leading up to the final climb but I’m going good and keeping a steady tempo. At 10 km to go my gap is 2:25. I’m amazed and realize I might just ride into the overall lead. I cross the finish line solo and then the wait begins. After nearly two minutes (darn! no overall win for me) here comes Tom and Max sprinting away from the yellow jersey to take 2nd and 3rd on the stage. I’m happy with the win and to get up to 2nd overall with Tom moving up to 3rd overall and Max making a big jump up to 6th overall with his great ride.
Really a shame this is the final Mt Hood Classic as it’s a great race with beautiful and challenging courses and Hood River is a great town to hang out. We had two fantastic summer days and nights. It was awesome having nearly the whole team at the house and we enjoyed two evenings out on the patio chatting and enjoying fresh local Sockeye salmon on the BBQ and organic Oregon Pinot. Huge thanks to Max for joining me on the long drive and for him and Tom riding like champions to put us in a position to do well on stages and the overall.
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