During Redlands I got an email asking if I would like to guest ride for Team Rally (formerly known as Optum). My initial thought was; “f* ya!” as signing a contract with a team of this caliber at the end of the 2016 is my number one outcome goal of the season. However, my thought process quickly shifted to “Oh no, how can I leave my team right before team camp?” “They’re gonna hate this”. My judgment had never been quite so wrong as Steve gave me the go ahead to leave part-way through the season and at arguably the most important time of all… so thanks a million Steve!!! In addition to Steve being so supportive, all the girls were equally amped. It just goes to show how positive our team is to one another.
So after we had wrapped up Redlands and headed North to beautiful Oxnard for a five-day decompress, I was on a flight to Fayetteville, Arkansas. Now I know what you’re thinking, how could there be a UCI level stage race in the land of Walmarts, BBQ, and deep within the Ozarks? Well isn’t that just the beauty of bike racing? We can pretty much do it anywhere, anytime. And the south really is all that I had been told it would be: southern hospitality, rolling green hills for miles and miles, oh and of course those hot and sticky temperatures.
I got acquainted with riders and staff pretty quickly as most were already familiar faces which was a relief! We kicked off racing on Thursday with (what is becoming more and more frequent of late) a 5km uphill time trial. However, this time the terrain was not as nice to the legs as in San Dimas, with some super steep pitches and many switchbacks making for a technical and patience-testing course. The 11-minute-ish effort was over in the blink of an eye and I was left with the ever familiar feeling of “Was that enough? Did I fully empty the tank? Did I go out too hard?”. Results soon told I had a top 40-finish which was just “meh” to what I wanted to put out, but it was “on to the next one”. The next one would be a 100 km road race through windy, winding, rolling roads with a touch of good old American freeway. After Redlands’ waiting games, I was super excited to be able to throw out some good digs in an effort to help our best placed GC contenders Heather Fisher and Emma White, but with UHC watching us like a hawk a breakaway with any Rally rider would not be had. BUT we did land Emma on the podium in third place after Katherine Maine set her up beautifully heading into the last couple corners.
The next day was much the same with UHC marking our riders a breakaway was again going to be out of question. So we prepared for a bunch sprint, but with a hectic run-in to the finish I ended up hitting the deck (at about the same point where my brother broke his collarbone the year before). Good thing I drank my milk as a kid and only came away with a few bumps and bruises.
The final stage was a 50-minute crit around downtown Fayetteville. This course was pretty cruel at the end of a four-day stage race, with the steep 300 metre hill-top finish. I was running on fumes by the end of the stage and I was pretty disappointed to not be able to contribute to a team result, but it was a week full of lessons learned which is always a positive.
A huge thanks to Steve and Trek Red Truck for allowing me to race with Rally, it was a massive opportunity to be able to showcase my skills to a team I hope to be riding for one day.