Photo credit:  lasala Images

Photo credit: lasala Images

Cascades Cycling Classic has never been considered easy. This five-stage race is held in the hot and arid town of Bend Oregon and boasts lengthy road races with huge elevation gain. This stage race is notably challenging as it falls right after BC Superweek and many athletes, myself included, find it difficult to switch from crit mode (short and explosive power) to mountain climbing mode.

This year, being an Olympic year, meant that the competition was going to be deep and Cascades was going to be a pre-Rio show done like none other. After eight days of crits I was feeling surprisingly fresh and strong, ready to test my legs on some mountains.

Stage One: McKenzie Pass Road Race: 146km, 1323m Total Elevation Gain

Stage one started at a picturesque state park and the first 100km of the stage was on rolling rural roads. The last 30km of the race gradually climbs and then kicks up into a full on mountain top finish. The stage finishes in the coolest location, a lava field on the top of the mountain. Our team plan was for riders to conserve as much energy as possible before the climb; however, if you can tag onto a good move then do it.

The race was pretty tame for the first half; a couple of breaks tried to establish, but each time it was just solo riders and the pack didn’t seem interested in letting anything go before the climb. As with most climbs, positioning going into a climb is critical. It’s crucial as a rider that you conserve as much energy as possible, minimizing the accelerations you have to make to close any gaps that open up.

The amount of fighting for positioning going into the climb was next level. There was probably five or more crashes in that last 15 km as riders were trying to fit into space where there wasn’t any. If you weren’t so focused on positioning and the impending doom of the climb, the amount of crashes was almost comical. Thankfully all of the TRT team held their positions strongly and stayed out of trouble, keeping rubber side down.

Once on the climb, the pace was aggressive with several surges and attacks, all which came back. The climb was more of a test of attrition with the field shrinking from over 80 riders to maybe 20 riders. Denise is a lead-out/positing master and she made a huge dig in the last 1km to bring me up to a good sprinting position. The last 200m of the race is a sharp kick probably over 10% grade. I dug deep for the sprint and had little left in the tank; however, our guest rider Steph had an impressive pop and landed top 10 with me just behind in 13th. Finishing the first stage with three riders only a couple of seconds down in GC was a great success.

Stage Two: Crooked River Time Trial: 26km

I was surprised how much the heat was affecting me. All the women’s TT start times were around noon, which is not overly ideal when you are racing in a desert. Over the effort I struggled to keep the watts up and at one point I actually got really cold which is never a good sign when you are racing in +30 degree weather. Two highlights of this stage were having the chase car and the river after.

For those who don’t know, the chase car is the team car that follows you just incase you flat or have a mechanical, they can swap your bike and your race isn’t over. The other more awesome role of the chase car is it is literally a motivational car. I was lucky enough to have all three of our support staff in the car yelling at me and blaring the horn. Obviously, cheering drives you to dig deep and go faster. Thanks to that chase car over the crest of the hills and pretty much for all of the final 5 km it was a wall of sound.

Located right behind the TT course there is a shallow, yet freezing river. Denise and I had started a post TT recovery ritual of going to the river. This river is a great place to cool down and soak your sore legs. The only caveat is to make sure you only go into the fast running water as there has been unfortunate run-ins with leaches in the past.

Thanks to the motivation of the chase car and the promise of river reprieve I landed a strong 13th in the stage, moving up closer to top 10 GC. Also I can happily report there were no run-ins with leaches!

Stage Three: Cascade Lakes Road Race: 137km, 1840m Total Elevation Gain

Last year this stage was the hardest race of the year. This year this stage was once again the most grueling stage to date ever. Why you ask? I decided to take a “majestic” solo flyer with 30km left in the race, taking the long game to a new level.

So this is were things really got spicy for the team. This course is very challenging because it is bookended with huge 10-15 km climbs. Riders are typically cautious to expend too much energy before the final climb as it is so grueling, but with the overall GC shaping up as it was, we knew that the other teams had to lay down some serious attacks to move their riders up/take over the yellow jersey.

On the first climb the team literally lined it up and just crushed it, shattering the field. Over the season I have been working on my pack skills including reading a pack and anticipating when moves are coming. You really couldn’t miss this move: six riders went to the front and drilled it. I was on their wheels in an instant. However, all the positing in the world couldn’t help me that day. The hot dry air was really bothering me, specifically my lungs. I found myself wheezing and struggling to breathe. On that first climb I got dropped out of the break, then dropped out of the chase and then finally was able to stick it in the chase of the chase.

Getting dropped out of two groups is pretty frustrating, however, it’s part of bike racing and you need to stay clam and positive and get ready to chase like your life depends on it. Over the fast down hill and following 10km or so, the group I was with worked well together and we were able to catch back onto the front group. As soon as we caught back on I set about recovering (eating and drinking and getting ready for the next move). There were two riders up the road and my teammate Denise told me to be ready for a move to go when those riders got caught.

As soon as the break of two was caught, things went off with attack after attack firing off. My TRT teamies threw in some major attacks all the while I was watching the pack and getting ready for the smartest counter attack possible. Because I felt so poorly earlier in the stage, I had some hesitation about going in a break; however, racing aggressively serves the teams style really well and I knew I needed to put in a good dig. I countered off one fast attack, carrying a considerable about of speed. I jumped hard as soon as the pack slowed down and just like that, I was off in the “majestic” solo break.

In hindsight, this was actually a very smart move. At the time, riding alone off the front of the pack, I wasn’t so sure. As with all things bikes, it’s good practice to stay calm and assess the situation. Looking down at my Garmin I saw I had 30km to go. I knew that the last 10km was climbing. I also knew approximately what power I could push for 30km. I really wanted to manage my effort so in the likelihood I got caught, I still had a bit left to finish. There is no point destroying yourself only to get caught and dropped. So I made sure to eat, drink and not go too far into the red before the final climb.

This is why I named this break “the majestic break”. The race course is beautiful and I was off the front eating snacks doing a random TT effort 100km into the race, majestic right. The time gap grew relatively quickly from 1:00 minutes to 2:40 minutes, then started to come down again with a group of five bridging to me. When I saw that a small group was bridging I was really happy; some rest was coming hopefully before the final climb. When the bridging group caught me I jumped on the back of the train and got ready for the climb.

As soon as we hit the climb two riders in the group attacked and shattered the group. Given the effort I had already spent in the break, I had little energy to tag on to their move, however, I knew the whole pack was on my heels and I still needed to climb and climb fast.
About half way up the final climb I was caught by what was left of the peloton, maybe 15 riders. I was able to tag onto that group. The yellow jersey attacked the field, and once again the group shattered. This time, however, we were able to chase down the yellow jersey and finish as a group.

There is no good way to say this, I was really f'd up after this stage. Exhausted doesn’t seem to quite capture the extent of my fatigue. Given how the whole race unfolded I was very happy to come away with such a strong ride and to finish, once again 12th. One thing that I didn’t realize at the time was that I was now in the green jersey (sprinter’s jersey) thanks to a random attack and the solo majestic break that ensued.
Now it was time to play crit and protect the green jersey. Superweek had prepared us well to play crit and I was hopeful with a solid team effort we could hold onto the green.

Stage Four: Downtown Criterium: 38km

Fast and aggressive is typically our race strategy. With sprint points up for grabs on laps 10, 15, 20 and at the finish, I needed to channel my inner BC Superweek and lay down some major watts. I was tied for sprinter points with a rider from Visit Dallas, but I was higher up in GC, that’s why I was in the sprinter’s jersey.

The role of the team was to shut down any attacks with riders in contention for the green jersey. I was able to sprint for second in all the intermediate sprints and third in the stage, then sadly, despite some insane attacks and counters by our team I lost the jersey by one point. This crit was incredibly challenging and my legs were definitely feeling it after three hard stages. After each intermediate sprint I would have a huge gap on the field, but I was too fatigued to counter that sprint and try to for a break.

Positing was also key to success and I am so grateful to have had my amazing teammates helping lead me out for those sprints. I was saddened that I lost the jersey by one point, especially after the huge team effort. A silver lining was that our efforts and aggressive racing didn’t go unnoticed. I was awarded the “Most Hopped Up Rider Award”, a title given to the most aggressive and combative rider in the race, a fitting title for the Trek Red Truck Team. We may have lost the jersey by one point, but we went down swinging. Even better, it wasn’t over yet as the last stage afforded one last chance to retake the green Jersey.

Stage Five: Awbrey Butte Circuit Race: 80km, 1118m Total Elevation Gain

On this three-lap stage, sprinter points were awarded on the second and on finishing laps As a team we knew no moves could get away because Visit Dallas (the team in green) had a one point lead and they could send riders up the road to try and gobble up points.

This circuit is a very unrelenting course consisting of many steep climbs, fast descents, and a considerable amount of wind. The first lap of the circuit got off to a fiery start and attacks started flying right away. With the help of the team and notable huge efforts by Denise and Steph, we were able to keep it together going into the sprint.

On the final stretch leading up to the sprint, Denise was leading me out when Visit Dallas sent a random rider up the road in an early sprint move. I had to jump across to her at maybe 500m to go. The green jersey rider had been my shadow all day and she was right on me when I bridged. At that point it was a full on three-up sprint: one Trek Red Truck verses two Visit Dallas.

Despite laying it all out, the rider in the green jersey got me by an inch and I was now two points down. Hot conditions and four stages of racing were wearing on me and I struggled to recover for the rest of the race. On the last climb I got gapped off and despite a huge push from Steph I was unable to contest the final sprint.

Definitely felt bummed not to have brought home the green jersey after the significant amount of teamwork and trust everyone invested in me. Nevertheless, I still think Cascades was a fantastic race, the Trek Red Truck Women’s team did what we set out to do: race a hard and aggressive race. We took some risks and may have not come away in green, but we are all better, stronger, and wiser athletes for it.

Thanks to all our supporters and my amazing teammates. Next stop for me is Europe and a month of racing with the Canadian National Team, then onward to Belgium and more racing, I will be sure to bring back a green jersey… or at least waffles :)