I’m well aware that the generation gap is widening between me and my Silber Pro Cycling Team riders. Quoting from movies like Swingers or Office Space draws blank stares from the guys, and my classic rock radio station choices are reluctantly accepted when driving them around to races. Things have indeed evolved from when I last pinned a number on, an astounding 10 years ago. I was glad after our first block together in California that one aspect of pro racing has not changed: by racing aggressively and as a team good things will happen.
During my racing days I enjoyed training camps in the Buellton area and figured it was time to return. With upcoming races in San Dimas and Redlands, I didn’t want to stray too far from Southern California. I found Restoration Oaks Ranch online and it was a perfect place for camp. Scenic rides to Jalama Beach and Mount Figueroa were captured by photographer extraordinaire Brian Black Hodes. I’d never been to this area so late in spring and the blossoming colors provided vivid images. Doug and Shane prepped the newly shipped bikes, while Delphine worked the kinks out of the rider’s winter legs. Craig Ritchey came to visit and explain his products from our awesome new sponsor Easton. The guys are enjoying Craig’s wheels, bars, stems and seat posts. We stayed 5 days and only scratched the surface of the quiet roads the area has to offer.
We are lucky to have such great friends as the Pierce and West families which host Silber Pro Cycling every year for the San Dimas Stage Race. Stage 1 was the familiar prologue time trial up Glendora Mountain Road. Matteo and Alex would both place a solid top ten while the others did their best and improved over last year.
Stage 2 was met with disaster as we’d have 4 riders crash, with Alex and Julien eventually needing hospital X-rays. Both would not start the third stage criterium. Broken but not beaten the team lined up for the crit with a goal of executing our first sprint train lead out. The US peloton will see that we have improved our speed department and no longer will we be anonymous in the bunch sprints. Our timing was slightly off and Elliott and Ben would finish 6th and 7th.
Next up was Redlands, which continues to anchor the domestic calendar’s spring events. The race is in its 32nd year and lives up to the moniker “Where legends are born”. This year would be no exception. With 3 starters injured, I would find out just how deep a team Silber Pro has for 2016. Highland has returned to host the first stage and is renowned for its tough uphill sprint that often causes splits in the field all the way through its finishers. Our top priority was to keep our GC hope Matteo up front and ahead of the splits while also trying to set up our 3 sprinters on the day; Dahl, Perry and Doyle. Mission accomplished under 35C temps with Ben Perry 5th and Matteo 10th.
The mountain top finish to Oak Glen moved to stage 2 this year. Our goal was to have all breakaway attempts covered with good representation then set up Matteo and Ben for a good climb to the finish. Nigel rebounded from a touch of heat stroke in Highland and enjoyed the cooler temps with a fantastic performance infiltrating the break and being one of the last men standing on Oak Glen, getting caught a mere 2km from the finish. Matteo was poised to play out his tactic of attacking on a short flat section of road with 700m to go and nearly pulled off a memorable victory. Ben showed off his trimmed down physique and went top 10 as well.
The organizers have moved the time trial course from Big Bear Lake down to Greenspot road just east of Highland. The wintry conditions at the top of the mountain threatened the time trial in recent years so they adopted a more safe alternative. I remember a version of this course back in the early 2000’s and knew the false flat nature really suited my rouleurs. Matteo and Nigel would confirm and place an amazing 2nd and 3rd on the stage to move Matteo from 3rd to 2nd on GC and only a couple seconds off Acevedo of Jamis who himself surprised with an excellent ride.
Downtown Redlands hosts its famous criterium on Stage 4. 10 technical corners and the best domestic peloton all year guaranties a good show. We wanted to apply lessons from San Dimas and be a bit more proactive in the lead out. Great rides by Nigel and Mike controlled most breakaway attempts while Emile and Elliott kept our go to guy Kris in good position. A hiccup occurred when Matteo was involved in a crash with 6 laps to go and was thrown in at the back of the strung out peloton. Nerves were raised further when the dark sky started spitting drops of rain. Undaunted, Nigel would drop back and help Matteo storm through the bunch and boss the last lap. Our boys got jumped by KHS’s Castillo but still had perfect position with Kris turning for home second position. Unfortunately his rear wheel would clip the raised reflector, causing a ‘highside’ that was not recoverable. The crash took down numerous riders including Ben and Matteo as well as our friend Travis McCabe of Holowesko. Elliott would evade the pileup and salvage 2nd while Mike slipped through on the inside for an improbable 4th. I was relieved the next morning that both Matteo and Kris would start with the latter limping noticeably on a tender ankle.
Sunset Loop is the iconic final stage of Redlands. Defending it is a complicated affair and it’s seen the demise of teams numerous times trying to wrap up the overall victory. This stage really suits my team. We covered the rules of the stage and devised multiple plans to weaken the yellow jersey team Jamis while trying to launch Matteo into a winning position. One of the scenarios did materialize but it was much earlier then anticipated. Ben and Nigel would infiltrate the early move and with 4 riders in this escape sitting less then a minute from the GC lead, Jamis would go about their business and feather the gap to their liking. This very professional team had strength and experience and cracking them would be a tall order. A reshuffling on the 5th lap saw Matteo join the new break and I was surprised to see the yellow jersey back with his teammates in the peloton 20 seconds later. The race was most certainly on.
We would need some help. It was clear Matteo and Nigel were all in, but we would still need help of the other teams. Key reinforcements would arrive when Rally’s Soloday and Holowesko’s Carpenter would bridge across giving their respective teams 3 riders each with 2 willing workers and 1GC threat each. Cooperation up front was just seamless enough to start stretching the gap. I was excited and finally calmed down as the break would descend to town with the GC firmly in our grasp. We could celebrate even as the stage win was unfolding in the finishing laps in the same course as the previous evening’s criterium.
Nigel even took a dig for the stage, attacking at the bell but his understandably tired legs couldn’t shake the group. Matteo started fighting for position but would back off and let others battle for the win. It was fitting that Travis McCabe would finally break the Sunset duck and take the win, bouncing back from his spectacular tumble over Kris’s body the night before. Redlands is well known for it’s community involvement and Silber would like to thank Alan Leach and the Kavanaughs for hosting us.
Times have changed. The riders seem so fresh faced and young but one thing remains the same. The domestic peloton is capable of incredible, dramatic racing. You may have caught this race streaming online. If you did, I hope it inspired you the same way it did to me roadside. Legends are indeed born in Redlands. Matteo is surely on his way to a long and successful career. Silber Pro Cycling continues to provide an opportunity for our riders to showcase their talents and continue their career paths in the sport, a path that will see Fayetteville, Arkansas on the next stop.