Tucson’s Stephen Pedone upgraded to a Cat 1 road racer in March, and the San Dimas Stage Race last weekend was his first major race. It is his first season with Superissimo, a domestic elite team based in Arizona.
San Dimas stage race Day 2 started on an ominous note.
As I rolled nervously around the start area with my teammates Clayton Stone, Jim Peterman, Quinn Keogh and Sam Warford of Team Superissimo, we were disheartened to hear the sounds of sirens arriving at the finish line.
We later learned a Visit Dallas DNA Pro Cycling rider had crashed badly at the finish and was in serious condition. The organizers delayed our start for 30 minutes. Time ticked by slowly. For me, in my first large Pro/1 race, this was the equivalent of icing a kicker.
After seeing yesterday’s time trial results, I knew I was in a different league. This wasn’t local racing anymore. My TT effort was good for 123rd place out of 168, and our team’s best rider, who averaged 350 watts at just 130 lbs, was sitting in 48th.
By all accounts, this field is fast and this road race course is hectic. The energy at the start was buzzing, and nervous chatter filled the air. Looking for familiar faces, I spotted riders who had wintered in Arizona and found some comfort in a chat with former Superissimo rider Chad Beyer (Lupus Racing Team).
Back at the team car, Marty Ryerson, his wife Cat and Brock Boring made up the support staff. The professionalism of this team is something new to me and leaves speechless every race. Every detail of our support from food to equipment, housing and travel has been taken care of, leaving me to think only of the race and my nerves.
We sat around to listen to veteran rider Quinn’s calm and thorough evaluation of the race. After the TT, Jamis had the yellow jersey and an obviously strong team. With Lucas Sebastian Haedo as a favorite for the sprint, they would likely try to keep the race together.
Our plan was to get Clayton, our 18-year-old sprinting phenom, to the front near the finish. We also repeated an important piece of advice relayed to us from our teammate Paul Thomas back in Tucson: be at the front.
Do I belong here?
On everyone’s mind was the traffic furniture and cones on the course that have caused problems in the past. People murmured that a field this large on this course was insanity. This gave me an even bigger hole in my stomach. Do I belong here, in the company of names I have only seen on TV – Chris Horner, Lachlan Morton, Arizona’s Brandon McNulty and many more?
I have never been tested like this before. At the start line I cracked jokes to ease the tension. If I could get myself laughing and the others around me, then maybe I could forget what may lay ahead. But I was plenty surprised by how I was treated by those around me. I am one of them, another face in the crowd. No one knows this is my first Pro/1 race at this level, and everyone treated me as an equal.
As soon as the gun went off, the pleasantries ended and it was time for business. I had positioned myself near the front of the large group at the start, but my nerves got the best of me and I could not clip my pedal in for an embarrassingly long time. By the time we rolled into the first corner I was nearly last wheel. Get up there! I repeated the mantra as I made my way through the pack.
Then it happened
I was paralyzed by fear, but I knew the back would be death. We flew by dangerous cones and traffic furniture at insane speeds and I could sense that crashes would happen soon. By midway through the first lap I had made my way to mid-pack and had finally relaxed. Sensing a Jelly Belly move to the right, I snuck up the outside behind the riders to gain positioning.
Then it happened, so fast I hardly knew what hit me. A touch of wheels ahead of me sent riders to the asphalt, accompanied by the squeal of carbon wheels locking up, and the hollow thud of carbon on concrete. Before I knew what happened, I found myself thrown in on top of the dog pile.
Only 6k in, and I was out of the race. I gathered myself and got my bike straightened out and took stock of my situation. Five minutes back on lap 1 of 10, and I knew my day was done. I would not be the only one. Our best placed rider, Sam was caught up in another crash.
By the end of the race probably one third of the field had been crashed out, leaving carnage over the course. The consensus among riders and directors that I talked to was that the course is just too narrow and dangerous for a field this size. Back at the team car, morale was low. We only had one rider, Jim, who survived the race to make the start of the crit the next day.
Something to gain
There was an air of silence around the cars as we loaded up and headed for home. But there was a lesson to be learned here. Back at the house, team director Marty sat us down for a talk.
Speaking like a father to his children, he reminded us that we could gain something from this if we could look for the positives. Our homework was to write down three things we learned from the day, and three things that were positive. This exercise would allow us all to realize that this is a learning experience that will help us be strong in Redlands and Gila. It would also force us to remember that we often learn more from out failures than our victories.
I conquered my initial fear of being in over my head, and although I crashed, I was thankfully unharmed and healthy for the next race. On top of that, we further cemented the bond that we our team already has. It can be rare in cycling to find a team with such a diverse mixture of personalities and talent that gels so well together.
From Quinn’s sensei like demeanor and race experience, to Clayton’s youthful exuberance, we all compliment each other, and that means more going forward than any one race result. The next day, I found myself sitting in the grass, feeling the whoosh of the wind as Jim and the remaining survivors blew past me. Surrounded by a motley crew of crashed out riders from the day before, we cheered on our teammates and swapped war stories.
For the rest of Superissimo, and most of the riders who had raced San Dimas, Redlands is next on the calendar. So the team headed back to the house to decompress and prepare for the even bigger challenge ahead.
With work obligations and a lack of experience for Redlands, I packed my bags and headed back to Arizona to prepare for Tour of the Gila. But as a I drove off, and Mount Baldy faded into the distance, I already found myself missing the camaraderie of my teammates, and the tough lessons that I had learned that weekend.