Contributed by GS Womens Racing Team Member, Justine Clift
The Redlands Bicycle Classic is the longest continuous running stage race in American bike racing. Each year, the city of Redlands and surrounding communities open their homes and pour into the streets to cheer on the world-class athletes the race draws each year. The race also plays host to major fundraising events for the local community alongside a two day festival.
My 2015 experience at the Redlands Bicycle Classic managed to hit a lot of highs and lows in just three days of racing. This race has been on my calendar since I finished it last year, and I was really excited to be back at the largest women’s race in North America, in a field of 130 women. I fortunate to be able to guest ride with a new US domestic elite team, Roosters p/b Bikers Edge based out of Utah, while Meghan became my rival for the week, and kitted up for SPY GIANT RIDE out of SoCal.
Day 1 was a 60km circuit race which included 14 times up a 14% grade hill. Not being the punchy climber-type, my goals were to move to the front around the back side of the course, so I could ‘sag climb’, moving slowly backwards, but stay in the main group. I felt really confident moving around the peloton and even saw the front of the race a few times, including at three laps to go. I was really happy to finish mid-pack amongst the stacked field, with Meghan following close behind. Race highlights included following Mara Abbott up the hill a few times, and rolling through an entire class of pre-schoolers lined up to give me high fives and asking my name.
Day 2 was a technical, winding 12km time trial at 7000 feet, which can pose some difficulties for those of us that live at sea level. We were barely able to pre-ride the course, and had to sneak on via a back route, thanks to some friends who knew the right people. I hit a couple of corners too fast, but managed to stay upright and was happy with my effort even before I saw results. In the end I came out 34th, and top amateur, and was only 4 seconds out of the ‘Best Amateur’ white jersey. Meghan was sooo fast that they failed to record her result, and she had to share her Strava file with the organizers to get a time!
The third stage was new this year, and featured a three lap circuit with grinding, low grade climbs, followed by an 8km climb to a mountain-top finish. I knew the stage would challenge me, but was really disappointed when I flatted 9km into the stage, before we had even had to pedal (it started on a downhill). I chased back on through an uncooperative caravan, catching the group at the bottom of the first climb, unfortunately my TT effort didn’t set me up well to redline up the climb and I got dropped and was on and off the group for the next two laps, before joining a chase group. Meghan held on for almost two laps before getting dropped just 100m from the top of the QOM. Putting down a monster chase, she almost got back in the race but didn’t have much help from her group to make it. Unfortunately, despite finishing, there was a 10% time cut for the stage, and the winning time put both Meghan and I over the time limit. Almost 50 girls were told they couldn’t race again after the stage.
I can’t take much out of the last day, other than a really good power file, and the knowledge that I have banked all of my tire karma for the year after flatting in my last two races. I was really disappointed not to be able to continue on, especially knowing that I had the fitness to be in the mix, but that’s bike racing, and there’s always another day.
I got to spend the last two days of Redlands spectating the last two stages, and scrounging for bottles along the sides of the race course. On Sunday morning, we also got to race in an amateur crit that featured many of the riders who were cut from the stage race. I literally crashed on the start line (pro tip, make sure the person in front of you is moving before you start riding), but managed to get back into the race and finished in the top 20. It was good to get the first crit of the season in my legs and start working on tactics with my teammates Jen and Carrie from Roosters. Team-mate turned rival Meghan, made a gutsy solo move with three laps to go and almost stayed away, getting caught with just half a lap to go.
My time in SoCal has ended now and I am heading back to real life and rain. I can’t thank the host families who let us stay with them over the last three weeks enough. From shared meals, to airport rides and Spiderman sheets, the Swansons in San Dimas and the Parks in Redlands truly welcomed us into their lives and help make these types of races possible for those of us trying to live the dream.