by Coul Hill
The 2016 Valley of the Sun stage race is in the books. I started the weekend very well, as the race leader, by winning the time trial!
Then came Saturday, which brought me a whole new world of experience: a defense only style of road racing. With the leader’s jersey on my shoulders, and no team either, I found that I not only had no friends in the peloton, but that no offensive maneuver on my part would be allowed. There were a few guys, like 2 or 3, that tried to work with me, but anything with me in it was quickly wrapped up by a plethora of blockers whose seemingly only mission on the day was to hold me back. So, a break away did get up the road. It was not a group all at once, but an eclectic set of one and two guys at a time…the only ones I didn’t chase. I chased most of everything, but it wasn’t enough. In the future, in the same situation, I’d need to chase everything without exception.
Anyway, I stayed with the group until the last climb (about mile 90 or so), when as we started to ascend, another rider took out my front wheel in an aggressive maneuver, seemingly intentional, that slowed my momentum and cost me about 15 bike lengths. I dug in to catch the momentum of the group and then about 30 seconds later there was a big crash right in front of me which forced me to brake and go around it (still on the climb) and thus had me finish about 39 seconds behind pack. My 9/10 of a second lead turned to a 1:51 deficit that had me in 14th place overall headed into the final race, the criterium.
I had a good strategy lined up for the crit, and as we were in the opening turns I was making good progress up the pack (having started in the very back), when on our third lap I was on an inside corner and I needed only an inch to get past a curb, but the other rider (who had many inches to give) would not budge, thus causing a large crash with me, him, and about a half dozen other guys.
We jumped back to the pit, checked in with the ref, and got reinserted on the following lap. From that point on I really struggled, I mean HARD, to stay with the pack. My wattage was really high, but I couldn’t get past the back of the pack. So, I finished with the pack (back of the pack pack-fodder) and thus received a pack time, but it wasn’t until after the race that I discovered that both my wheels had been knocked out of true in the crash. My front wheel was hard on the brake pad for about 90% of each rotation and my rear was also having some rub action as well. I effectively rode to a pack finish while essentially riding my brakes the whole time. That’s a good workout. At any rate, despite sub-par finishes on Saturday and Sunday, I managed to hold on to 14th overall for the weekend which sends me home with 2 upgrade points as a consolation prize. That, and of course, Friday’s victory—my first win of 2016, AND a leader’s jersey. I didn’t get the big win, but huge off season gains are evident and I’m excited to be looking down the barrel of a strong 2016 campaign.
It was a great weekend. I’m thankful for the victory, the experience in the leader’s jersey, the upgrade points, protection amidst the crash, minimal bike damage, my Christian Cycling comrades from Tucson, my wife, my mother-and-father-in-law and my dad who came to see us here in Phoenix. I’m thankful for solid coaching that has already paid huge dividends. I’m thankful that I’m not satisfied—I am hungry for victory and I will prepare accordingly to achieve it. I’m thankful for the salvation that Christ gave me freely, how that so radically changed my life, and that God has blessed me with drive, determination, discipline, and ability to do this and excel; I pray that I use those gifts to bring honor and glory to Him. Also, I’m thankful, blessed, and honored to have the incredible support of my loving wife and best friend, Collene Hill.