Those in the know understand cycling is a team sport but since it’s scored individually there exists reason for confusion. It is true that a one day race can sometimes be won by alone but to achieve any success in a 6 stage race, it takes a team. It’s also not just the riders, but our director, mechanic, feed zone support, massage therapist, chiropractor, sponsors, family and friends that ensure a successful race. For Donkey Label racing, we started out one rider down due to a crash and broken thumb just before the race. Normally starting with 5 instead of 6 would be no problem, however we soon found out defending the race lead would prove challenging with one less rider.
We knew Ben was going good, but taking the leaders yellow jersey after the second stage set us up for a lot of work as it is typically the duty of the team of the yellow jersey to control the race. As a first year domestic elite team, getting the leaders jersey in a national race was more than we had ever envisioned when we entered the race. The yellow jersey carries magical powers they say, and for us, in the moment it was easy to inflate our goals past what the reality of the situation may be. Each rider came into the race with separate talents and we tried to split up our duties as such to protect the jersey through the various stages.
The 5th stage was the Road Race in Cannon Falls and we knew it was going to be a big task to defend the lead against the strongest team, Optum, who had won the race 5 years in a row and placed 5 of their 6 riders in the top 15 after the first day. In comparison, we were had 5 riders all amateurs. We knew they would try to attack us and take back the jersey so it was a matter of covering/discouraging every move Optum was in or ensuring Ben was in the move that stayed away.
The first hour of racing we averaged over 28mph which is moving pretty good. Lots of attacks, nothing staying away, a wrong turn that neutralized the race for a moment, a teammate getting a flat tire and pacing back behind our team car at over 62mph!
In a cross wind section the field was single file on the side of the road down wind (in the gutter), a move went and a few Optum guys bridged up to it. I was riding next to Ben, blocking some wind and saw them attack in just enough time to take him off the front and launch him towards the dangerous breakaway. As soon as my pace slowed (because I was cooked!), Ben took off on his own, slowly but surely making it up to the 3 optum guys and other riders in the breakaway. Once there, Ben chased down the Optum guys attacks one at a time until he finally decided to let the lowest place one of them stay away. Obviously Optum was nervous about Ben being there even though they outnumbered us 3-1 so the other guys sat up and together they got pulled back into the main field where the rest of us where just following wheels.
I was on water bottle duty which entailed dropping back from the peloton whenever someone needed another bottle to our team car, loading them up, and then making your way back to your teammates at the front of the main field. I think I hold the record for 10 bottles in our DL Racing Speed suits. Climbing hills with 10 bottles (each 2lbs), makes you appreciate losing weight.
The rest of the race we kept an eye on Optum and closed down a couple moves they tried to distance us on the run into town. I was able to lead the main group around the first lap of the circuit, only to be swamped by fresh legs the first time through the finish line. From there Eric and Jake made sure Ben was well placed for the sprint and we kept the lead in the race. We definitely had the strongest rider in the race but Optum had the strongest team so we were going to find out which one would win out as the week progressed.
Written by Jon Toftoy - DL Elite racer