Valley of the Sun Stage Race Race Report
By Dan Vinson
The 2007 Valley of the Sun Stage Race, held in and around Phoenix, Arizona, is the first stage race of the year for many west coast riders. The event consists of a flat individual time trial, a challenging road race and a fast "figure 8" criterium. The Pro 1 race had a full field of over 100 riders including over 25 pros who would contest for the winner's jersey. The weather was a sunny 75 degrees - perfect for the first stage race of the year!
Stage 1 - Buckeye Time Trial (23 Km): The time trial course is almost completely flat with a u-turn at about the half way point. In the past, this course had a strong headwind for the first half and a ripping tailwind home. Not so this year. There was a mild headwind out, but not quite enough to enjoy the wind at our backs on the return.
I started the race steady and rode within myself. Slowly, I ramped up the power and speed. It was difficult to find the best line on the course - it's all pretty rough with intermittent cracks in the road - probably from baking in 130 degree temperatures during the summer. About half way out, I was in the "hurting" zone, but hadn't yet reached "suffering". I didn't want to blow early and have to hobble back to the finish. I noticed I wasn't closing in on the rider ahead of me, which is never a good sign, so I picked it up just a tad. As I approached the turnaround, I noticed I was gaining fast on my 30 second man, who appeared to be imploding. That encouraged me and I went even faster.
After the turnaround I quickly passed my 30 second man, entered "suffering" and held it - going much faster than I was before. At that moment I began to regret not increasing the effort earlier. I passed another rider about half way back and entered "deep suffering" the kind of pain that causes you to beg forgiveness for all of the bad things you have ever done in your life. I kept the speed up and sprinted to the finish in a time of 30:50, only good enough for 16th place, 1 minute, 2 seconds out of the lead and 15 seconds out of the top 10.
Stage Results: 1st place Michael Grabinger (Hagens-Berman) won the time trial in a time of 29:48, narrowly beating 2nd place Steven Perrins (Sienna Dev'T/Goble Knee) by a mere one second. 3rd - Curtis Gunn (Successfuliving), :07 down; 4th Karl Bordine (Team 5 Star Fish), :16 down; 5th Michael Hutchinson (Team Spine), :27 down. So, a close race leading into day 2!
Stage 2 - Trek Road Race (90 miles): The course is a 16.5 mile loop with a 4-6% three mile climb up to the finish. The Pro 1's would be going up the hill 6 wonderful times. This year, mother-nature had a twist for all of the cyclists at Valley of the Sun. Typically, there is a headwind on the climb, which sort of neutralizes the race since the "non-climbers" can usually tuck themselves in out of the wind and survive to the line. This year, it was windy . . . real windy. But this time it was a blasting tailwind on the climb. Additionally, there was a devastating crosswind on the approach before the right hand turn which starts the ascent.
The crosswind section on the first lap confirmed what we thought - there would be some gutter racing sometime during the day. We made the right turn into the tailwind and onto the climb, flying, hitting speeds of up to 30 mph. It was confirmed later (by someone’s computer) that we averaged over 27 mph from the right turn to the finish line on the first lap. Less than ten miles into the race riders were already getting shelled off the back! Yikes - this was going to be a long day. We screamed past the finish, five laps to go, and the field was blown into about 5 groups. On the descent, the several groups, like magnets drawn together, rejoined as everyone took a deep breath and began to contemplate the unanticipated challenge that this road race would bring this year.
Lap 2 was just as fun. We hit the downhill portion of the course, which also had a headwind. Because of the wind, we actually went faster up the climb than we did down the descent. But once we hit the crosswind section, it was game on. The field began to string out into echelon formation, hugging the far right side of the road. Some riders, desperate to get any draft they could, pushed it too far and found themselves flying off into the dirt. Others just rode hard as they could until they cracked and opened up a gap, forcing the rider behind to sprint around. By the time we hit the climb, several riders had lost contact.
This time up the climb was the KOM (King of the Mountains) lap and the first 3 would take a time bonus of 15, 10, and 5 seconds. Our plan was to get Bordine a bonus so he would move onto the podium. The team lined it up on the inside and moved into position, but then the attacks came and the front of the field began to thin out drastically. Rob Alvarez (Team Ride Clean) won the sprint. Bordine was nipped at the line and ended up 4th. Still ahead though was another KOM on lap four and time bonuses of 20, 15 and 10 seconds at the finish.
The third lap was where the race got real interesting. As riders were once again suffering in the gutter, attacks were launched. I went with a move and we formed the first real breakaway of the day with 4 riders. By the time we crossed the line with 3 laps to go, a few riders bridged across, including my teammate, Brandon Gritters, and we had a break of 10 riders. However, the second placed G.C. (S. Perrins Sienna Dev’t/Goble Knee) and third placed G.C. (Curtis Gunn Successfuliving) riders were there also. Our team’s G.C. leader was not, so Gritters and I sat on the back of the break. I was the third highest G.C. guy in the break so if we stayed away, we would theoretically be on the podium, but without much chance for moving any higher.
So, for most of the 4th lap, Gritters and I tried to conserve energy, and waited for the KOM, which I was going for. As we descended, we had nearly two minutes on the field which began the chase. We hit the climb and kept up a pretty high tempo, but steady. The field was moving closer. As we hit the feed zone, Gunn attacked and I followed his wheel, and we went away, clear of anybody else. Gunn drilled it toward the line and I sprinted from behind to take the 15 second KOM time bonus, which moved me into the top 10 on the road. Gun and I had a huge gap, but sat up to wait.
As we started lap 5, our breakaway companions caught back on. However, shortly thereafter, the leaders of the field bridged across to us as well and we swelled to a group of about 30 riders. As everyone was catching their breath, other riders caught back on and the peloton totaled about 50 riders as we cruised down the hill. Everyone else was way back. As we hit the crosswinds, several riders went on the attack, creating a break of about 7 riders. Bordine and I shot out of the field and worked together to bridge across. Now in my third breakaway of the day, I was with 8 other riders this time with a highly placed G.C. teammate. We looked pretty good for the finale. Our group had a decent gap and began to rotate through as we neared the end of the fifth lap. But a couple riders began to sit on threatened by Bordine and his fourth place G.C. We stormed the climb and passed the line with the bell indicating one lap to go.
As we began our last lap, our breakaway broke in half and four of us - two Rock Racing riders (including David Clinger), a Successfuliving rider, and myself (Team 5 Star Fish), rode off ahead. We rotated nicely and kept a steady pace as we made our way down the backside of the course.
By the time we made the right hand turn into the crosswind, at about 8 miles to go, we had opened up an advantage of about a minute and a half over the field. However, a chase group formed and was gaining on us quickly. Hoping I had a teammate in the group, I sat on for a few pulls and a group of five riders caught us. I was running out of gas. I didn’t have another teammate, but with the extra horsepower, we increased our speed. As we made the final turn up to the finish with about 4 miles to go, we could see the field strung out in the crosswind, chasing, maybe a minute behind.
We accelerated up the climb and riders in the break were put in difficulty. A few were dropped and we were down to 7 on the front. With about 2 miles to go Matt Seagrave (Compliance Depot) attacked and a few more riders were popped. I went with the move, as did a few of the other riders. Seagrave attacked again and got a gap on his own and started to pull away. Corey Collier (Team Einsteins) attacked and tried to get across, but was stuck in the middle. The four chasers included: David Clinger (Rock Racing), Rudy Napolitano (Rock Racing), Jesse Mendonca (BPG/MV), and Dan Vinson (Team 5 Star Fish).
Matt Seagrave held onto his advantage and stayed away to win the stage in a time of just over 3 hours and 53 minutes. Cory Collier held his gap for 2nd place, 12 seconds down. I sprinted to a 3rd place finish, 28 seconds down. The field was blown to bits, the largest group being about 12 riders. The lead group came in about one minute after I crossed the line. Over half the field was 9 minutes down, or much more. For many, it was the most challenging Valley of the Sun road race they have seen in a long time. My time gap, KOM time bonus, and 3rd place time bonus gave me enough to move up to 2nd G.C. An awesome road race!
Stage Results: 1st Matt Seagrave (Compliance Depot); 2nd Corey Collier (Team Einsteins); 3rd Dan Vinson (Team 5 Star Fish); 4th Jesse Mendonca; 5th Rudy Napolitano, 6th David Clinger.
G.C. Standings: 1st Matt Seagrave (Compliance Depot); 2nd Dan Vinson (Team 5 Star Fish), :27 back; 3rd Corey Collier (Team Einsteins), :34 back, 4th Jesse Mendonca (BPG/MV), :35 back; 5th Curtis Gunn (Successfuliving), :42 back, 6th Karl Bordine (Team 5 Star Fish), 1:01 back.
Stage 3 Landis Cyclery Downtown Capitol Criterium (70 minutes): The course is a fast and flat figure 8 with a slight incline to the finish. Even with a time bonus I was too far out to take the lead, so the plan was to protect our G.C. placings and stay out of trouble. The race started fast. I started toward the back and moved my way up after a couple laps. It was evident that several riders wanted to get away, but Team 5 Star Fish did an excellent job of jumping on everything that moved. There were a few hefty cash primes called which really strung out the field.
About half way through the race a break got away and gained an advantage of about 15 seconds. However, the speed of the field was just too much and it was brought back into the fold. With 6 laps to go in the race, Rock Racing put 11 riders on the front of the field and started their train. With 3 laps to go Successfuliving tried to take over, but Rock Racing was too quick and with 2 laps to go were back on the front and stringing it out. This was perfect for us. Since Rock Racing had no G.C. threats, they could snatch up the time bonuses and keep the overall the same. Most G.C. contenders were content to fall back, stay out of trouble, and make it to the line in one piece.
With one lap to go, Rock Racing controlled it and kept the speed high. As they approached the final turn, they still had about 6 riders on the front. A couple sat up and their three leaders sprinted to a 1-2-3 finish. 1st Rahsaan Bahati; 2nd Kayle LeoGrande; 3rd Austin Carroll. I crossed the line in 38th safely.
The Finall G.C. remained the same: : 1st Matt Seagrave (Compliance Depot); 2nd Dan Vinson (Team 5 Star Fish), :27 back; 3rd Corey Collier (Team Einsteins), :34 back, 4th Jesse Mendonca (BPG/MV), :35 back; 5th Curtis Gunn (Successfuliving), :42 back, 6th Karl Bordine (Team 5 Star Fish), 1:01 back.
It was an exciting weekend and definitely a great first stage race of the year. If you get the chance, don’t pass up the opportunity to race in what is truly the Valley of the Sun! Until the next race. . . .