Last week was the prestigious Joe Martin Stage Race. This year the race was a UCI (the governing body of global cycling) event which meant it boasted UCI points, which drew in a lot of big teams that hadn’t been there in years past. These teams included Hincapie, United Healthcare, a strong Colombian squad, and many others. Thus, the race was much more contested than it was when I did it last year.
The first stage was an uphill time trial that fit really well with my abilities. I’d been focused on this race since last year, and I’d done a lot of training specifically focused on boosting my power for an event of this length. In talking with my coach, I knew I had the numbers to be in the mix for the win, so I just focused on executing at the event. A lot of people stepped up to help give me confidence, including last year’s winner Ian Crane. Ian rides for the Hagens-Berman professional team and is one of the nicest and strongest guys in the peloton. Ian is currently recovering from an extreme crash last year and brain surgery this year. Despite being busy with his own tasks, Ian reached out to me and gave me advice and encouragement before each stage, which meant a lot to me.
During the warm up at the race, I felt excellent so I knew I was on a good day. I was able to do the race right around where I estimated I could and finished the race in fifth place. I did my best against the South American onslaught that took 1-4, with Jamis’s Greg Brenes taking the win 7 seconds in front of me. I did the best I could so I was happy with the effort. I also got to go into the next stage wearing the white jersey of Best Young Rider.
The next day was a 110 mile road stage. Unfortunately, we lost Luke to a sickness that kept him in bed for two days. The stage was full gas in the gutter because of the early crosswinds, but once the break was established the pace dropped to a comfortable pace. We dealt with rain and fog over the day’s significant climb, which made everyone nervous because sight distances were low. As usual the boys had me covered, making sure I had everything I needed. Owen and David even took turns carrying a vest for me so I could immediately cover up and stay warm should the weather turn sour, while all the other teams would have to go back to the caravan. I used the vest for the descent into town and it was a good idea.
Due to all the extra firepower that the big teams brought, the finale into town for the finish was super fast. My dudes did a really good job keeping me toward the front, because the day’s uphill sprint is well known for creating small time gaps that can make or break a tight race like Joe Martin. I was well positioned for the final tight turns into town, but I didn’t have the juice to come around the leadouts and finished in tenth place. Unfortunately for us, Hincapie’s Dion Smith, the second placed Best Young Rider, finished on the podium for the stage, and that time bonus vaulted him in front of me in the general classification. On the bright side, all the boys made it to the crucial moments of the race, we worked well together as a team, and I moved up to 4th place overall due to the expected time gaps that caught out 2 of the Colombian riders.
The next road stage was a challenging circuit race that included 4 laps of a hard climb and a windy false flat section. This is where we ran into some real challenges. Diego’s chain broke and he was out of the race. My chain exploded shortly afterwards and ripped off my rear derailleur, breaking my frame. I saw all the work we’d put into securing my GC place flash before my eyes, but we were able to salvage the situation thanks to the quick action of all of the remaining boys.
This is why Noah Granigan is the Real MVP of Joe Martin. Seeing me in trouble, he stopped and selflessly handed over his bike to me. We were riding different pedals so we even had to switch shoes (we had discussed this plan earlier at team camp). With Noah stranded there to wait for a neutral bike, David and Owen immediately paced me back to the peloton. Luckily, the race leader had just called a pee break so we were back on in no time. Still, I was riding a foreign bike with 80 miles to go in a major stage race, so my attitude was very negative for a little while. However, being the baller he is, Owen was able to go back to the car for an allen key, and with him and David working together to adjust my seat and push me, we raised the seat height which made the bike much more comfortable for me. After this my mental state improved a lot as I tried to focus on the positives of the race: I was still in the race, I had a bike, I could make it to the finish, I was doing ok. During the sketchy run in to the finish line, we avoided all the crashes and finished on the lead time. All of us were exhausted from the stress of this, but I cannot say enough how well everyone rallied after misfortune to make sure I was ok and could continue to do my job for the team. Noah got a neutral bike but it took so long that by the time it was ready he was so far behind he had no chance to rejoin the race. I believe I will owe him coffee for quite some time.
Going into the crit, I was focused on looking for intermediate time bonuses that could help move me up the overall classification, where I was back in fifth place after the winner of the previous 2 stages, UHC’s John Murphy leapfrogged me thanks to his finish time bonuses. I was able to secure a one second bonus behind Murphy and the very quick Sebastian Haedo of the HB pro team, but I would’ve need another bonus to get past Dion Smith, who was now 1 second in front of me on GC. However, the day’s breakaway went shortly after this and gobbled up the rest of the time bonuses ahead of the field. While this took away my opportunities to advance, it also removed the chances for my rivals behind me to jump by me in the GC. So I was content with the situation on the road.
Going into the sprint, competing with the lead out trains was difficult and I got a little bit gapped off in the sprint, but I finished seventh on the stage and held onto my fifth place in the general classification. I was very slightly disappointed to miss out on defending the white jersey from last year, but I lost to a super strong rider, and I did way better overall at a race that had a lot more firepower than the year before.
Furthermore, my performance at the race secured me a spot with the u23 national team in Europe next month. This is a massive opportunity for me and I will be training and competing around the continent from May 9 to June 8. I’ve been working hard to earn this selection and I’m incredibly excited to head over in a little while for some next level races. A huge thank you to both the Hagens- Berman u23 cycling program and USA cycling for providing amazing trips like these to aspiring pros. Once again, this race and this selection have helped me validate my decision to back off of school and commit to cycling and I couldn’t be happier about it right now. I know there will be many more trials this season and beyond but I feel like I’m making the right steps at the moment.
Thanks for reading.