The end of the season was a whirlwind for me. I came off some poor performances in the national championships, but I was able to rest and refocus to make the most out of the second half of the season.
I did a local weekend of racing and was able to snag a TT win. I felt strong in the crit and road race as well, which helped restore my confidence for the big block of racing coming up.
Next up was the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, OR. The team was racing really well together and I managed to snag sixth the first day and seventh on the last. I was starting to feel a lot stronger after this race. My teammates, Neilson and Sean, and I all headed straight for Holland to get ready for some races with the national team. We were joined on the flight by Cal Giant’s Ben Wolfe and Zeke Mostov.
By the next weekend, we were all smashing kermesses in the surrounding area. These races are incredibly hard so they were perfect prep for the upcoming Tour of Namur. Our roster was me, Ben, Neilson, Sean, Phil O’Donnell, and Brendan Rhim. We had Billy Crane as our director, Merrick as our mechanic, and Natalia as our soigneur.
We missed the three man break that got away early, but stayed calm and worked when we needed to, mostly saving our energy.
Once the break came back and the real selection was being made, Neilson, Phil, and I took turns covering moves. After a ton of attacks, I made the ten man move that stuck. I rode as conservatively as I could while making sure it stayed together for a sprint. The race was 5-10k longer than it was listed I was riding blind a little bit coming into the finish. I didn’t see any signs from 5k until 500m, when I was at the back of the group and attacked on instinct. I caught the group off guard and got a gap, and pretty soon was realizing how far 500m is. I dug into the effort though and was able to hold on for the win.
This was a big deal for me, my first European win as well as my first time holding a yellow leader’s jersey and a green points leader’s jersey. I had the white jersey of Best Young Rider for good measure as well.
The second day of the race didn’t go as well for us. We made some tactical miscalculations that burnt our guys too early and I made personal decisions in the race that cost us energy. We also lost Brendan to a crash early in the stage. In the end I was isolated and not strong enough to claw back the move over the top of the final climb, despite Phil making a superhuman effort to come back to front. While losing the yellow and white was a huge disappointment, we all learned a lot about what it takes to defend yellow and will carry that with us.
The third day was rough for us as well. Phil was forced off the road and into a ditch and under some barbed wire, and it took close to an hour to get him out. The race was held until they got him out. He was pretty busted up but had no horrible injuries. Starting out again, the mood was strange and Ben took the opportunity to make it into a two man move that would be out from for over 100k. The finishing circuits of the race were technical and despite our best efforts to force a separation, the final came down to a group sprint.
The TT was a big opportunity for us to take back time. Ben railed it to a third place finish. My race was much chaotic. Overexcited, I braked too late going into the first corner and realized I was not going to make it. So I went straight and flipped a quick U turn, losing 10-15 seconds. Fortunately, I had Billy in the car on the megaphone to keep me from freaking out and making more mistakes and I rode the rest of the course well to finish top ten on the stage take back the white jersey.
The last day was nerve-wracking with rain and slippery, treacherous roads. Neilson made the early break to take some pressure off of the rest of us. There were a lot of hard crosswind sections and I stuck to Big Ben’s wheel like glue. He guided me safely through the stage until the last climb, a cobbled route up to a famous citadel. I was really tired here and pushed as hard as I could to finish just behind the leaders and defend the white jersey.
Overall, we had a great showing at the Tour of Namur with a stage win, a third, place, a day in yellow, and the Best Young Rider classification overall. A huge thank you to USA cycling for providing young riders with opportunities like these.