This past week at the Chico Stage Race, I was slow. Slower than I’d have liked to be. And, for whatever reason, the San Dimas Stage Race and the El Paso USA Crit were also on the same weekend, so the fields at the three races were pretty small. No big teams went to Chico which meant that really, if I were fit, it was a race I perhaps could have done well in.

Oliver driving the pace in the Chico crit.

However, I’m not fit. And with the preparations and divided energy that I’ve put into cycling this past winter, I was realistic with my expectations of myself. I showed up to use the race as training.

Two of my friends from B.C., Brendan Cowley and Amiel Flett Brown were also in town, and I crashed with them at their host house. As fellow Canadians and ex-teammates, Amiel and I decided to ride in support of each other. Really, all this meant was that we shared bottles and food, and had at least some people in the race that weren’t trying to drop us or push us off the road. Since we were each without a team, a certain freedom from external expectation allowed for some very relaxed race days.

The first stage was an 80-minute circuit race on the Thunderhill Raceway. The tech guide said it was 80 miles, and we only found out the night before that it would be much shorter than that. Admittedly, that was a huge relief! It was flat and fast, and impossible to break away on. I took one intermediate sprint point, and felt I had really outdone myself with that mid-race result so I allowed myself to finish safely with the pack in 21st.

The second Queen stage was a 144 km road race. The course was a 72 km loop with only 500 m of climbing, and had a 7 km rolling gravel section each lap. I was shocked when the pace was ballistic off the start, and thirty seconds in we were single file riding in the gutter as crosswinds pummeled us. Within the first minute, riders were getting dropped and turning back to the startline. The pace was so hard, they knew they were done.

The group split into four within the first 10 km and each new group lacked cohesion. For whatever reason, no one wanted to work in a proper echelon. I was completely baffled when I watched the yellow and white jersey wearers get dropped having been guttered by their own teammates. It was entirely every man for himself. Frustratingly, I couldn’t hold on to the pace and was too confused by the utter lack of etiquette. I forced to ride as hard as I could while encouraging others to ride steady and pull through, but to be so irritated and to have to work so hard simply to finish the race was ridiculous.

I decided to enjoy the ride instead. I dropped off the group, rolled my sleeves and shorts up and my socks down to maximize my tan, and soft pedalled. There was no time cut, so I could take as long as I needed. Eventually, I was caught by the last group on the road, where Amiel was after having a mechanical. We rolled for the next few hours pretty steady, but the odd rider would still attack the gruppetto. It was ridiculous. With 40 km to go, someone went back to a team car and brought back a beer to share with the grupetto. It was excellent.

The final day started with a psychology test for me as I’m having to cram to finish my online school. Bit tough to get it all done on the road. After my test I soft pedalled the morning’s flat, 16 km time trial and used it as a spin to flush the legs ahead of the crit that evening.

I’m quite happy with my performance in the crit. I’m a tedious crit racer, uninterested in the necessary contact required if you want to be in contention for the win, but this time I pushed myself to be at the pointy end of the race. I did my best to lead out Amiel who’s a much better sprinter than I am. He finished fifth and I finished ninth, but most importantly, him, Brendan and I had a blast working together and giving the win our best shot.

There was a time where I’d be the one at the front of a race trying to put people in the gutter and break away. I’ve used that exact tactic with teams in the past on crosswindy stages. This weekend, however, I was the one in the gutter and later the grupetto. I’m pleased that I could enjoy it, but hope not to get too used to it!

I was relaxed all weekend in the races. When the racing was unreasonably frustrating and no fun, I allowed myself to call it a day and simply have a nice ride. I couldn’t do that last year. I was always too mad at myself for being in the grupetto to allow myself to enjoy it. It’s a pleasant change to be able to enjoy the ride, whether I’m driving the pace, barely holding on, or off the back. Riding with friends and enjoying the ride no matter its outcome served as an excellent reminder of how much I love this sport!

Oliver Evans 20-year-old cyclist from Winnipeg, currently living in Victoria. In 2019, he will race with Trek Red Truck Racing.

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