Editor’s note: Jordan Cheyne’s “The Open Pro” series details his experiences with high-level Zwift training as a rider in the pro Continental ranks. You can read his past posts here.
Just when you think you have a grasp on the sport of cycling, the sport seems to dig deep into its playbook and throw you a new challenge. And so it was, as I sat on my Mom’s couch in late March and flipped through Twitter updates for the Chico Stage Race. The race was meant to be my season opener with Elevate-KHS and I had lugged my new, freshly built TT bike to the airport at 4:30 am two mornings in a row in an effort to arrive there. The springtime fog had other ideas and after a flurry of delayed and ultimately cancelled flights I was left 3000km away from the start line as the peloton rolled away on stage one. That was a shock. In eight years of race travel I have never actually missed a race due to logistical problems. It was a small tune-up event but it still stung and I had no choice but to tread water and turn my attention to the next event one week later: the San Dimas Stage Race.
San Dimas: Form and Frustration
My travel to San Dimas was smooth and despite spending little time riding outdoors in an unseasonably cold Kelowna Spring, I was confident in my form. I have had a steady progression in the key 6.8 km uphill time trial stage of San Dimas over the last 5 years. It isn’t a viciously steep pure climber’s TT but I have always thought I had the goods to win there if I executed. Execution as it turns out has been a gradually acquired taste for me with my last 4 attempts resulting in placings of: 22nd, 18th, 11th and 3rd in 2017.
I knew I had more to give and on a cloudy and blustery day on Glendora Mountain Road I tore out of the start house and finally found those extra few percent on course. I had worked hard both on my own and with my mental performance coach Mario Arroyave to refine my approach to high pressure, one shot events like these and it paid off; I found flow. I thought my power meter was broken at times it was reading so high but my time proved it correct. I finished 20 seconds faster than any previous attempts and claimed my first yellow jersey of the season.
I had the form and a strong team to carry my lead until the end of the three-stage event but sometimes all of that can be unwound by poor luck. In the next day’s road race I flatted with 25km remaining and after a furious chase with the team a breakaway slipped away and Christopher Blevins of Axeon cut my lead from 18 seconds to 3 heading into the final day’s crit. With my lack of sprinting prowess and multiple time bonus sprints on offer, it was always going to be a tough equation to balance to retain my lead. Ultimately, the needle was unthreadable and I slipped to 3rd overall. The team walked away satisfied but frustrated with two stage wins, the strongest riders in the race but without that yellow exclamation point on the weekend we all wanted.
Joe Martin Stage Race: Downs and Ups
I was motivated for Joe Martin and confident that I had all the tools for a great result. The first stage setting out of Fayettesville, Arkansas was headed swiftly in that direction. After 30 km my three teammates and I rode an 18 man breakaway away from the field in furious crosswinds. This time it wasn’t luck but misjudgment and perhaps hubris that stole away a top result. Despite our numbers advantage and strong legs we left ourselves vulnerable to continuous body blows by the opposition and in the end each of us cracked and let the win go up the road. The attacks and counter attacks seem manageable in isolation but by the final climb of the race the sum total of those efforts had emptied me. My last ounces of energy went to help teammate Eder Frayere salvage the day from the field with an attack for 6th place.
The rest of the weekend passed in a blur. The team came close with Alfredo Rodrguez’s 2nd place on the Stage 2 sprint and then James Piccoli’s 2nd place in the short uphill TT on Stage 3. For me though, the TT was a swift punch in the jaw. In frigid 2 degree Celsius weather I underdressed and my legs turned to useless slush just minutes into the effort. Lesson learned, but that doesn’t mitigate the sting of a missed opportunity.
This is where the mental game came was again crucial. With a bruised ego plus a freezing cold technical crit the next day the weaker part of me wanted to cruise around and let our sprinters do their thing. The stronger part of me got on the trainer in the morning to spin out the kinks and set about producing some lemonade out of a rather sour set of lemons. I focused on staying with each step of the process and produced one of my stronger performances. I drove 2 separate breakaways and allowed Strongman-Sprinter Sam Bassetti to mop enough points to steal the green jersey. With us up the road and the pressure off in the field, Alfredo saved all his fury for the final sprint and took a massive UCI stage victory. I haven’t been that satisfied in a long time.
Gila: Full Speed Ahead into the Wall
The third and final race in the set was the daunting Tour of the Gila in Silver City, New Mexico. It is a race decided by high altitude climbs and time trials and I was riding high into the first stage’s summit finish. The final climb of the day is far from straightforward and features a decisive, false flat-crosswind section mid way up. I knew something was wrong when I saw the Rally team storm to the front there and had no teammates ahead of me in the top 20 positions. The group was strewn into the gutter by the echelon; I looked back and made what turned out to be a rewarding decision for the team. I sold myself out at a rather high price and dragged my fellow climbers James and Eder back to the front group just as the climb stabbed up again with 4km remaining until the finish. That was it for me, and I clutched and grabbed at the scraps of the peloton on the way to a 24th place finish. It was worth it to see James up in the distance though, fighting all the way for a 6th place finish.
That situation was a tough call at the time since my I fancied my own chances on the climb but fortune proved it wise from the team perspective. In the subsequent stages I came down with a chest cold that quickly robbed me of any energy and top end form I had. I was reduced to a team role anyway and would have lost any high placing I had.
The race doesn’t stop just because you can’t stop coughing though and I was determined to hang on and make a difference for James and Alfredo in the sprints. I was able to cover attacks, collect bottles and help marshal the troops and we ended up with a 4th and a 5th on the final stages and James retained 6th overall. Not a glimmering success but a solid team performance at the beginning of a long season.
That’s how I feel about my first three races personally as well. The pieces are all there but it can be a damn hard puzzle sometimes and I just have to keep making smart, strong efforts to find the winning combination. My next chance is the Redlands Bicycle Classic in Southern California this week and I like our chances.