Giro Del Cielo Stage Race Report
Rich Spencer reflects on a weekend of NJ stage racing, and taking home his first victory for To Be Determined at the Giro Del Cielo.
Since I joined TBD a couple of months ago I’ve had a disappointing run of races, so it was with a mixture of determination (yes, I’m that brand-compliant) and self-imposed performance anxiety that I racked my bike and jumped into Ted’s car on Saturday morning, amidst the infuriated Canal Street morning traffic, to race west to the Giro Del Cielo.
The two-day stage race is hosted by Skylands Cycling in a beautiful setting.
I. Stage 1 - Time Trial
Stage 1 was an Individual Time Trial, held on the particularly spectacular roads of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, in the far western reaches of New Jersey. The TT course is a rolling 13 miles, punctuated by several short punchy climbs and accumulating some 1000' of ascent. I knew this should suit me. But I’d never gone full-gas past a 20 minute test on the trainer, save for the only other TT I’d done, a rather lackluster effort at last month’s Killington Stage Race, and even that was a fair bit shorter.
I’d scrounged a disc wheel and some clip-on aero bars for my road bike and was pretty happy with my set-up. Garneau’s team-issue skinsuit and helmet are awesome, and pretty “aero” for road racing, but amidst the TT bikes and TT helmets on display at the start line that anxiety began to soar.
I chatted with the guys ahead of me, including Paul Yeates of Rockstar Games Racing, who would be a minute up the road. I knew Paul would be a strong time trialist, so throughout the next 30-something minutes I was desperate to catch a glimpse of him up the road. I did not. I did however pass five other racers… each time as I closed the gap, squinting through the sweat and hoping to make out the distinctive pink and white Rockstar kit.
Tactically, I’d decided to really drill the climbs, going way above my sustainable power, and then try to recover at a bit below threshold on the descents and rollers, making the most of being on a road bike up the steeper sections and then trying to stay neat and on the aero bars as much as possible at all other times.
My average power for the stage confirmed that I’d paced it pretty close to what I could have hoped to achieve, and the concern over Paul’s disappearance up the road proved unfounded, as he’d more or less maintained the 1-minute gap, but I’d gained a handful of seconds on him at the line. We’d finished 1-2. Being determined… it had paid off.
II. Stage 2 - Criterium
Stage 2, later in the afternoon, after an excellent roadside diner and lakeside explore, was a super fun Criterium around The Sussex County Fairgrounds. Ted and I looked after each other throughout the race, kept ourselves close to the front and threw in a bunch of attacks up the road. The largest team on the course, CRCA's Century Road Club Development Foundation, displayed their well-drilled racing tactics, and continuously chased down breaks and forced the pace to remain brisk at the front, protecting their GC hopeful Andrew Petti.
The course had a couple of technical corners, not least the final left-hander before the finish, which is 90 degrees into a rise, and was sandy on the apex, just for added entertainment. On the final lap it was all back together, and I made a point of moving up to second-wheel as we entered this corner, to “stay safe” only for the CRCDF rider leading us through to have a massive moment! I picked a wheel for the sprint as the pack started to come through, and launched all I had left to take third. Definitely the best sprint result I’ve ever had.
III. Stage 3 - Road Race
And so Sunday began with a slightly dubious, but much coveted, fluoro pink leaders jersey… and a lead on GC that meant there were just 5 riders who could potential overthrow my claim to the top-step. Their numbers were taped to my stem. And Ted’s. TBD's Robert Constantino (a/k/a Chip) had joined us for Sunday's race, and so we had three TBDers in the field for the final stage - a 46-mile road race taking in a rolling 5+ mile course between Huntsburg & Huntsville eight times.
Despite feeling reasonably fresh in the morning, each effort to close down a move, or attempt to create one, reminded me that yesterday had been hard. Nevertheless I was hoping to break up the race a bit, and Ted, Chip & I were at work alternating between trying to let a few guys get up the road and being amongst those few guys. Weirdly, and especially on the final lap, the road race felt way sketchier than the previous day’s criterium, and I ended up horribly out of position on the last lap having been in the front few wheels most of the race. I moved up as best and as safely as I could, sprinting from way too far back and crossing the line completely gassed and surrounded by other racers…
The next minutes were nervous ones, we’d somehow let Michael Podzaline who’d won Stage 2, get away from us, and he’d stolen the field sprint for second. Alex Smith had snuck off the front on the final lap and taken the win in impressive style. Ted & I had finished towards the front of the field sprint, in 10th and 12th respectively. In the end it was just enough. Seriously. It couldn’t have been any closer. I took the GC by a mere half a point over Michael, with Alex closing out the podium in third.
Strangely the sensation was of huge relief to get a result for the team, who had certainly not put any pressure on me, but for whom I was desperate to perform having had a string of good results prior to joining. Racing with Ted, and on the Sunday with Chip too, was everything that I’d hoped for when I’d joined the team and I look forward to many another race in TBD colors. Over the next 24hrs the relief has fortunately given way to some actual excitement, and I am of course thrilled to have won my first stage race, and to have done so for such a great team.