Today was the first yellow jersey defense that Silber Pro Cycling has had to make, and what a stage to give it a go: Oak Glen at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Perhaps on paper we wouldn’t be considered a favorite to hold on to our race lead at day’s end, but we decided to give it a try, and here’s why:
The night before the race we had our team meeting. The mood was understandably upbeat as we were riding a wave of success. We had launched our 2015 campaign with a fresh new fluro orange look and a roster bolstered by new recruits. Happily, the new-look team performed well in our season-opening event: the San Dimas Stage Race. Silber finished with Ryan Roth and Alex Cataford 5th and 6th in the general classification. These solid results suggested our compete level, and also our increased depth.
After San Dimas, the team held a training camp to bond and prep for Redlands. While the guys rode their bikes through the hills of El Cajon, there was still lots of work for mechanic Doug Berner to finish, including installing Quarq power meters on our Argon Gallium Pro race bikes, and assembling our Argon E-118 time trial machines. Ryan used one of the E-118’s meticulously prepped by Doug to finish 2nd at the Stage 2 time trial at Redlands, which allowed him to take over the race leader’s yellow jersey. This was a fantastic result and subsequently created an opportunity to teach our young riders how to both take responsibility in a major US race and how to implement the tactics of a defending team.
During my racing years, I had the pleasure of helping defend a Redlands lead held by both Horner and Wherry; while post-retirement I directed Mancebo to victory. The lessons learned en route would help, but with this young and unproven team our goals are slightly different. Our roster at Redlands ranged from the wise and wily 32-year-old leader Ryan Roth, to our runner-turned cycling phenom Michael Le Rossignol–who’s first bike race was an astounding 11 months ago. Between we had Euro-seasoned Nigel Ellsay, scrappy kiwi Alexander Ray (“ARay”), sprinter Elliott Doyle, diesel Matteo Dal-Cin and two U23 riders who missed the entire 2014 season with massive facial trauma and reconstructive surgeries: Alex Cataford and Nicolas Masbourian. The challenge of blending these players into a cohesive unit capable of controlling one of the best domestic pelotons I’ve seen in years is why I do this job.
So yes, we knew a successful defense of the jersey was a long shot but I wanted our team to make a stand for several reasons. The main reason was old school pride. I feel it’s a team’s responsibility as race leader to take on the challenge and to honour the role. I’ve seen so many teams over the years shirk this responsibility and I always lose a little respect for them afterwards. Respect goes a long way within the peloton and if there’s one thing our young riders could use a dose of it was fundamental respect. Riding for Silber Pro Cycling has to mean something: accountability to each other and to the sport.
Another reason why we worked so hard to defend a lead that we were likely to lose was practice. Looking forward, I see races that we are a good bet to perhaps be in this position again–and where it’s very likely we can defend a lead to its conclusion. I wanted the guys to have a dry run at dictating what break goes up the road and which ones get shut down. I wanted them to practice massing together, riding tempo and emptying their tank in the service of their team leader. And I wanted to show the rest of the peloton that the 2015 orange Silber team was a colour they will see at the front and racing with accountability from the onset of the season.
In the end, we lost the yellow jersey but by defending it properly to the final climb, we achieved our immediate and forward-looking goals. All in all it was a great learning experience for Silber Pro Cycling. Quite frankly, we passed the test of defending yellow at Redlands with flying colors. Hopefully we will have more chances this year to protect a lead in a major stage race.