2016’s summer season started with an unfamiliar race for me: Winston Salem. I’ve watched the race in the past online and wondered if I’d have a chance to one day direct Silber Pro Cycling there. The calendar has lined up geographically quite nicely this year ensuring we wouldn’t miss it.
My Canadian team would travel to North Carolina after a much needed rest from our spring block. This would be an advantage over our fatigued American counterparts who during this time competed at the Tour of California and recent USPro Championships. I really liked how the course suited our well-rounded athletes.
Ben Perry would infiltrate the major break of the day and we were certainly comfortable if it went to the line. A reshuffling would see Ryan make the final move of 6 riders. Barraged behind the second group and nearing the race conclusion, I pulled over to the roadside and we would watch the race unfold on my phone. Distraught turned to delight as Ryan would struggle on the last climb, only to remake contact with the leaders within sight of the finish and launch a long sprint surprising his companions and hold on to win this very punishing race. Did I mention it was hot? Salt encrusted riders congratulated each other at the Silber van and our summer block could not have started any better.
My first taste of Southern hospitality did not disappoint. We were extremely fortunate to be linked with the Penry and Tennille families. Host housing is usually an opportunity to meet new people and in the past has fostered relationships long after cycling is over. I’m fortunate to have such friends in Redlands CA, Fayetteville AR, Vancouver BC and now surely Winston Salem to name a few.
We’d continue our stateside summer stint with a midweek commute up to a race we’re more familiar with–Philadelphia. The rebirth of North America’s first true ‘classic’ race has been incredible. A stellar performance last year netted us a respectable yet unsatisfactory 8th place and we were certainly looking to improve on that. Our strength is a formidable roster that is 8 deep but lacking that bona fide podium finisher if the race was together at the bottom of the famous Manayunk wall. I gave instructions to the Silber boys to have at it and race aggressively.
Before the action really heated up we’d have to respond to the first crash of the race at the bottleneck leading to the all important first entry into Manayunk. Nigel was on the ground and unmoving. Doug tended to the bike, while I along with the spot on medical team assessed Nigel. Once Nigel took stock of his injuries, he was willing to remount and we’d have fun helping him get back to the field. It would take a good half lap and no sooner had he reintegrated when we heard his number and that of Matteo’s in the break of the day. Quite a ride!
The break would get caught late and this year it would be a large group at the bottom of the Wall. Unfortunately we could not place Ben Perry with a decent position at the base but Ben would pick off riders steadily and finish with a hard fought 7th place. Looking at the video, it’s clear had he been in better position, Ben could have been fighting for a place on the podium. Hopefully we will keep improving and envision a win in Philly in the near future.
Philly’s early start time enabled us to shower and quickly drive part of the way up to Saguenay, Quebec that Sunday afternoon. Saguenay really started our run of success last year–a streak I think we continue with now and quite frankly it is our baseline of expectation. Cold and wet weather greeted the much improved peloton in Saguenay’s 2016 edition but the results were to our great satisfaction similar to last year. Ben would bridge to his teammate Alex Cataford and the excellent Raim of the Israeli Cycling Academy and Ben would take the stage and the race lead.
We’ve been in this exact position last year and our tactics were virtually identical. We would let breaks up the road the next two stages to take the time bonuses and prepare for the final stage showdown. Tired of dragging the field the past two days, on Stage 4 we wanted to throw a wrench in the mix and go offensive. With virtual yellow in Alex and teammate Matteo for company up the road, we’d shift responsibility over to the Academy team the last day. This team really is impressive and their work exemplary but in the end Ryan would sneak into the last break with half lap remaining and leap two spots and take yellow off of Ben for a Silber 1-2. Local boy Elliott found us a great burger joint that night and we’d celebrate a well-deserved victory.
The short drive down to Beauce gave better weather but mixed fortunes for us. Fresh additions to the race rosters in the excellent Axeon- Hagens Berman and Holowesko teams would complicate our desire to win this 31st edition. A stalemate in responsibility within all the major teams enabled breaks to succeed in the first two stages giving new US Pro champ Greg Daniel a very dangerous minute and a half lead. Our inability to get into the break the first few days really showed especially after an energy sapping Saguenay, however sitting atop Mont Megantic we were still very optimistic after Ryan’s stellar climb. Our strong suit, the time trial awaited us on stage 4 and we thought ground would be made up.
Unfortunately, disaster would strike merely 50 meters into Ryan’s race against the clock, He would hit a flaw in the pavement and blow out his front tire upon entry into the first corner. He’d crash and with it our hopes for a podium on GC. Undaunted and with Doug assessing the bike and changing the front wheel, Ryan would storm with a would-be stage winning performance but instead lie in 6th on GC at days end.
Matteo would finally reverse our growing trend of missing the break on the next stage, but they would be caught an agonizing 1km from the finish. Quebec City would host a criterium on Stage 5 and the many spectators were treated to great race. Axeon would finally let a non-threatening break go clear. Ben would try and do his Giordana National Criterium Champion skinsuit proud but he’d have to contend with 2 very fast finishers in Naud of Rally and the ever present and excellent Raim of the Academy. Indeed the fast men proved too much up the Grand Allée and Ben’s 3rd was hard fought but a lesson in dealing with sprinters learned.
St Georges famous last stage was another battle royale but all teams just couldn’t overcome the strength of the incredible Axeon team and even yellow jersey Daniel topped off the race with the stage win with Ben boxed in along the barriers for a 5th place on the stage. On GC, Alex would continue his consistent season with a 9th place despite a sub-par time trial. Silber’s fatigue and disappointment showed. Our expectations are higher and hopefully we could recover with a week’s rest before our National Championships in my hometown of Ottawa. Our summer start has been excellent with 2 big UCI wins and it’s just starting to heat up.