Rathe Report: Hard days in Europe pay off at NRC debut
Portland’s Jacob Rathe rides for the Jelly Belly/Kenda Cycling Team and the USA Cycling U23 National Team. He recently rode his first National Race Calendar event with Jelly Belly/Kenda at the Redlands Cycling Classic in California. Rathe scored a top 10 stage result and finished 27th on overall GC. He is currently tied for 30th in the NRC standings. He filed this report from Redlands.
By Jacob Rathe
REDLANDS, Calif. — I lined with my new team, Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, for the first time at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. It’s been a month since we had our team camp in southern California, where we not only rode our bikes a lot and got to know each other, but went through some (in)famous “team building” exercises that were led by none other than some ex-navy seals. Never before have I experienced as much misery on a cloudy, windy morning on a beach in San Diego. A long story short, we did a variety of activities involving cinder blocks, bear crawl relays, holding water bottles out in front of you until you no longer could, and some other sadistic drills that I have tried to forget. We were shivering the whole time and were sore for the rest of camp.
Though our experience with the Navy Seals was miserable, the effects were present when we got together to race. The atmosphere with the team is good, better than usual for a team with so many new riders. The morning with the Seals may have something to do with it, but it’s also because the guys are easy-going and fun to be around.
Redlands was my first NRC race. After a couple Junior World Championships, several Junior Nations Cup races, and weeks on end spent in Europe racing, I was finally able to use that experience against the best domestic professionals.
The prologue went better than expected. After I finished I rolled down to the start to be humbled to learn that two of my teammates times were almost a minute faster than me, in 10 minutes! But they were currently sitting in 1st and 2nd, along with another teammate in 4th. I ended up 41st, not something that I pride myself on but I was expecting something worse on an uphill prologue. The team ended up 2nd, 3rd, and 7th.
The next day was the Beaumont Road Race. It was 105 miles, doing one start lap then four bigger laps. There was one climb on the first lap and two climbs on each of the other laps. I was pleasantly surprised when the race didn’t go from the gun, unlike junior races in Europe that are much shorter.
The break went, and we weren’t in it. For about 20 miles of the race I was the one assigned to help Fly V Australia ride on the front to protect Ben Day’s lead. The gap grew to four minutes, but came back in the final miles of the race. On the last climb my teammate Will Routley attacked and got away with two others, including Ben Jacques-Maynes of Bissell. Will sat on as to not jeopardize the narrow advantage that two of our teammates had on Jacques-Maynes. At the finish, Will out sprinted him to take the win. I tried mixing it up in the field sprint and got 14th.
The downtown Redlands Criterium was the next day in the late afternoon. It is a one-mile, eight-corner course with two turns over 90 degrees. Fly V rode on the front the entire time, stringing out the 180 rider field for most of the 90-minute race. It was fast considering the technical course, with an average speed of 28 mph. My teammate Mike Friedman got 4th, fending for himself at the finish while the rest of us laid low.
The famous Sunset Road Race was the last stage on Sunday, considered by some to be the “best day of NRC racing of the year.” This was the loop that we trained on in the days before the race. Each lap is about seven miles, with a 500-foot climb each lap. We started with a few criterium laps, then up a 500 foot climb to the course, then 12 laps of the loop, then back into town to finish with five criterium laps, totaling 94 miles.
The climb isn’t so bad, the gradients are mellow, but doing it 12 times is another story. The descent is technical, with lots of turns and small twisty roads. After three laps of this race, half the field is usually gone, and at the end only 20 are in the lead group.
I fought hard for the crucial positioning in the front to start the circuit on, also making sure our three GC guys — placed 3rd, 4th, and 5th and only two to three seconds down — were at the front. Fly V rode hard on the front all day, bringing the break back at the end and neutralizing all of our attacks in the final laps. I wasn’t in too much difficulty on the climb, but it certainly wore on me, each lap getting increasingly difficult.
The Sunset race all came down to the finishing crit laps. I made it in the front group of about 40, along with the three team leaders. We had to grab the time bonuses on the line in order to win the race. United Health took control at the end to lead out Rory Sutherland, who was also within striking distance of the overall lead. I took teammate Kiel Reijnen to the back of the train on the last lap; all he needed was 3rd place on the stage to win the overall General Classification.
During the last crit lap, on the verge of cramping, I yo-yoed on and off the back of the front 10 riders, and then I passed a few of them in the sprint to get 7th on the stage. Kiel got 5th, two places away from the time bonus that would have given us the overall GC victory.
Despite narrowly losing the race, it was a very successful race for Team Jelly Belly. It was certainly a satisfying NRC debut for myself. All of those weeks spent in Europe paid off.