San Dimas Stage Race

By: Meghan Grant – guest rider and blogger extraordinaire
Photo credits: Super D Duper Host Dad – Ken Swanson

As much as I enjoy staring at a wall while riding the trainer, I eagerly accepted an invitation from the Swansons, host family extraordinaire, to spend three weeks with them in March in Southern California. I was later joined by Emily Flynn, as well as fellow NextGen teammates Devaney Collier and Sara Giovannetti. By the end of the first two weeks, I had to go up the stairs on all fours, which is how you can tell it’s a good training block. More importantly, I was also inching up the standings and setting some big new wattage PB’s in the ultra-serious Flynn-vs-Grant town line sign sprint tournament.

Bike racers love to race bikes, so we NextGen’ers were pretty amped when our coach, Cameron Jennings, offered us the last-minute option to trade in our final weekend of planned training rides for the San Dimas Stage Race. To add to the fun, Devaney and I would borrow kit from Sara and Emily and race as guests for The Cyclery-4iii.

The first road race of the season is always a bit daunting. It can be especially so if your last road race, 7 months ago, ended with you cartwheeling like a human tumbleweed over the Belgian cobbles. Even without a crash, it can take a few minutes or laps to relax and become reacquainted with the feeling of being in the peloton; a bit like jumping into a cold swimming pool, you know it’ll be a shock to the system, but probably pretty enjoyable once you’re in.

Stage 1 is a time trial – a solo race against the clock – straight up a mountain. This was a really great experience, because it confirmed my love for indoor track cycling. And the scenery was nice too.

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Sara on the TT course

Stage 2 is a 98km circuit race around Bonelli Park, and 8 repeats of the leg-busting “Heckler’s Hill.”  We thought it would be really cool to try to win a sprint jersey for our host family, and there would be 4 chances for us to accrue some sprint points. Visiting Canadian Sport Institute nutritionist Erik would be tasked with his first time handing up bottles in the feed zone (he nailed it).

With some rough pavement, and some tricky corners, this race has a bit of a reputation for being crash-prone. It did not fail to deliver. Sara was our first casualty; her bike was the second, crushed by the race moto. Emily received a pretty solid accidental body check from one of the Mexican riders, who reflexively put her arm around her to stop her from falling, and they shared an awkward-but-adorable on-the-bike hug.

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Meghan, Devaney, and Emily enjoying the race before the carnage begins

Mid-race, two riders locked bars and went down in the middle of the pack on the descent. I successfully performed my first-ever bunny hop over a human, and luckily avoided going down myself. Emily and I picked our way through the wreckage but just didn’t quite have the legs to close the gap back to the group as they attacked the QOM. Devaney also managed to stay upright, but had to wait for a spare rear wheel, as hers had been converted into an abstract art piece.

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Emily and I picked up a couple more unlucky souls, and together we tried in earnest to get back to the pack. Eventually it became clear this was unlikely to happen, but after some verbal abuse encouragement, we managed to get the group to work together to make the 5% time cut, in order to race the next day’s crit. Having Emily as a teammate was very motivating. This is the girl who, when a mechanical problem had us stuck in Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” (with the song on repeat) was stoked because it was a chance to learn the words to the song. I’m told Devaney displayed a “warrior spirit” but unfortunately fell victim to the dreaded time cut. We were happy to find Sara at the finish line, a bit banged up, but still smiling.

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Still smiling after the 127th repeat of “It’s a Small World”

Stage 3 is a 55-minute criterium in downtown San Dimas. First crit of the season, 22 days into a tough training block, I was aware this was likely to be a “character-building” experience, but was still pretty excited to line up with Emily, and with our host family cheering us on. We raced hard, suffered lots and made weird noises, but had a ton of fun racing.

So, the first road race of the season is done and dusted, and the cobwebs have been shaken out. We may not have brought home any big results this time around, but the prognosis is looking good with 5 months left in the road season! It was great getting to train and race with new teammates (Emily) and track teammates on the road. Big thanks to The Cyclery-4iii, Cycling Canada, and the Swanson family (including Sadie the Corgie!)

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