Words and images by Sam Wiebe
Stage five was a 94 mile trip from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita. California has been making headlines with oppressive draught conditions this past winter. Ironically, that trend was bucked today in one of the sunniest cities in the country, Santa Barbara. The stage began with gloomy skies at the start line with a promise of serious rainfall later in the day. The drops came intermittently and everything stayed relatively calm, maybe even refreshing, over the first 3/4 of the race. The often cruel cycling gods changed their minds, though, before the finish – a torrential downpour hit the peloton for the last 20 kilometers of racing and turned the race into a washing machine.
The Orange & Black were set to leadout Guillaume Boivin for the sprint finale in Santa Clarita. Leadout specialist Tom Soladay was caught up in a crash over the closing kilometers thanks to the slippery conditions, and it was up to Boivin and Eric Young to improvise for a shot at the podium. The duo managed to connect, and Boivin was delivered in near-perfect position, but he faded just meters from the line to finish 6th, his second top ten of the week.
“For Gui to start the sprint from the front of the race means everyone did their job today,” said Performance Director Eric Wohlberg. “There was a big crash inside five km to go that Soladay was involved in, so that was a key guy out of our leadout train. To see Gui and Eric make adjustments and rally is good – our sprinters are starting to work very well together. Will Routley and Jesse Anthony did a fair bit of work earlier in the race, so they were out of the mix at the finish. It didn’t leave too many guys left to put Gui in the right spot, but even with the team down on horsepower in a critical moment, we got a decent result.”
We spoke with Bovin, Young, and Soladay about the chaotic fifth finale at the ATOC.
How difficult was it to attempt a leadout today?
“It was insane. There was a lot of water and road spray. Visibility was low, so I just tried to find Gui at the end. The plan all day was to lead him out, and I found him with about 2.5 km to the line and we shot up the right side. I moved him up to Sagan’s wheel with about 800 meters to go. I was pretty blown so I pulled out, and got out of the way. Zirbel was up there trying to help us out, but it was really chaotic. Even seeing the road was hard.”
Can you describe what happened in the sprint?
“I think I was quite well positioned thanks to Eric, and I followed the right wheels to the line. I was happy to be there in such great position, but I was a bit gassed for the sprint. I didn’t have the legs today to finish it off properly.”
Did the rain effect the finish today?
“It was coming down hard, but that’s bike racing. We knew it was going to come, and it was the same situation for everyone. It was the least technical finish we have had all week, but when it’s coming down that hard, everyone is a bit more cautious.”
Describe what happened in the crash today.
“We were going 30+ MPH in a downpour when a few riders went down in front of me. I don’t know what caused it but I couldn’t slow down or avoid it. I ditched the bike, bounced off a rider and hit the ground. Somehow I hit both shins before settling on my right side. I was cold, hungry and tired, but more than anything I was very disappointed to not be there to help my sprinters.”
Performance Director Jonas Carney brought a little bit of college football to the peloton this year – he hands out Optum diamond helmet stickers to athletes who deliver an exceptional performance. Woods and Routley have gathered a few.
Tom Soladay’s father has attended every stage of the race this year to support his son.
Santa Barbara averages 283 days of sunshine each year. Just think about that. It’s a pretty crazy number. We found out today that the gloomy, misty version of the city is equally as beautiful as the one soaked in rays. From there, the race headed through classic Southern California terrain.
Guillaume is a world class competitor. He takes losing very hard. He was thankful to Young for the bold leadout, but seemed visibly hurt by the near miss. The pain was probably exacerbated by the extra dose of suffering over the closing kilometers.