Published on June 10, 2016

It's been a few weeks since the Tour of California, and I've had some time to reflect on my experience. That race covers over 800 miles in 8 days. It feels strange to say that I've done the race 5 times. The first day I raced the TOC was Mother's day, 2012. I made it into the paper that year, a photographer witnessed a hug between my mother and I before the stage. It was just the shot that the local news wanted. That year my team had the yellow jersey for most of the race, giving us the responsibility of riding the front of the peloton. I spent the week riding the front chasing down breakaways. This year I wanted to be on the other side.
 
It was the first day of a tough 8-day tour, and I was dead set on being in the breakaway. Just as we passed the KM 0 sign the first rider attacked and I followed. Rarely does the first attack create the breakaway, but it did. 5 kilometers into the race we had 3 minutes. A long day awaited my new companions and I on a 115 mile loop east of San Diego.
 
The reality of cycling is that most riders rarely win. Two-hundred riders and one winner. If you win one race in a year it was a good year. Unless you are the fastest sprinter, time trialist, or climber in the race, something out of the ordinary has to happen to finish first. The odds of the breakaway surviving to the finish on Stage 1 were very low, but still higher than the odds of winning the sprint in a stacked lineup. Low odds is better than no odds.
 
The break rotated a moderate pace. The time gap was 3 minutes, then it was 4:30, then it was 6:30. It didn't matter how fast we rode, we were riding away from a peloton that was coasting.  There was no race lead to defend, leaving which team had the responsibilty to ride the front up for debate. The teams with fast sprinters looked at each other, waiting for somebody else to take charge. Gaps often go out to 10 minutes when this happens. Then the break has a chance.
 
Just as soon as we had 6:30, the next gap was 5:45. Katusha kept us at 4-5 minutes until the last hour. With 40 kilometers to go we had 2 and a half minutes. We were sitting ducks and we all knew it. We stopped working cohesively. The only thing to do then is to attack.
 
I accelerated hard over a roller and was solo for a few kilometers, then two from the break joined me. The rest of them sitting up and getting swallowed up by the field. We rode hard trying to stay away as long as possible. Being in front of that TV moto is some of the best exposure the team gets in the whole year, even if it's awfully hard.
 
It wasn't for nothing. I was awarded the subjective award of Most Courageous rider. My legs felt as if they had ridden the front like they used to, but I don't remember smiling as much.

~ Jacob Rathe

photo credits: Team Jelly Belly (jellybellycycling.com), timesofsandiego.com

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