Keira's First Redlands Bicycle Classic Experience
Redlands Bicycle Classic is the longest continuous running invitational, professional stage race in American bike racing, usually scheduled the week following Easter weekend. Our team welcomed four guest riders, one of them being the young Keira Bond. At only 18 years of age, Redlands was set to be her first stage racing experience and it only happened to be in the largest women's field in the history of the race, with 126 riders registered. Keira didn't know what to expect and had a lot of pre-race nerves, understandably so. Although she's raced in cyclocross world cups in Europe and World Championships, a stage race of this intensity and depth of field had even the most experienced riders in the peloton nervous. Though anxious, Keira didn't show it and came off cool, calm, and collected with with race preparation, discipline, and maturity beyond her years. Keira surprised herself and only improved as the days went on. Towards the end of day five she even set the pace at the front of the first chase group and animated the race. We were so happy to have her aboard as a teammate and witness the progress she made in five days! Below is her summary of the stage race, enjoy!
Redlands was the hardest race I’ve ever done. Racing some of the fastest, longest races I’ve ever competed in for five days in a row was such an incredible opportunity to challenge myself. I came into this race with a lot of fitness and optimism, but very little experience.
I’m a cyclocross racer, and so doing a stage race is well outside of my comfort zone. I had never done a road race that was as long, or with as many people, and I had to do it for five days in a row. However, I came into the race with great preparation and even better support. I leaned on the other, more experienced girls at Orion for advice. We chatted nutrition plan, race strategy and mental game. I’m not typically the type to get nervous, but the night before the first stage, I was a wreck. I leaned on the other girls, and on my own knowledge and familiar routines, and I made it to the start line.
Day 1 RBC squad
We waited at the start for what seemed like an eternity, and then suddenly we were rolling. It finally felt real! My heart was racing. Although the start was supposed to be neutral, I felt myself moving backwards. Everyone around me was moving up, and I couldn’t seem to. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Catherine making her way to the front. I used her as a carrot and stayed as close to her as I could. We turned the corner and entered the circuit, making our way up Baseline hill for the first time. I thought this was supposed to be neutral! By the time we reached the top, my heartrate was in the red zone. I didn’t even know how I would make it up the hill fourteen more times.
At the top of the Baseline Hill
The second lap wasn’t any easier, and neither was the third or the fourth. I took it lap by lap, focusing on chasing wheels up the hill, and recovering on the downhill. I stuck with the lead pack for over eight laps, and when I was popped off the back, I didn’t stop trying. I kept trying to push the pace in my chase group, and made it all the way through the race.
Being cheered on by our wonderful host families as the suffering up Baseline Hill continues
That night, as we debriefed, I was so exhausted. I felt like stage one was the hardest race I’ve ever done. I set multiple all-time power records, and my body felt beat. I didn’t even know how I would race my bike again the next day!
To my surprise, stage two was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done. The circuit was beautiful, and I felt more comfortable in the pack. I learned from my mistakes on stage one, and really focused on positioning myself towards the front. The QOM climb was really fast each lap, but I was able to hang on. On the final lap, I wasn’t paying attention and I missed the initial acceleration up the climb. I found a few other girls and tried to chase back, and just made contact with the pack when we hit the base of the Oak Glen climb, which took us to the finish. However, the pack accelerated again, and I was gone. At this point, I was mentally exhausted. We had already been racing for nearly three hours, and my legs were still feeling the climbing from stage one.
The turn onto the Oak Glen Climb
I’m using all of my energy to just turn the pedals when I hear a shout of encouragement from behind me. It’s Anna, motoring her way up the climb. She tells me to hop on her wheel, and I do. She’s really pushing the pace, but it’s working, and we’re passing people. It’s so motivating to be riding with Anna, and she’s pulling us both closer to the finish. Eventually, she pushes the pace again, and I drop back a little. The closer we get to the finish, the steeper the climb gets, it seems. I see Alexa, driving in the caravan, and screams encouragement at me. She gives me the final piece of motivation I need to get out of the saddle and push to the finish. I pass two girls in the last few minutes.
Anna and Keira working together picking riders off one by one
Stage three was the time trial, and I was so glad that it was. My legs felt trashed. The TT was only nine miles, so it gave us a little bit of time to recover before the stage four crit. But, this didn’t mean I could relax. I don’t have a time trial bike, and so I had to push as hard as I could to ensure I made time cut. Luckily, Cheyenne let me use her aero helmet, which gave me a few extra watts and a lot more confidence. I finished the TT mid-pack, knowing that my lack of equipment set me back, but excited that I would make it to the crit.
Keira's TT start on a road bike
Pre-TT teammie selfies
Saturday was one of the hottest days of the whole race, and we raced the downtown Redlands crit at 2pm. My legs were feeling alright after the time trial, but I was really nervous about racing a crit with so many girls. My criterium experience has always been with less than 20 girls in an amateur field. Racing with almost 100 girls and all the big-name teams like Legion and DNA was enough to make me sweat.
Waiting for the 75-minute crit to start
As the crit progressed, I began to feel more comfortable in the pack. Whenever I felt myself getting too close to the back, I used Aileen as a marker, and tried to move back up to her. I was really impressed with how close to the front she stayed, and I tried to mimic that. On the final lap, I did my best to move up as much as I could, but when it came to the final sprint, I had nothing left in my legs. I was a bit disappointed that the previous 75 minutes of intensity had drained all the power from my legs, but I was so excited to know I was one stage closer to the finish line.
Leaning the bike through one of the nine corners of the crit course
Stage five was one of the most beautiful races I’ve ever done. We did nine laps of a climbing circuit in a gorgeous neighborhood overlooking the mountains. The wildflowers were in full bloom too, and it was a lovely sunny day. I started stage five with one goal: to finish the race.
It started fast, and on the first lap I got stuck behind a small crash in a downhill corner. Luckily, I was able to avoid it, but had to slow down so much that I lost contact with the front group. I kept chasing all the way up the climb, and found myself in a chase pack with some really strong girls. The laps went by quickly, and so did the strength in my legs. On the fourth lap, I started to drop off the back of the group, but then came Anna again, with words of encouragement and a wheel to chase. She encouraged me to give a little extra effort to stay with the group, and I was able to. The group slowed a little, and by lap eight my legs were feeling fresh again. I powered up the hill, and even tried to throw in a few attacks. It was such an amazing feeling to finish five days of stage racing with good sensations in my legs. I felt so strong and so exhausted at the same time.
Post race ice cream!
I learned so much about stage racing at Redlands, but also about team tactics and being a team player. More than that, I proved to myself that I was capable of so much more than I thought. I surprised myself each day, and am leaving this race with nothing but excitement. While I didn’t achieve any impressive results, focusing on the process and soaking in the whole experience was far more important.
Of course, none of this would have even been possible without the support from Orion. I really appreciate the time and energy that the team, especially Anna as our fearless team manager, has taken to welcome guest riders. As a young racer, opportunities like this really are life changing, and I’m so glad that my first stage race experience was such a positive one. I don’t take these opportunities lightly, and I’m so grateful to the whole Orion crew for welcoming me with open arms. Bike racing is such an unforgiving endeavor, and it’s so much better when I have incredible teammates to experience it with. I’m excited to take everything I’ve learned and apply it at Joe Martin next month, where I’ll race with the Amy D Foundation team!