30 years of the Redlands Bicycle Classic: Pro riders recall their favorite memories
The Redlands Bicycle Classic is one of the longest continuous running professional stage races in the United States. The 32nd edition will be held April 6-10. Marquee names at this year’s edition include 2013 Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner (Lupus Racing), and two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (Twenty-16-Ridebiker). CyclingTips is providing exclusive video coverage of every stage.
Here, current and former pros share their favorite memories of the Redlands Classic.
Christian Vande Velde
In 1996 I barely finished Redlands as a young track rider. In 1999 I won as a seasoned road pro. (Well, in my mind I was a seasoned pro.)
My teammate Jonathan Vaughters won in 1998, and it looked like he had a good time winning. I didn’t have that good of time pulling on the front, so that enticed me to train my ass off all winter, so that I could have a crack at winning myself.
As we all knew, the race was always won on the Oak Glen climb. We went flat-out into it, like always, really only paying attention to two people — Cadel Evans and Frank McCormack (who had the yellow jersey).
Dylan Casey took the last big pull before Vaughters took over for more or less the entire climb until it was only me, Cadel, and JV.
Vaughters was flying as only he could on the climbs back then. I attacked once, we dropped Cadel, and JV and I finished hand in hand on top. I gave the stage to JV, who obviously deserved it. My dad was at the summit, and they gave him the honors of giving me the yellow jersey on the podium.
I won the race overall, took the redeye flight home to Chicago with the old man, and gave the podium flowers to my mom. I thought I was the man. And then I woke up in Europe.
I have a lot of Redlands memories. In 2007, I raced sick and came home with a saliva gland infection.
In 2009, I won the Sunset Loop stage. In 2010, I told Coryn Rivera that I was going to f***ing crash her in the crit. I yelled it, actually. The next year, I broke my elbow in the crit. Karma? In 2012 I took second overall by just one second, behind Megan Guarnier , and I won the Sunset Loop stage.
But my most fond Redlands memories come from 2013 when I won three of four stages. Winning the Redlands Criterium was most special, especially after breaking my arm in the crit two years earlier. Our team (NOW and Novartis for MS) did great lead-outs for all the time bonus sprints and for the finish. That finish is very technical and I knew exactly how to win it — I learned the hard way, after messing up the finish the year the before. It was my second field sprint win in two days, and I wasn’t really known as a sprinter. I had a great team, solid tactics, and a lot of confidence. Redlands is a really great race.
I’d have to say the 2015 Oak Glen stage was my greatest Redlands memory. Chris Horner was the four-time winner, and had spent the spring announcing how easy the fifth would be. “I own Redlands,” he said. “They might as well call it the Chris Horner Classic,” he said.
I remember reading that with Mike Woods at Optum’s training camp, and fuming at Horner’s cocky attitude. I planned to make him pay for it.
Horner lost time in the time trial, but I’d heard that organizers brought the Oak Glen climb back at his request, since he’d done well there in the past. We were afraid that he’d cruise away from us when it got steep, but the team lined up at the base doing the “turn and burn.” When Woods was done, everyone was ruined. I attacked, and won. Mike came second, and Horner had his foot in his mouth.
It was 1989. I was 22 years old, riding for the Crest amateur team.
I had endured a pretty rough spring due to a nasty tailbone injury in March at the Tour of Texas. (Back in the day Redlands was held in May, over Memorial Day weekend.)
I came into Redlands that year looking to salvage my spring, but I didn’t honestly think I had a realistic shot of winning since the big bullies (Coors Light) had a full squad there, including 1984 gold medalist Alexi Grewal.
The Oak Glen stage looked to be the most selective on paper, but the general consensus was that there would be a fair amount of regrouping from the top of the climb to the finish back in Redlands.
My teammate — and overall GC badass — Glen Sanders put the smack down over the top of the Oak Glen climb and forced a nice selection of 8-10 riders. We bombed the descent and I remember everyone in the group yelling “there’s no Coors Light…no Coors Light….let’s go!”
So for the next 40-45 minutes we were a really well-oiled machine, drilling it all the way to Redlands, fearing at any minute we would get caught by the mighty Coors Light train.
In our group was a (then) little-known Kiwi named Stephen Swart, all-around hammer pilot Steve Speaks, as well as my teammate Glen Sanders, and another three or four guys who were all pissed that they were not in a Coors Light jersey that year. There wasn’t a lack of motivation in that group.
I don’t think any of us actually thought we would stay away to the finish even though we reached a max time gap of almost two minutes. We stayed on the gas all the way to the line, and in what was probably a really pathetic sprint among tired climbers and time trial guys, I managed to time the drag race just right and won the stage by a bike length, taking the race lead. It was my first national-caliber win.
Coors Light went on to win the next three or four stages, chipping away at the lead we had built up on the Oak Glen stage, but we managed to take the overall. My teammate Glen Sanders finished second on GC, and Swart was third, keeping Coors Light off of the final podium altogether.
The day: March 23, 2007
The team: Colavita-Sutter Home
The players: Tina Pic, Alison Powers, Dotsie Bausch, Mackenzie Dickey (Jellum), Alex Wrubleski
The race: Mountaintop finish on Oak Glen
Time I’d been racing: Three months
Time after passing the Virginia Bar Exam: Five months
The theme: I passed up a law career to do what?
Redlands was my first big stage race as a “professional” — or rather, a JD-graduate who had chosen cycling over a career in law. The women’s field was stacked with an impressive array of riders and teams. I was very nervous to prove myself to director, Jim Williams, who had taken a chance by signing me the previous fall after a good showing at the Green Mountain Stage Race. The plan was to get Dotsie Bausch fresh to the base of the Oak Glen climb; the plan was aggressive, and a lot of us were used up throughout various parts of the race.
My turn came before the climb. I don’t really remember much except going from “all-out” to “oh my goodness, I can’t feel my legs.”
Long story short, I found myself off the bike with 3km to go, trying to stretch out my completely cramped body. The team soigneur pulled up beside me in the team van right at that moment. Despite my pleas, she did not let me quit and get in the van. As she drove off, she yelled back to me, “this is so much better than some law office!” Yes, yes it was; and yes, it has been.
In 2013, I ended a frustrating streak of podiums with a win in the Big Bear time trial. The Beaumont road race in stage 2 was a challenge, but I survived it with my narrow lead of seconds over Francisco Mancebo intact.
The Redlands Criterium is revered for its difficulty, and my Optum team knew that Paco would challenge for the bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints. As the sprint lap approached, my teammates lined it up and strung out the field. I’ve never fought so hard for a wheel as when I was locked onto Alex Candelario’s. Paco jumped with three turns to go and I railed the corners at the absolute limit of my tires. I took third in the sprint after Mancebo and Luis Amaran, but retained my GC lead for another day.
Paco would win the race overall the next day, but that criterium was everything bike racing should be, and remains a highlight of my racing career.
In 1999, I won Redlands ahead of Alison Dunlap. I was starting my first real year with Saturn, but no one knew who I was. I got the jersey after the TT, and I can tell you that the Oak Glen climb was a fight for me. Alison dropped me, but I manage to hold on and win the overall.
Two years later, 2001, was the year of the infamous crash on the finish line with Ina Teutenberg. I don’t remember much, but I know that year the photographer who took the series of photos won an award for photo of the year! Ina and I got free coffee every morning because we looked so bad.
In 2004, I was on Team Quark. We didn’t have the strongest team, but we had the closest team. Great friends made it for great support and an awesome race. After the first stage, where I got second to the doper girl [Genevieve Jeanson], I knew I had it in my legs. Even though she had taken one minute from me, that afternoon I told our team director, Megan Horner [Elliott], that I could beat Genevieve. The next day, on Oak Glen, she attacked, and I responded with Christine Thorburn. I won the stage, and the next day I moved into the race lead, which I held through the finish.
My most memorable Redlands would be 2010, when I went head to head with Ben Day for the race win.
I had made some gains with a late-race breakaway in the Beaumont Road Race, finishing second in the stage, and only one second behind on GC. On Sunday our Bissell team went “all in” for the Sunset Loop. Coming into the finishing circuits, I took bonus time and all of a sudden no one knew who was leading the race. There were team managers jumping in the street yelling conflicting things, and all I could do was just race hard for the line. In the end, it came down to fractions of a second from the time trial; I ended up second overall by .15 seconds.
But I have to say, our team executed a great plan, and I was pretty thrilled to be in the thick of that racing drama.
My favorite Redlands was in 2002 when Judith Arndt won while we were all on Saturn. It was a good year to follow my disaster in 2001 where I landed badly on my face and took out Lyne Bessette, our GC rider. The only good thing to come out of that was that we got free coffee all week as we looked so awful.
In 2002, we knew it would be a team effort to beat Genevieve Jeanson, especially after the prologue, which she won by 36 seconds. This was back when Oak Glen was the finish of the second stage. Judith attacked pretty much 5-10km into the race and was not taken seriously by Jeanson’s team. She had a teammate sitting on Judith’s wheel all day, but she couldn’t stay with her up the final climb.
Judith survived the 120km solo break and rode into the yellow jersey. I remember her being so beyond tired that she pretty much cried after the finish.
We all sat together that night trying to figure out how we can make it easier for her during the criterium, as her legs were so empty. We decided we would ride it from the front, keeping it smooth and just making sure Judith didn’t have to accelerate out off any corners. It was Petra Rossner, Suzanne Sonye, and me on the front, with Lyne and Judith just sitting behind us, trying to save energy, as we knew Lyne would have to do the same the next day on the Sunset Loop.
And that’s how it played out. Jeanson attacked alone on the first climb, Judith couldn’t follow right away, so Lyne stayed with her. After losing a lot of time, they eventually reeled Jeanson back on the final climb. We sprinters were outside cheering for these girls and it was just one of the reasons we won a lot as team that year. Judith with her amazing effort on the first stage, but then the team pulled it together and we showed that week we could beat Jeanson, who was pretty much unbeatable those days.
My favorite memory from Redlands was while racing for Jelly Belly. The team is based in San Diego, so it was kind of a home race for us. The whole team would set up at Jennie-Ray’s (our soigneur) mom’s house. She had a great spot just down the hill from town with a fair bit of property and a lot of chickens. Across the road was an avocado orchard owned by Jennie-Ray’s uncle, and on the other side was an orange grove. Avocado toast with eggs and orange juice was consumed in copious amounts — all we had to buy from the grocery store was the bread.
The house was stuffed to the brim with all of us, some slept on couches, others on blow-up mattresses, but we loved it. One particular year, 2010, we were on fire. Will Routley, Carter Jones, and myself all finished in the top five overall, with Carter and I taking second and third on the prologue, and Will winning stage 2. We tried like crazy to blow the race apart on the final day, but in the end 5-Hour Energy did what few teams could on the Sunset Loop, shutting down everything we threw at them with calculated steady efforts — not unlike Team Sky at the Tour de France.
My favorite memory of Redlands was in 2000 when I came back from mountain biking and raced by myself for Team GT. I won the stage 2 time trial and found myself in the leader’s jersey going into the Oak Glen mountaintop finish. I recruited a couple of other mountain bikers also doing the race to help me and we rode as a loose composite team. I finished second that day behind Caroline Alexander, and I went on to win the overall ahead of Lyne Bessette. It was such a satisfying win to beat Team Saturn and all of the other big teams with the help of a few other mountain bikers. We showed them!
In 1990, I was back racing in Redlands following a spring campaign in the European classics, and awaiting the birth of our son, Taylor.
In those days Redlands was run in late May, over Memorial Day weekend, and 7-Eleven had entered a sort of hodgepodge team, due to many guys racing abroad in preparation for the Tour de France.
It was supposed to be a race between the big-name teams, like Coors Light and our 7-Eleven squad, but the Russian national team, Locomotiv, came in and spoiled our party. They attacked early and often, dominating the early stages with their youthful, powerhouse group, which included Evgeny Berzin, who would finish second overall to his teammate, GC winner Dmitry Zhadonov, and was a future Giro d’Italia champion.
Soundly beaten, by the final day, we were left racing for pride.
The course for the last stage was an extended version of the Redlands Criterium that’s run today — the same finish line — but instead of zigzagging through downtown, the route went up a gradual incline for multiple long blocks, across, and back down, descending towards the 120-degree final turn. So basically a 2.5km box-shaped course with a toe angling out at the bottom edge.
It was raining that day, and I went off the front with a Coors Light rider, Michel Zanoli, and a Russian, perhaps Vladislav Bobrik. Michel was an imposing Dutchman at 2.00 metres tall (6-foot-6), and strong as a horse. A former two-time world junior champion, he was a very good road sprinter, who could be intimidating, but due to our mutual respect, we’d always gotten along fine.
The three of us established a solid gap and worked well together. Coming through with one lap to go, Michel and I both knew the score — first rider through the final turn wins. That was typically true on that short finishing straight, but on this day, with the corner that much more dicey due to the rain, it was virtually guaranteed.
Up the back stretch and across the top we rolled, then the Russian rider took the lead down the hill for the long wind up. With 200 metres to go before the final turn, Michel jumped hard up my left-side, in order to gain the best line and lead through the corner. I went for it too, and matched his speed, but I was on the wrong side — the inside — which would force me into taking a nearly impossible angle to get around the turn.
Michel held me there, pinned along the barriers, fully expecting me to back off as we sprinted full-tilt towards that rapidly approaching final turn.
The thing is, I grew up racing criteriums. And from my first victory as a 15-year old in a crazy looping course around Larimer Square in Denver, I didn’t back down. Racing against Ron Kiefel as juniors, head to head, week in and week out, neither of us would back down. During many hard fought sprints in domestic races with Steve Bauer, with Leonard Nitz, there was no backing down. When it came to final turns, I was hard wired. So sprinting into that wet corner in Redlands, side by side, I was undaunted and unwilling to relent.
Who knows what would’ve happened if neither of us stepped off the gas? What did happen was… Zanoli blinked.
I’m quite sure he’d thought he had me. But by forcing me inside and holding me there so long, it had cost him his line as well. With 20 metres to go before that puddle-filled corner, Michel gave me a furious look, then abruptly sat up, slowing to swing wide, which opened the door for me to sweep cleanly through, leading onto the finish straight — no look backs — and posting up with a classic V on the line.
And. It. Felt. Glorious. The sun might’ve peaked through just then, too.
Zanoli was super pissed at me, resentful for being beaten when he’d had the upper hand, and in general he was a poor loser. Unfortunately, his anger would boil over during another racing conflict two years later; that Redlands stage wasn’t to be my only run in with Michel Zanoli, but that’s another story!
For me, the Redlands Bicycle Classic has long exemplified some of the best of the American bike racing scene. I’m honored to have ridden there, and proud to have played a part in the event’s long history. I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to the many people who’ve worked long and hard to keep the race alive and well.