On April 7th, Justin Rossi finished the last stage of Redlands Bicycle Classic, which is the most competitive Pro-Am stage race on the West Coast, and maybe the United States. When he finished, he was wearing the race’s white Top Amateur jersey. NCCN caught up with Rossi after his big win to learn about how his Redlands played out. With Sea Otter Stage Race beginning today at Laguna Seca Raceway, could Rossi’s success at Redlands be a portent of things to come this weekend?
NCCN: Tell us about Stage 1 of Redlands when you first seized the jersey.
Rossi: I was cautiously optimistic going into the TT. I secretly knew I had good form coming out of Copperopolis, and racing at 6800′ [in Big Bear] could only benefit me. On the other hand, the course was rumored to be technical, and we didn’t have a chance to pre ride the course.
I really conserved on the way out, knowing that elevation will sock you in the gut if you push too hard. I caught my 30 second guy in the technical section and really struggled to get around him. Yelling “on your left”, jamming the breaks, swerving. I was pissed. Once I squeezed past him, it was less than 1 kilometer to turnaround. I drilled it hard into the turnaround and just about blew myself up going back into the technical section. I rested through the S turns and then pushed hard all the way home.
I was positive I had a bad time once I finished, but then I saw Mancebo went only 10 seconds faster, so I was excited. [My teammate] Jonathan Teeter and I both went around the same time so we sat around for results. Finally, I gave up and went to change and get some food. When I came back they were announcing my name for the awards presentation of the White Jersey. There were plenty of jokes regarding my baggy shorts and sandals on a podium for “Best Amateur.”
NCCN: Did you feel like you were going to be put under pressure for Stage 2? The 120 mile Beaumont Circuit Race was described by some as an all-out one day classic… but with 2 stages remaining afterwards.
Rossi: Yes, after getting the Jersey you really want to keep it, so the nerves where there. The profile of Beaumont is not that intimidating and the first three laps seemed manageable. The main challenge, like any high caliber race is getting position. I tend to struggle with this and might be a little to polite. Paul Mach came up to me about 5K before the 4th lap climb and said “Now is the time to get to the front” so he towed me up the side of the group and dropped me off in the top 20.
Unfortunately I was in need of water and lost about 50 positions just trying to grab a bottle (No bottle to show for it either). We hit the climb and the race shattered. By the time the climb was over, I was stuck in a chase group off the back of the main peloton. I thought,“this is it, it’s over’, but I absolutely throttled myself on the front of our chase group to bring it back. We caught the main group just after the start/finish, and the race was all back together.
The legs were on fire, and I knew I was in trouble. I bypassed the last feed and decided position was more important than fluids. We hit the climb and the big guns threw down. The race blew apart again, carnage everywhere! Taylor Bertrand-Barrett calmly rode past me and I jumped on his wheel…all kinds of suffering…and he towed me up to the second group that had formed.
I yo-yo’d off the back of this until we hit the descent into the home stretch, but I made it. Once recovered I went to the front and started trading pulls with [Optum professional time trial specialist] Tom Zirbel, which was awesome! We caught the group just ahead of us and nearly reeled in the Mancebo group. I finished 20th and was absolutely destroyed, but still in white. The time for the race was 4:28 with 5000KJ’s…Yes it was a hard race.
NCCN: You stayed safe in the criterium the next day. Is a criterium a jersey-wearer’s worst nightmare when it is not their strength?
Did you find some choice wheels to follow or were you surfing the pack? You had your teammate Taylor Bertrand-Barret there to help you for most of the race.
Rossi: You know I won two crits last year, right? I feel like I have slowly improved in the crit arena, but yes, criteriums are not my favorite, especially with 150 dudes that think they are the next Mark Cavendish.
I got a call up to the front line which was key, and fought to stay top 50 for the entire race. The course is actually super smooth with excellent pavement but very technical. I found my sweet spot on the left side of the course where I found my spots to move up. I didn’t really follow anyone, but I was constantly on the lookout for trouble and there was plenty of it. The hardest part was the intensity and aggression that continued for the entire 90 minutes of the race. Luckily I made it safely across the line around 40th with no time gaps.
NCCN: Francisco Mancebo of 5 Hour Energy Pro Cycling went for broke on the last stage. How did that impact the race from your end? How did you handle the RR with almost 200 miles of racing in your legs?
Rossi: I seriously slept half the night with my Marc Pro on, but my legs felt awesome once the race started. I usually tend to improve as the race goes on. The first few laps were hard as the field exploded, but I felt pretty relaxed like I could match accelerations if they continued.
After the the race settled in and I just conserved as much as possible. The race split on lap 6 and I was stuck in the back group, so I had to bridge a solid gap. After that it was all back together, until Mancebo and [Matthew] Cooke attacked on lap 11. That blew the field apart and people were scattered everywhere. I put in some solid work over the false flat/feed zone section and it came together again. At this point I just watched Haedo and Zirbel to follow them on lap 12. Mancebo attacked and no one could follow. From then on it was an all out motor pacing session to the finish line. I just followed with a big smile on my face because I knew I made it!
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