Tick tock. It’s 10:53am on a Wednesday. Huddled together in a small parking lot on the campus of a Southern California community college, the best female cyclists in North America are preparing for 15 minutes of pain and suffering. The time trial is looming.
Tick tock. There are several soft conversations being had across the parking lot, but the soundscape is dominated by the whirring of stationary trainers. Voices begin to rise as word spreads quickly throughout the paddock that the scheduled start time of 11:15am has been pushed back nearly 40 minutes.
Tick tock. The sun is shining and there’s a stiff breeze in the air, bringing with it a sharp chill. It’s a strong enough wind that some riders are questioning their choice of wheel depth for the day. A few riders hop off their trainers to find some shelter from the breeze. Others begin partnering up and pinning numbers on each others’ jerseys. For some, this is the biggest day of their racing calendar. For others, it’s a chance to shake out the legs and test out the engine ahead of a busy few months of racing ahead.
Tick tock. It’s 11:12am, and Jennifer Valente, the first rider of the Sho-Air TWENTY20 pro cycling team due on course, climbs aboard her Felt DA time trial bike and rolls to the start house. A few minutes later, the team's second rider departs the team area. On it goes until there’s only one rider left, Jasmin Duehring, still pedaling away aboard her stationary trainer. Eventually, she leaves, and a silence descends upon the area and amidst the remaining staff members, their anticipation palpable in the crisp Southern California air. Mechanic Adrian Hedderman organizes his tools while team soigneur Tavis Cummings arranges bottles of recovery drinks in anticipation of the riders’ return. With the women on course, they wait.
The Redlands Bicycle Classic is one of the longest-running and most prestigious stage races in the United States. Taking place primarily in and around the city of Redlands, California, located approximately 60 miles east of Los Angeles, the Redlands Bicycle Classic is one of the biggest races of the year for the nation’s top domestic professional and amateur squads. And for most, it signals the start of their racing season and gives them a chance to size up their competition heading into the later parts of the year. The five-day stage race offers up a little bit of everything for riders and race fans, including two road races, a circuit race, and a criterium. But this year’s event kicked off with a time trial, featuring a brand-new course with a tough, uphill finish.
“The Redlands Bicycle Classic is an iconic race,” says Sho-Air TWENTY20 Sports Director Mari Holden. “For us, it’s really important to have this race serve as a good start to the year, because it basically sets the tone for everything. It’s always interesting to come to Redlands because there hasn’t been that much racing yet this season. So there are always different levels of fitness from riders coming from different parts of the country, largely depending on their weather during the off-season and therefore what kind of winter training they got. You always get a picture of up-and-coming riders here at Redlands, as well as the riders who have prepared well. So for me, I’m curious and excited, and so it’s always a great race.”
“Redlands is one of the biggest races on our calendar,” says Duehring. “For me personally, Southern California is my home now, so it feels like home turf. This is my sixth time racing this event, so I’m pretty familiar with most of the courses, other than the new time trial course this year. I have a lot of great memories of doing well at some of the stages in Redlands.”
The Sho-Air TWENTY20 team is one of the longest-running women’s programs in the sport, and it’s always taken a unique approach to developing young talent. Rather than simply focus on race results and on-bike performance, the team's general manager, Nicola Cranmer, has always emphasized education and the long-term goals of the riders well beyond their pro cycling careers.
“Sho-Air TWENTY20 has a family environment,” says Hedderman. “Everyone treats everyone else with respect, and everyone really looks out for one another. It’s the same with the staff, as well.”
But on this Wednesday, at least, hunkered down around the campus of a community college in California, the team is focused on the time trial, and kicking off the most important stretch of its race schedule in a positive way. As the team’s head mechanic, Hedderman has a busy few days ahead as he he contributes to that cause.
“Over the last couple of weeks I was building up all of the new bikes for the coming season, both the Felt FR road bikes and DA time trial bikes. The riders give me all their measurements, and I build the bikes based on those, and then we get the riders to ride them for a while in order to fine-tune their fits and make sure everything is working properly. At an event like Redlands, I’m in charge of making sure everything is set up mechanically, including bikes, parts, and tools, so the riders can show up and all they have to worry about is their warmup and focusing on the racing ahead. The whole team’s goal is to get the riders to relax and keep them in a stress-free environment.”
Hedderman checks his watch. It’s 11:35am, and the first team rider should be rolling back into the paddock at any moment.
A few minutes later and a few hundred yards away, Sho-Air TWENTY20 rider Simone Boilard sprints across the time trial finish line, posting a time that’s fast enough to secure her fourth place on the day, the highest placed rider on her team. The 18-year-old and first-year professional racer from Quebec City, Canada, is one of the sport’s fastest rising stars.
“This first year is all about the learning experience for me,” says Boilard. “I have lots of new things to learn, such as positioning in a big peloton and sprinting at the end of a long race. I’m also currently a student still. I am currently doing CEGEP online, which is very much a ‘Quebec thing.’ After high school, you have two or three years of general information study before you get to university. So I’m presently completing that online while pursuing racing. It takes a lot of discipline, but Sho-Air TWENTY20 really encourages its riders to continue their education, so I’m very excited to be able to develop both my cycling and my school careers.”
Boilard’s strong performance in the time trial will certainly bode well for chances of competing in additional races throughout the season. Sho-Air TWENTY20 has an ambitious lineup of events on the horizon.
“The Tour of California is a really big deal for us,” says Holden. “And really, any UCI race is going to be incredibly important, such as Joe Martin Stage Race and Tour of the Gila. We’re also going to do more of the pro criteriums this year, so it should be a fun mix. I see us doing well at many races.”
This year, the Redlands Bicycle Classic will be live-streaming the event’s final two stages, for both the men’s and women’s races. Be sure to tune in, because you won’t want to miss it. Check out the event’s website to learn more and to support women's bike racing.
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