Have you ever heard of climbing, descending, sprinting and time trialling? They may all relate to cycling but they are all very distinct disciplines. It is very rare for cyclists to be good at all four.  Champions like Armstrong, Contador and Schleck are great at all four disciplines. Guys like Cavendish can win several stage of races like the Tour de France but will never win the race.

In my case, I am pretty much only good at climbing. That is why I focus my racing on hill climbs and why I participate in the BUMPS Championship. One of the reason I came to do the Tour of California is to work on my weaknesses. Most of the guys here are experienced and strong riders. Spending so much time with them on the road is a great opportunity for me to learn.

Before I came to California I had decided to focus my efforts on finishing the first and last stage and doing well in the two mountain stages. I would take the other days as they come.

Yesterday was not a stage I had a specific goal for so after struggling with a very strong headwind for 63 miles I decided to get into the van and start focusing on today’s stage. As it turns out I made the right choice yesterday.

The truth of the matter is that I had “promised” my twelve year old son Alex a top 5 finish on the first stage with real climbs. I thought I would do it on stage one but we all know what happened on Sunday: the stage got cancelled because of a snow storm. Alex has been the most vocal of my kids about my long training hours and their impact on our relationship. We have had some good chats about me being away from him so much and he has had a very mature attitude about it for which I am grateful.

The CTS team rolled out for stage 4 after the official leader’s jersey was given to Vince for his impressive performance and win on stage 3.

Leader's Jersey Presentation

We had a couple climbs to test our legs before we got to the bottom of Mount Hamilton at about mile 58.5. Don’t ask me why but whenever I am confronted with a tough long climb something in my head always says: GO!

Rob quickly took the lead and I followed him with neurosurgeon, resident stand-up comedian and overall great guy Jeff. Not far behind was our European friend Pavel. After about eight minutes of the 35 minutes climb I thought Pavel was too close to Jeff and I so I decided to step up the pace a bit.

During the whole climb I was thinking about Alex. Not only could I possibly deliver an overall top 5 finish but most likely a second place on the major climb of the day. This thought carried me to the top. I got to the summit in second place behind Rob and not too far ahead of Jeff (by the way, Jeff is 5 feet 19 inches as he says, but he is a hell of climber for a tall big guy).

Top three climbers up Mount Hamilton

We then had an 18 miles descent. Yes, 18 miles. The good news is that only one or two riders passed me. The bad news is that I couldn’t keep up with them. I will work on my descending skills, I promise. I eventually got to the bottom of the last climb – the nasty Sierra Road. The first 500 meters averages 12.2% with steeper sections. I was there with three other Tour of California CTS Team members. I could see the first section of the climb and I thought: `How the heck am I going to get up that thing??” That is when a different part of brain reminded me of what CTS coaches always tell me: “Attack when it is steep and recover on the flatter sections.” So off I went again, putting out 318 watts in the first seven minutes of the climb and 325 watts in the first three minutes. Coach Jason was pretty happy with that. I came in fourth overall and I delivered on my promise to my son. Today’s stage was for you my Big A.

The whole gang got changed at the top, had lunch and enjoyed the end of the pros race won by Chris Horner.

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Amazing win by Chris Horner:

Stage 4 Description from Tour of California’s Website

Stage 4 is short, at just 81 miles, but what it lacks in distance it makes up with three gruelling climbs. Two of the climbs are legendary in California lore. Livermore is hosting their first Amgen Tour of California, but the race has gone through Livermore many times. Home of the renowned Lawrence Livermore Labs, the City of Livermore (established in 1869) played a prominent role in California’s “Gold Rush” history and today is home to a thriving wine industry. After getting their legs loosened a bit around the Labs, the course heads out to Mines Rd and the first of several KOMS on the day. Mines Rd is a 25 mile long section of the route that is hilly and very winding. It is very easy for a rider to get off the front and never seen by the chasing peloton. In 2010, the riders enjoyed a long descent into a finish in Modesto off of Mines Rd. This year, there is no similar luxury. Mines Road becomes San Antonio Canyon Rd. After shaking things up with two more KOMs, the riders come face to face with the daunting challenge of Mt Hamilton…the Tour’s first HC climb. The 8.5 km climb to the Mt. Hamilton Observatory (4,130 feet of elevation) offers a spectacular view of San Jose and Silicon Valley. Next is the treacherous descent down the front side of Mt Hamilton. After a few miles of flat riding, comes a right turn onto Sierra Rd. What follows is a 3.5 miles ascent with a 10% average grade and 1,700’ feet of climbing. The finish is simply a line across a narrow road. It is barren of trees. What is usually the home of herds of cattle will be replaced by thousands of screaming fans as they welcome home the finisher of the first true mountain top finish of the Amgen Tour of California. As far removed as this seems from the race finishes in downtown San Jose, we are still in the city limits. Many thanks to the City of San Jose and their tireless efforts to make a finish on Sierra a reality.

Stage 4 Map

Stage 4 Map

(Nasty) Stage 4 Profile