I’ve covered Health Net riders a lot in the past two years,
but Jeff Louder is not a rider I was familiar with. He was the second
place finisher in the 2005 Time Trial championships, and has had a great season
this year. At this year’s 2006 US Pro TT Championships I decided to watch him
work, so I tagged along in the car with Team Director Jeff Corbett. Prior to
the start, I watched him do a tough warm up and set his focus as he attempted to
better last year’s result against a competitive field.
DS Jeff Corbett hooked up the radio, soigneur Kim made sure
he had the drink he wanted plus a gel, Eric the mechanic secured the spare bike
on the top and threw two extra wheels in the back seat as I settled into the
front passenger seat. We took off on the course behind Louder.
Pedaling through a farming area with large sections of
woods, deep shadows were cast over the road from the canopy of trees. Patches
of sunflowers were blooming on the roadsides; it was pastoral and quiet in the
“Nice, smoothe” Corbett says into the radio. Louder
doesn’t speak back; he just goes about his job. Corbett explained that
Louder wouldn't waste the energy lifting his head to speak into the radio.
A hand painted sign pops up on the left. I laugh as I read
it: “No trespassing. Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot
again.” Strains of “Dueling Banjos” echo in my head. We’re in the South and
we’re a little isolated from civilization. I see confederate flags flying
proudly from more than one farmhouse.
Decent-sized crowds gather on the part of the course with
curves and Jeff rides by to big cheers and the ringing of cowbells. Over the
race radio we hear the announcement that best time at the turn-around
intermediate check point belongs to Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel Pro
Cycling) with 21.24. I write it down on my tablet, knowing that will be a top
time for Louder to compare to.
“Good rhythm, don’t get bogged down,” Corbett says into the
radio. Louder looks good, his pedaling is steady; he isn’t rocking much at
all. He doesn’t seem to be flying either, but he’s not even half way at this
point. Maybe he's holding something back.
“One more pitch, you’re almost to the top!” Corbett tells
him. “There’s the downhill. It’s a nice long one. Let’s go!” Louder gets
down in his crouch position as he begins the descent. Along the two-way section
he passes his teammate Scott Moninger, who is putting in a decent ride on his
way back to the finish. A TV crew follows Jeff for awhile, as a comm car behind
observes closely to be sure they keep the proper distance.
The radio announces Dave Zabriskie’s time at the
turn-around: 21:12. This is a good comparison to McCartney’s time, so we know
what Jeff needs to aim for. We’re coming up to the turn-around—half way through
“Dig it out. Almost at the turn around, “ Corbett tells
him. Jeff makes the turn and we follow behind him. I see the clock: 21:57.
Louder needs to step it up if he’s going to be in top contention. Over the
radio we hear McCartney is finished with a new best time of 42:41:99. Behind us
Chris Baldwin is moving closer and we can see the lights of the cars with him.
He started a minute behind, but he’s not a minute behind anymore. It’s more
like 30 seconds now. He comes through the check point right behind us at
21:04. A new best time.
“Get some speed for the next roller, Jeff,” Corbett tells
him. Louder gets up out of the saddle. He sees the 10k to go sign. He down
shifts as he stands up on the pedals.
Over race radio we hear the numbers announced for today’s
medical control: 26, 43, 131 plus the stage winner. Health Net rider Doug
Ollerenshaw is #43; he will be tested at the end of the stage. Eric tries to
call soigneur Debbie to be sure she knows. There’s no cell service in the
woods; hopefully she already heard it on the radio too.
Teammate Scott Moninger finishes in 8th place at
44:14. Not a bad time for Scott. Everyone expects him to be saving it for the
road race on Sunday.
We still see the lights behind for Baldwin. The comm car
pulls along side and yells through our window that we might have to move out of
the way for Baldwin’s group to pass. Corbett tells them to just tell him when.
But Louder is in the last few kilometers now as we enter the gated community of
The Cliffs. There are a lot of fans in this area, and the road has many ups and
downs, so his own speed keeps him out in front of Baldwin at an acceptable
distance. Jeff is almost finished. He looks a little tired, but his body
position is still good, as he keeps his head down and the aero helmet remains
flat on his back.
New best time comes over the radio: Zabriskie at
“Dig it, dig it. Watch the corners. Get back on speed!”
Corbett gives Louder some final words of encouragement. “You’re almost there,
let’s go.” Baldwin doesn’t gain more time so we’re able to stay behind Louder
as he enters the barriers of his last 300 meters. He crosses the line at 43:27,
good enough for 7th place. On the race radio we hear Baldwin has
crashed just behind us in the final turn. Everyone in the car feels bad for him
as he was seemingly on track to win, but now has to settle for second at 42:21.
Louder doesn't get quite the results he hoped for, but put
in a decent ride nonetheless, and will fight on in Sunday's road race as Health
Net battles to win the Stars and Stripes for the second year in a row.
Work is over for the day.