Redlands is over which pretty much wraps up my interest on cycling in Southern California for the year. Though I mock SoCal they have managed a great set of races with the San Dimas, Redlands week. If the Tour of Marguritte continues to grow California will start to make up ground on Belgium in terms of big time spring cycling action, especially for women racers.
I spent most of my time following the women’s race with NorCal local Megan “MEGA” Gaurnier in the lead. Watching MEGA being stalked by NOW/Novartis, and masterfully use her team in each race to get the finish she needed was masterful. It is interesting to watch riders when they get the opportunity to be a team leader. Many riders, great riders, just love being support players, other riders long to be the team leader and when given the opportunity crumble under the pressure. The great riders, the best riders, get into that position of power and then proceed to encourage, cajole, inspire and re-cycle depleted teammates as needed, in pursuit of victory. Looks like MEGA is going to be one of the big shots.
TIBCO had trouble coming together at San Dimas. TIBCO defended Meyers best young rider jersey but they had bigger aspirations. With MEGA at the helm the team gelled behind an experienced, and driven contender. When talking to Gaurnier you notice how she can go from her booming laugh to serious unsmiling intensity in a flash. Part of her success has been learning to control and manage the race anxiety that that destroys up and coming riders. The other part is the TIBCO squad seems to have put together a real working unit this year. Even her NorCal competitors were impressed with MEGA and the TIBCO squad. “TIBCO rode a wonderful race – Lindsey Myers was a total rockstar, along with Veronique Fortin and Amanda Miller, in protecting Megan’s lead all day.” said NorCal rival and friend Beth Newell. “Megan is just phenomenal right now, and it is just great to see.”
MEGA’s win didn’t come without a challenge. Watching the NOW Norvartis team, and subsequently, Hernando’s encouraging posts, go after the lead each day made Redlands a race worth following. Alison Powers, who injured herself at this race last year, finally found the form that she had in 2008/2009 when she was the only rider that could contest Kristin Armstrong in a domestic stage race. Powers is clinical and realistic in her approach to stage races. “Goal #1 was to win the Sunset stage.” said Powers after the race. “We knew it was going to be hard to beat Megan for the overall, so we wanted a stage win.”
For a first year pro like Beth Newell, who was deployed to follow Amber Neben’s attacks, being part of success like that is invaluable. With a field marshal like Powers at the helm of heavy hitter NorCal riders like Olivia Dillon, Devon Gorrey, and Newell, the underdog team will likely prove a spoiler at many NRC events this year. Though realistic about their chances at Redlands Powers never quit their assault on Mega’s yellow jersey. “You can’t race ‘content,’” said Powers who was able to rider herself into second on the GC. “You’ve always got to want to be better placed or get a better finish.” That’s a lesson for all racers.
Kenda/5 Hour Energy vs Bissell Jacques Maynes (and more bitching about Bontrager-Livestrong)
The men’s race was led start to finish by the Kenda/5Hour energy team. Phil Gaimon was supported by his NorCal posse that included AJM, English, Mach, and Kilun, through the week against Bissell Jacque Maynes Kiwi protege Patrick Devin. Not to twist the knife but my constant bitching about the Bontrager Livestrong team continued to get strong reactions from readers. Here is my take… Joe Dombrowski – put him into the TOC. I’m sure some of the Euro Bontrager-Livestrong guys will do well to but at this point but I’m not too hopeful that they will either have an impact or even finish out the week. Yeah, yeah, they are the future of the sport and they are doing great in a bunch of 2.2 races in Europe. Whatever – put them all on some domestic teams and harden them up. This Bontrager-Livestrong experiment seems to have run it’s course. A team like Kenda/5Hour Energy is going at each race looking prepared and ready to loose in order to win. I’m sure they are staying in crappy hotels and sleeping three guys in a bed. For Christ sake put Kenda in the TOC already. This is conversation just seems goofy at this point.
Cal Giant Superstar
Our current Luke Skywalker (he could totally be a luke skywalker) stand in, Evan Huffman, didn’t get off to a great start in the TT last week. “I wanted to do a good GC coming into the race, but just went way too slow in the prologue.” said a frustrated but reflective Huffman after the race, “That was obviously a pacing problem, not a lack of fitness or ability, so it’s a little frustrating. But I’m young and will have plenty more opportunities.”
Huffman didn’t let a bad TT stop daily assult on the GC. Huffman, who is still getting a feel for how to use his teammates, was able to rely on his boys through out the week and was appreciative of their efforts, “On the last lap of the Beaumont RR [Chris] Stastny pulled me right to the front so it was good to get there using very little energy. Nate [Wilson] and Torey [Phillipp] both got me bottles that stage which is huge because the feed zone is such a junk show that day. The last day Stephen, Nate , and I all helped each other trying to stay in contact and conserve energy.”
The last day of Redlands is always stressful as riders approach the hill in “neutral rollout” but Huffman stayed focused and executed the plan.
“I rode aggressively early on, but missed the main break of the day. So I just waited for Kenda to burn all their guys chasing, and then started attacking/following moves again the last few laps. Bissell actually took control for a bit once they saw Bevin had a good chance to make it to the finish. Then the last lap Mancebo attacked and Gaimon had to ride which took the group down to 6 guys. AJM was able to help him over the top and the whole descent back to the downtown crit laps. Everyone else was just sitting on. Once we caught Mancebo in the circuits, I attacked with 2 to go, but Bevin wasn’t far behind. He countered pretty quick and I just couldn’t get on his wheel.” ~ Evan Huffman
Any NRC finish is a big deal ,and Redlands, a field littered with pro’s and top US riders, is a great calling card to pro ranks for Huffman. If Huffman hasn’t proven by now that he knows he deserves a seat at the domestic table i’m not sure what signs anybody needs.
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