The Top Sport Stage race isn’t quite a classic yet but it looks like it could become a strong alternative for Elite riders who won’t want to go duke it out with the big shots who show up for San Dimas and Redlands down in the southland.
Metromint showed up in force and the first stage, a xx road race, went to Norcal newcomer Julie Bellerose. Bellerose showed up to work for the team but an early attack meant to draw out the players turned into the move of the race as she held off for the win and the GC lead. A serious crash back in the field sent several riders to the hospital in serious condition and wreaked havoc on the GC knocking out or delaying favorites like Despas, Preisler, and Van Houweling.
“After 10 mi into the race or so, the pace slowed down a bit due to a head wind and I thought I could make others work a bit more so I got up front. Well, finally only Kelly Crowley bridged up to me, and we continued on. After the 3rd 180 turn, I looked back and Kelly wasn’t there anymore so I raced by myself for the last 8 mi or so. I figured I’d probably get caught, but I pressed on still and made it to the end with about 1 min before the 2nd group ”
After getting a spare TT bike and quick fitting from the Van Houwelings, Bellerose managed to retain her over the TT with a second place finish to teammate Molly Van Houweling. I like that MVH and her husband take the team card seriously. Of course, how nuts is it that MVH travels with a spare TT bike. TT experts are always type A personalities but that’s a new one to me. Never. Leave.It. To.Chance. That’s protour right there.
MVH took off at the start of the final stage and won the circuit race off the front. Not to be outdone by her teammate Bellerose set up a leadout for the finale, took the field sprint and the overall win for her first stage race victory. Showing that her priorites were in order Bellerose and MVH hightailed it to the hospital after the race to check in their teammate, Preisler, and other friends who had gotten injured during the road race crash.
Marc Pro Strava dominated the men’s race the same way Metromint dominated the women’s event. Justin Rossi, who showed great form in the early season last year, popped up after a strong and overlooked showing at Merco, to lead his team to daily and overall victory. While newer Marc Pro riders like Chuck Hutcheson have been dominating some of the early season crits and road races I was surprised not to see more of Rossi after his strong spring and late summer last year.
Rossi and Hutcheson schooled the P/1/2 crowd, in an aggressive race that saw high winds, hail and rain, make the opening road race Marc Pro Strava ended up going 1-2-3 after Kris Lunning took the field sprint for third from fatigued chase group. Rossi and Lunning then went 1-2 respectively in the TT putting Rossi in the hot seat going into the final crit.
Going into the Copper Town Circuit race the Marc Pro Strava boys were feeling pretty confident and rode themselves into each attack during the whole race. As the laps whittled down they organized behind the designated sprinter Hutcheson for the big finish. Rossi, who had a back seat to the action described the finale “Joe (Iannarelli) was leading out Chuck, and he was so frickin’ strong he ended up pulling Chuck across the line for 2nd place because no one was going to come around him. They rolled across with arms up 1-2.”
Sigh… it’s almost a boring race story. Marc Pro Strava crushed it. I knew they were pretty good but top 1-2 spots every stage is a little nuts. You wouldn’t know that it was the first team race for these guys, and that half the boys riding were totally new. Time for a Cal-Giant vs. Marc Pro Strava death match.
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