Now that’s a bike race
This year’s Merco Classic did honor to it’s 20th running … Doug Fleutsch and TopSportCycling pulled together crew and volunteers from up and down the central valley – but most especially from the folks of Merced itself – and it was a smashing success for the town and a great way to open up the 2013 racing season.
I love Merced – I love riding over the rolling country roads and wandering around the shops of downtown. I love watching the criterium and think the stage race has developed back into the premier early season builder for professionals in American cycling. I can’t wait to come back next year, and look forward to seeing how this year’s early season indicators pan out as the 2013 season flows from here across the country.
It’s been a big early part of the year already for NorCal riders at the highest level of cycling – as Shelley Olds has been on podiums, on one just today with Vanderkitten from last year and adopted NorCal hero, Emily Collins. Collins won the Omloop van het Hageland field sprint in front of Tibco’s Olds, showing the speedy, crafty sprinting form we loved cheering for in California. Megan Guarnier of the superNetherlands Vos-Squad has also seen the early season European podium … indication that our current NorCal generation of riders is really growing into something special – and the 2016 Olympic women’s road race is going to be a spectacle, indeed.
But back to home – Merced gave us perfect weather this year, with fresh-popping blossoms everywhere and the majority of bees not arriving until next week, or so. It was ideal conditions for good hard racing – and what a show it was.
Merco’s Stage 1 is a wicked way to get back into racing as it’s sharply hard from the opening lap, and too fun for everyone not to go really, really fast. It’s a course where you can be chasing in 45th place and be thinking … “man, I am really flying here” … and never slow down … and still never see anybody in front of you. It’s a rollercoaster road race.
Stage 1 saw a break in the women’s field that was a tactical domination by the Lululemon-Specialized team. Evelyn Stevens and Taylor Wiles went away over the climb on Alison Powers’ attack, with Exergy’s renewable energy system Andrea Dvorak and Optum’s double national track champion, Lauren Hall making the final cut. This group of 5 was chased in full for the next half-lap, with a lot of bridging efforts made – but, the move went away on tactics and a bunch of strength, as the NOWomen worked with a pack chase that would mind a respectful 3 minutes distance to the GC battle to be played out ahead.
Predictably, Lululemon”s Stevens and Wiles punch-counterpunched Powers for a picturesque Lulu-S finish. Powers’ brute ability would keep her within GC TT’ing distance, and Dvorak and Hall distanced another minute-plus in the finishing fracus. This led to Stage 2 – a true test against the clock – with the race now split into who would lead out of the 5 in front, and who would spring out of the pack behind to showcase themselves as the up and comers.
The field sprint for stage 1 would see Optum’s Brianne Walle and Leah Kirchmann ahead of NOW’s Beth Newell – joined in the top placings with teammates Alexis Ryan and the new Canadian sensation, Lex Albrecht. Jo Kiesanowski for TIBCO was there in the finishing sprint, as was the other LuluSpecialized hammer, Ally Stacher. NorCal teams also put two in the top 15 with Pinnacle/Argon’s Emma Grant and Flavia Oliveira for DNA7.
Jakroo, a NorCal custom cycling clothing company, provided all leaders jerseys for this year’s Merco Classic – and the “Most Passionate” jersey for stage 1 was awarded to NOW’s Maura Kinsella. Kinsella was away solo for a big chunk of the early road race miles … earning a great podium shot with a unique, sleekly designed jersey.
The stage 2 time trial was picture perfect in design and application. The course’s loping hills burn riders like coal, and the wind forces honesty and strength. It’s a speedy final miles, open throttle enough to leave you feeling like you might have had just a bit more to spend out there … somewhere.
Evelyn Stevens is a beastly rider. I had only seen her on video previously, and had no idea her legs were so cancellera-like and business-end. I rolled up behind her in the TT area and noticed that a) she was rocking the Olympic supersuit and technology-red uber-boots like only a real CaptainAmerica can; and, b) she had legs cut from stone. This women was here to win this time trial.
Stevens isn’t just a dialed in watts per kilogram uphill pedo-machine. No – this is a bike racer arriving to the start line ready and heated for testing and challenge.
Kapow – Stevens is leading edge.
Stevens would win the time trial in 26:21 – a close 15 seconds over Powers, but enough to secure a dominate GC lead. The bronze on the day would see another podium for Alison Tetrick, the Exergy rider finishing under a minute behind Stevens … showing that if the UCI had a national road team time trial world championship … the US women would be very, very strong.
The new beast on the block is Portlandia Brianne Walle – she clocked but 2 seconds behind Tetrick, and Taylor Wiles another 20 beyond that. That’s a lot of collective horsepower opened up on central valley roads. The next riders crowding the top-10 were NOW’s Robin Farina and Exergy’s Mara Abbott. What a showing by Farina in the TT, and all weekend long at Merco. With the NOWomen springing straight from Merced into a concentrated team training camp – Farina could be building into some serious, serious form this year. #flashdance
But it’s Walle who might be the new rocket to watch gathering momentum in the Optum system. It looks likely she’ll continue to improve an already sensational TT debut.
And it was good to see Mara Abbott back in the US racing scene, looking like she is building her body back to racing at the top level after time off the bike. Pinnacle/Argon got a super solid ride put in by their TT specialist and burgeoning super-chef, Amy Thornquist, and NOW’s Canadian powerhouse Lex Albrecht topping out the top-10.
Stage 3 – Criteriums, baby!
[live tweetering from the women and men’s pro criteriums at: https://twitter.com/CrankingGlass]
Do I say that it was a foregone conclusion that Ina Teutenberg would win the criterium in Merced?
Yes – yes, I do – and yes, I did. Cycling is a sport that can be observed up-close, shockingly close – with evidence of amazing and gut tight&astounding talents displayed in real-time and within spitting distance. Watching Ina Teutenberg take corners in a criterium is like watching a cop car burn through city blocks in safety’s off pursuit.
She rumbles through streets with the disdain of someone encased in a couple tons of military grade speed-design. She has a long, powerful dragster sprint, too – which is what we all hope to see from her at Merco. She’s a textbook. But InaT likes to winnow down the odds in any race, and for this year’s Merco Criterium we got a display of her doing it as few can, and none more enjoyable to watch.
Dave Towle and Peter Brown were announcing in the downtown park criterium, and the Merced locals were loving their running commentary – which started at an early 730am Beginners, and moved through the day to the bigshow pro’s pouring speed through the streets of Merced, winning much prizes and glory. It was a great atmosphere, dozens of local vendors and businesess out enjoying a perfect central valley spring Saturday, and families and friends getting an upclose look at world-level cycling.
Lululemon-Specialized’s Taylor Wiles was the first to open attacks, a few minutes into the race – and just that moment after everyone had a good look at the course. The table was set – and forks and knives were out! There were a few counter attacks, but within a couple laps – a break of 6 was established and the big team missing the move was NOW. Short meal!
Merco was the first criterium for many of the racers, as teams travel to California from around the US and internationally .. and the first 5 laps of the MERCO crit is not something to take lightly. Any team that wasn’t warmed up properly saw the consequences – as it was a deliberate and operational 1-2 punch-counter-punch by Lulu-S that easily launched the winning break, clear and away. NOW’s Beth Newell put in a big effort to bridge to the move, but missed and blew from it. Powers and Farina were ferocious in their chase to get NOW represented, but in the end the break was textbook and gone.
NOW was late in organizing their chase, but once they did get their 9 riders organized, they held the gap at a non-GC threatening 1 minute. The break was on union wages as they punched in and out of every lap, a consistent and impressive push of speed. InaT was the odds-favorite for the sprint, with Lauren Hall as the best-chance on paper to knock her off the top step since the Optom rider had teammate Leah Kirchmann, a very strong finisher herself. TIBCO’s Kiesanowski never stops fighting in a race and would be ready for anything, leaving Exergy’s darkhorse darling of the break and Olympic silver medalist, Lauren Tamayo. But the real break maker was InaT’s teammate, Ally Stacher – with Stacher in the break – Ina had a superb ace to play … either one of them could win the criterium, and who would want to bet against InaT making either scenario happen with some flair and style. Again, superb team tactics displayed by the Lulu-Specialized women.
Tamayo would light up the break away with the most dramatic attack … the Merced promoters threw down a late $500 prime to the break, and Tamayo countered majestically after it – a big swing to crack the grouup to pieces. Stacher was brave and instantaneous to lead the chase, and the group would finish out the criterium with a group sprint down a big-geared, agonizingly long straightaway. InaT would take the finish over Optum’s Hall, Kiesanowski 3rd, Kirchmann 4th, Tamayo 5th and Stacher 6th.
SB Racing’s Mary Maroon took the field sprint for 7th, ahead of a last lap leading Evelyn Steven’s … as in, she took over the leadout for almost the entire last lap … and finished 2nd in the field sprint.
THE HILLTOP RANCH ROAD RACE
The Merco final stage is a beatifully brutish road race through almond groves and over cow country so green and fresh this California spring that you figure nothing but good can be around the corner.
The attacks started from the word ‘go,’ as Exergy’s Alison Tetrick and NOW’s Beth Newell were off and galloping for freedom from the pack. These are two NorCal products of massive potential – but, with different wheelhouses. Tetrick is a time trialing specialist, for sure – but you really see her true strengths in these long, long breakaway days like this final stage of Merco. This woman has resilience. Newell is just … pure racer. She doesn’t care if it’s uphill or flat, sprinting or a 25% gradient – she just wants to tear it up. And win … she likes winning.
Tetrick and Newell’s first attack would be caught, instigating still more attacks – until the next big move of the day was a 1.5 lap lasting breakaway of 5 – with, Newell and Lex Albrecht for NOW, Exergy’s Andrea Dvorak, Optum’s Annie Ewert, and Lulu-Specialized’s Ally Stacher. The Optum and Lulu riders would be called on to mark the break for GC reasons, putting Newell, Albrecht and Dvorak on the throttle for the break away’s success. The group’s gap from the field would get up to 3 minutes at peak, but the pack would chase hard and bring the 5 riders back as the final hour of racing began.
After the catch, a series of attacks would finally see NOW’s Lauren Rauck Komanski pounding away off the front of the field alone. This is Rauck’s first big stage race, just coming out of the amateur ranks – and there’s no better way to start the season than with a taste of the front-end at the top level of your sport. Her teammate Newell would attack hard out of the field to join her, followed by Exergy’s Tetrick, putting a nice book-end to the duo’s early race efforts and showing admirable race fitness and tenacity.
The three riders would be chased for the final lap by Optum, Pinnacle and Lululemon – though Lulu-S had no GC threat from the break riders, so could afford to be generous on the stage. The gap hovered tight, never over a minute and as close as 15 seconds for the entirety of the final lap. Tetrick would attack the break with a vicious move in the roubaix-like section before the Cox Ferry climb. It was an all-in move by Tetrick that put NOW’s Komanski out the back, and would make Newell seeing stars to chase her down. The field would soon sweep up Komanski, leaving Newell and Tetrick to finish the race as they started it, powering away from a chasing pack over wickedly painful finishing rollers of the Merco Classic.
After 50 miles of breakaway riding, Newell would force Tetrick to the front in the kilometer’s approach to the final kicking lump to the finish line. Tetrick would push-on, and the inevitable attack would see Newell distance Tetrick over the final few hundred meters, with the fieldsprint rushing through 20 seconds later, led by Optum’s podium-hungry Lauren Hall.
Tetrick would move up to 5th in the GC, and Newell would take the final stage’s “Most Passionate” jersey. Good rewards for the two riders willingness to suffer and risk.
Lululemon-Specialized’s Evelyn Steven’s takes a well-deserved general classification win for the 20th Merco Cycling Classic, with NOW’s Alison Powers in 2nd, Optum’s Lauren Hall winning the Points jersey, and Taylor Wiles of Lulu-Specialized in the Young Rider jersey and taking 3rd overall.
2013 Merco Cycling Classic p/b Mercy Medical Center
Final General Classification
2;437;POWERS Alison;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:04:57;0:00:31;
3;463;WILES Tayler;Team Specialized-lululemon;7:05:39;0:01:13;
4;441;HALL Lauren;Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies;7:07:52;0:03:26;
5;413;TETRICK Alison;Exergy TWENTY16?;7:08:27;0:04:01;
6;412;TAMAYO Lauren;Exergy TWENTY16?;7:08:33;0:04:07;
7;442;KIRCHMANN Leah;Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies;7:08:38;0:04:12;
8;443;WALLE Brianna;Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies;7:08:57;0:04:31;
9;411;DVORAK Andera;Exergy TWENTY16?;7:09:00;0:04:34;
10;434;FARINA Robin;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:09:24;0:04:5
11;456;STACHER Ally;Specialized-lululemon;7:09:24; ;
12;436;NEWELL Elizabeth Beth;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:09:35;0:05:09;
13;450;THORNQUIST Amy;Pinnacle p/b Argon 18?;7:09:39;0:05:13;
14;464;KIESANOWSKI Joanne;Team TIBCO;7:09:41;0:05:15;
16;414;ABBOTT Mara;ExergyTWENTY16?;7:09:45; ;
17;431;ALBRECHT Lex;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:09:46;0:05:20;
18;440;GAFFNEY Amber;Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies;7:10:21;0:05:55;
19;447;GRANT Emma;Pinnacle p/b Argon 18?;7:11:22;0:06:56;
20;409;PERRY Anne;DNA Cycling p/b Plan7?;7:11:51;0:07:25;
21;433;DONOVAN Kathryn;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:12:12;0:07:46;
22;408;OLIVEIRA Flavia;DNA Cycling p/b Plan7?;7:12:13;0:07:47;
23;439;RYAN Alexis;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:12:18;0:07:52;
24;459;DOEBEL-HICKOK Kristabel;SPY GIANT RIDE;7:12:33;0:08:07;
25;416;SANDERS Anna;FCS/Zngine p/b Mr. Restore;7:13:13;0:08:47;
26;438;RAUCK KOMANSKI Lauren;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:15:19;0:10:53;
27;400;MCCULLOCH Joy;CashCall Mortgage;7:15:33;0:11:07;
28;466;MAROON Mary;SB Racing;7:15:57;0:11:31;
29;432;DILLON Olivia;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:15:58;0:11:32;
30;435;KINSELLA Maura;NOW and Novartis for MS;7:17:52;0:13:26;
31;417;MCGUIRE Amy;FCS|Zngine powered by Mr. Restore;7:17:53;0:13:27;
32;444;EWART Annie;Optum p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies;7:17:59;0:13:33;
33;445;CLAFFERTY Sara;Pinnacle p/b Argon 18?;7:18:52;0:14:26;
34;429;MUELLER Lisa;Metromint Cycling;7:18:57;0:14:31;
35;454;SIEGEL Becky;SC Velo/Incycle;7:19:01;0:14:35;
36;452;RIOS Jenny;SC Velo/Incycle;7:20:24;0:15:58;
37;418;MORGAN Claire;Folsom Bike/Cervelo;7:21:03;0:16:37;
38;420;TOWNSEND Sunshine;Folsom Bike/Cervelo;7:21:12;0:16:46;
39;405;GIBSON Keri;DNA Cycling p/b Plan7?;7:21:51;0:17:25;
40;455;BRECK Holly;SC Velo/Incylce;7:26:43;0:22:17;
41;430;PREISLER Rikke;Metromint Cycling;7:26:55;0:22:29;
42;421;PROKOPAKIS Kira;Folsom Bike/Cervelo Womens Team;7:30:38;0:26:12;
43;461;AXELL Marissa;Team Fremont Bank;7:32:08;0:27:42;
44;453;RODRIGUEZ Beatriz;SC Velo/Incycle;7:33:12;0:28:46;
45;462;NIELSON Heather;Team Fremont Bank;7:34:29;0:30:03;
46;407;NALDER Breanne;DNA Cycling p/b Plan7?;7:37:03;0:32:37;
48;422;MORGAN Josie;Fremont Bank Cycling Team;7:39:39;0:35:13;
49;410;SCOTT Kaytie;DNA Cycling p/b Plan7?;7:41:57;0:37:31;
50;460;LAROCHE Caitlin;SPY GIANT RIDE;7:42:06;0:37:40;
51;451;ZIERKE Jennifer;Pinnacle p/b Argon 18?;7:45:21;0:40:55;
52;426;MOKRES Lucia;Los Gatos;7:46:21;0:41:55;
54;428;MAZZOCHETTE Eileen;Metromint Cycling;7:48:06;0:43:40;
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