The McDonalds Downtown Grand Prix was a fast bott-dot-dodging multi-corner criterium situated right beneath the shadow of the tall white mission-style spire of Merced town hall.
The famous voice of Dave Towle boomed over the speakers as initial attacks provided a dangerous breakaway for Bissell, which sought to protect the overall leader of Merco, Phil “The Thrill” Gaimon. The break contained a Cal Giant rider, a Cashcall rider, Roman Kilun of Mike’s Bikes, Jesse Anthony of Optum, and most ominously of all, Ben Jacques-Maynes from Jamis – Hagens Berman. The break was recaptured shortly after it was formed.
Professional riders from Bissell and Optum Kelly Benefits continued to load the corners with speed until the United States Pro Criterium Champion, Ken Hanson of Optum, escaped in a breakaway with Jim Stemper of 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda, Michael Weicht of Cashcall, Ray Alexander of ISCorp, and an impressive repeat attendee, Roman Kilun.
A nasty crash prompted a restart of the race with the breakaway starting ahead of the peloton at their last recorded time advantage.
Bissell rode calmly in a long line at the head of the peloton, chasing the breakaway with serene assassin-like expressions on their faces. The yellow blur of Phil Gaimon followed patiently behind. As the laps wound down beneath 10-to-go, the pace lifted considerably as Bissell drove for the breakaway. With a few laps left, the breakaway was reabsorbed into the peloton.
Going into the last corner, Logan Loader of Cashcall launched an early attack to prelude his sprint down the homestretch. The move was much like the one that achieved his victory at Cherry Pie Criterium earlier in the season, in which he opened the sprint early, gained a tactical advantage due to the early jump, and never looked back. This time however, his early sprint was too fast for the final corner, and he was forced to slow down. Ken Hanson, mustering strength from some unknown source after being in the breakaway for most of the race, opened a long sprint from the corner, thinking he had his teammate, Alex Candelario on his wheel. Candelario was not there. But neither was anyone else. Hanson sat up with an emphatic winner’s salute as he crossed the line in 1st, with Fabrizio Van Nacher of Cashcall in 2nd, Benny Swedberg of Cal Giant/Specialized in 3rd, and Daniel Holloway of Mike’s Bikes in 4th.
- Ken Hanson – Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies
- Fabrizio Von Nacher – CashCall Mortgage
- Benjamin Swedberg – California Giant/Specialized
- Daniel Holloway – Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase
- Michael Weicht – CashCall Mortgage
- Eamon Lucas – California Giant/Specialized
- Tyler Brandt – Get Crackin
- Orlando Garibay – SC Velo MRI Endurance Elite U23
- Ben Jacque-Maynes – Jamis-Hagen Berman
- James Laberge – Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase
Stage 4, “The Hilltop Ranch Road Race”, began early in the morning on Sunday. The sun was blurred out by an overcast sky, but the thousands of acres of almonds in full bloom reflected the light and made it appear as though it was a clear day.
The men’s 120 mile road race began with an attack by Max Jenkins from 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda and attacks continued non-stop for at least 50 miles. Bissell covered as many moves as they could. Oftentimes, other amateur teams would pull the peloton back together because they sought to have a rider in the day’s breakaway too. Anytime another strong pro rider went up the road, Bissell reeled them in with renewed zeal and urgency.
Midway through the 3rd lap, a breakaway finally established itself when a rider from Stage 17, H&R Block, and Get Crackin were joined by Wes Holloway from Cashcall, Stefano Barberi from Cal Giant/Specialized, Jesse Anthony of Optum, and Jim Stemper of 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda.
The race appeared to be taking a predictable course in which Bissell would let the breakaway tire itself out while they kept a steady pace towards the finish. Optum, however, had other plans, and launched a 3 rider attack over a short climb before heading into a series of crosswind sections of road. Ken Hanson lead out the attack and left Tom Soladay and Tom Zirbel to continue on their own. It was apparent that they sought to make their way up to teammate Jesse Anthony in the breakaway and then pull out as much time as possible over Phil Gaimon. The attack lasted for approximately 6 miles, as Bissell hit the gas and strung out the peloton into a double or single file line in an attempt to regain control of the race.
Soladay and Zirbel were caught at the end of the lap, along with the breakaway. Bissell kept the pace solid to discourage more attacks, but the duo of Stephen Leece from Cal Giant/Specialized and Tyler Brandt of Get Crackin were able to escape until the 5th lap when they were caught in the final drive for the line.
After plowing over the rugged and bumpy surface of Cox Ferry Rd and beginning the climb up the course’s toughest climb, it looked as though Bissell would be able to finish the 5th lap without incident and deliver Phil Gaimon safely in the yellow jersey. Ben Jacques-Maynes shattered the peaceful dream with the race’s second powerful GC attack. Taylor Bertrand-Barrett of Marc Pro-Strava joined BJM as they crested the hill. It looked as though Bissell might have finally been worn out and were quickly losing their grip on the race. That is, until Phil Gaimon took the race into his own hands and shot after the two escapees. Once Gaimon was successfully attached to the back of the two, Ben Jacques-Maynes sat up, and at that moment, it was clear that the battle for the general classification at the Merco Cycling Classic was over. The race belonged to Phil the Thrill.
The stage victory, however, was not decided, with a stable of sprinters vyving for the win at the end of the remaining 5 miles. The lead-up to the sprint pulled the peloton over the remaining little hills as though they were flat, and riders constantly moved up the sides to gain position. The vortex of riders streaming up the sides and closing in on the front of the sprint lead to a large crash when two riders crossed wheels behind the leaders with 300 meters remaining. By this time, the sprint was wide open with Daniel Holloway of Mike’s Bikes taking a wheel’s advantage over his adversaries as the line closed in. In an incredibly close bike throw, Dion Smith of Full Circle p/b Pure Gear won the Hilltop Ranch Road Race over Ken Hanson from Optum with Daniel Holloway finishing 3rd.
1. Dion Smith- Full Circle powered by Pure Gear
2. Ken Hanson- Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies
3. Daniel Holloway- Team Mike’s Bikes p/b Incase
4. Fabrizio Von Nacher- CashCall Mortgage
5. Logan Loader – CashCall Mortgage
6. Benjamin Jacques-Maynes – Jamis-Hagen Berman
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