Another iconic day of warm, sunny, calm California weather greeted and treated participants and spectators alike at the Land Park Criterium in Sacramento on Saturday, leaving the surprises of the day to be decided by the racers.
In the women’s P/1/2/3 main event, the field saw a series of attacks create solo flyers or small groups off the front, but never a large enough gap for a move to stick. Threshold Sports p/b Leadout Endurance, Pinnacle-Reactor p/b JL Velo, Folsom Bike p/b Cervelo, and Metromint, the best represented squads, all showed prominently in these relatively transient breaks. By two laps to go, Heather Van Sickle, back on the Folsom Bike squad after taking 2013 off on maternity leave, created a good-sized gap solo, but was caught on the last lap, after Metromint’s Amanda Seigle initiated a chase. When the group caught Van Sickle, Mary Maroon of Twenty16 Pro Cycling attacked soon thereafter, creating a sizeable gap that held to a commanding lead of the sprinting field crossing the finish line. Winning the field sprint behind Maroon for second was Tina Hughes of Pinnacle-Reactor, followed by Dani Spires of Pacific Crush.
Describing the finish, Hughes remarked, “My goal was not to sprint on the left side. However, when the sprint started, I ended up on the left side. But there was just enough space – I went to the left of Jeanette (Haggas), and felt like I was moving faster than she was, so I went with that.” Haggas would ultimately finish eighth, but earned a well-deserved Most Aggressive Rider award for her consistent presence on or off the front throughout the race.
Hughes went on to say, “I’m encouraged by the number of riders coming out to the (women’s) races so far this season, and the fact that they have been animated, fun, and safe.”
The P/1/2 men’s race later in the day was enlivened by the presence of a five-man squad from the Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies pro team, the riders having arrived in the Sacramento area from various parts of the country on Friday. The team’s presence in NorCal is of dual purpose, according to team manager Eric Wohlberg. The squad is tuning up for the Vuelta al Alentejo at the end of the month, and to recon some stages of the Tour of California stage race in May.
Not long after the start, Brad Huff of Optum took an early prime and created a small gap. Was this part of his team’s plan? Huff said, “The plan for the team was to be aggressive, and opportunistic during the race. Being off the front in the first part of the race was just opportunistic.”
Most of the following hour saw changing groups of 2-5 off the front, represented by Optum along with a rider from one or both of the two most prominent NorCal teams in the field, Marc Pro-Strava and Mike’s Bikes p/b Equator Coffees. Eventually, Ryan Anderson of Optum and Dirk Himley, operating as a one-man team created a two-man break in excess of 10 seconds, the largest the race had seen thus far.
Over the next two laps, the gap whittled slightly, then Himley dropped back into the chasing peloton, which slowly continued to gain on Anderson until he was swallowed early in the last lap. The field sprint ensuing was taken by Brad Huff of Optum, Josh Carling of Marc Pro-Strava for second, and 17-year-old Tommy Lucas of Bear Development for third.
Describing the last sequence of the race, Huff explained, “In the sprint, my final leadout guy is a little inexperienced in that jump, so he lulled a little bit. All the other sprinters got the jump on me out of the corner, after it straightened out, so I was really sprinting from fifth or sixth wheel back, and I was just lucky that one guy died on the right side, and I shot through the gap. Otherwise, I would’ve been boxed in, in third place. I’ve got a lot of…skill…when it comes to being a little dicey in the sprint. An old guy like me has to get it when you can, because it’s not always there.”
Optum teammate Tom Soladay commented on the tactics of local riders he observed while racing: “The strong elite teams in NorCal like Mike’s Bikes and Marc Pro-Strava are so well-drilled that you know if one team makes a move, the other one’s gonna go after it. A lot of the guys on the smaller teams or unattached need to recognize that – these riders weren’t usually following the moves. That didn’t always make a whole lot of sense….but guys get tired, and the tactics get fuzzy in their heads.”
Huff admitted to the strength of the prominent NorCal teams present. “It’s not easy. You can’t just get off the front and think you’re going to lap the field. Everyone is able to put down a lot of watts, and they’re in there to work. Therefore, it’s just a great race, for everybody.” He continued, “I’m just happy it was a great day for us, great training, great field, beautiful weather – you couldn’t ask for anything more. Warm and sunny, 80 degrees, not much wind…you know why people live in California, and this is part of it.”
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