Well, I was completely wrong in my predictions for the first round of the Triple Crown Opener. Like most, I was expecting the race to come down to an organized, head to head battle between lead-out trains, in the the Commerce Bank Lehigh Valley Classic. Instead, it was a disorganized, free for all dash to the finish line, and an overlooked sprinter Yuri Metlushenko, from a European Continental team, Amore & Vita-McDonald’s came out on top.
Metlushenko raised his hands a bit early, and for a few seconds, all wondered if he had pulled a Zabel, but he won it by half a tire width over second place Aussie Karl Menzies (Health Net-Maxxis). American Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) finished third.
“I was sure I would win and was thinking about making a good finish line picture,” recalled Metlushenko, who has a large scar near his right eye that belies his career as a bike racer. “But then I got scared when I saw how close it is. I won’t ever do that again.”
The first 40 miles or so were filled by attacks that went nowhere, while the pace was kept extremely high by the sprinters’ team trying to lighting up the load. Finally, in the 7th of 12 laps, 4 men broke free – Jeff Louder (BMC), Frank Pipp (Health Net-Maxxis), Luis Romero (Colavita/Sutter Home), and 2007 UCI Americas Tour winner Svein Tuft (Symmetrics). Sensing the danger, Toyota-United’s Ivan Stevic, Slipstream’s Mike Friedman and Alberto Curtolo (Liquigas) tried to bridge accross, to no avail.
“It was a good day for me in the breaks,” Louder said in the team report. “Our first goal was to be aggressive, and since we knew this was a course suited to sprinters, we wanted to make it as hard on the pure sprinters teams as possible.”
The four men worked together but never managed more than a 1-minute gap in the next four laps, and finally Louder and Romero sat up. But Tuft and Pipp wouldn’t give up, and seven new riders bridged from the field. The new energy were short-lived and the field was all together at the start of the final lap.
Several more attacks and counter attacks ensued, including one final move with Kirk O’Bee (HealthNet-Maxxis) , Dominique Rollin (Toyota-United) and another rider. But they were swallowed by the last charge of the peloton and the mad dash to the finish.
“It was the right time to go, and if we were caught, it’s because there was a lack of collaboration between the riders. We were two pulling while the other one was only watching. It’s a shame because at this point, you hope to stay until the end, but it wasn’t the case” said Rollin who finished 10 seconds behind the winner.
In the free for all, Metlushenko put his tire over the line first – barely – and won the team’s first race in America.
The Philly Week amuse-gueule surprised everyone and left us eager to see what the next event will dish out. The men move on to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Reading Classic on Thursday June 5.
The complete race was streamed live, for free, from local station WFMZ, and the reply of the race broadcast along with other videos (see below) can still be viewed. Note that ad blockers and/or pop up blockers might have to be disengaged for the videos to work. The Reading race – men only unfortunately – will also be streamed live.
Report and Photos: CyclingNews, VeloNews, Morning Call, Race Press Releases
Photos: Morning Call, Official Photos
Team Report: BMC, Health Net-Maxxis
WFMZ Videos including an interview with Yuri Metlushenko, stalking Symmetrics having dinner and a replay of the full race broadcast