With a 5-man roster, Rock Racing didn’t let their small number and aggressive racing by other teams deter them from going 1-2 at the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic Grand Prix on Saturday. Taking time to celebrate, National Crit Champ Rahsaan Bahati crossed the line first followed by teammate U23 National Crit Champ Justin Williams. Riding solo Argentinean Ricardo Escuela (Team Type 1) was third.
“Having Justin here and myself kind of killed every break so we’re in a win-win situation. Having a small team, people think that you’re out manned, having to battle. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because we get one of the kids in the break, I remember when I was eighteen, you’re excited to be in that break, you have more energy that most of the older guys because you’re just young, you don’t think what’s going to happen five laps later so it’s perfect for us and we wanted a field sprint.” said Bahati.
While currently not on the NRC calendar, the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic race has a long rich history and denotes the opening of the California road racing season with teams getting ready for the NRC kickoff race at the end of March. A 140-rider field, which included full squads from Bissell, Colavita/Sutter Home and CalGiant, lined up under gray skies and the name of the game was aggression. As soon as the race started, Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes was off to try and get a break going.
But nothing stuck. Time after time, riders would go up the road only to be brought back by the charging peloton, and the numerous primes didn’t help the escapees. Bissell, BMC, Kahala-LaGrange, CalGiant, Colavita/Sutter Home, and Rock Racing tried to launch the story was attack, catch and reshuffle for the 50 laps in Merced.
“There’s some really good teams that have some really good sprint setup, Rock Racing, Colavita/Sutter Home to name a few, they were keeping it all together because the field sprint is in their favor for sure. So they wanted to chase everything down and neutralize it. We were hoping for one of their sprinters in the move and then they let it roll. Last year, Ben was in the move that ended up lapping the field, so we were hoping for that type of situation to happen but it never panned out, it wasn’t for the lack of trying, we were throwing ourselves at it the whole time. I kept going for primes and I would miss the prime but they would ring two in a row, and I’d miss one, I’d get second but I’d keep going because I’m full flight and there’s a gap behind me and keep going for another lap and win the next prime but that’s a hard way to do it, I’d rather just sprint. ” said Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) in good health after crashing out of the Tour of California.
In the final laps, the team started to get organized for the bunch sprint. The final lap was marred by another crash and Bahati finally found himself behind Williams’ wheel.
“Justin was leading me out, it was so hectic given that the field was pretty strong and the leadout wasn’t too fast so we got together, missed each other, got together. And luckily for Justin he’s a great bike handler so we found ourselves in the right spot at the end.” explained Bahati.
And Bahati was ready for it. “I always gear up, I don’t care what kind of sprint it is, I’m 53×11 all the time, I got it going.”
2009 Merco Cycling Classic Grand Prix podium (l-r): Ricardo Escuela (Team Type 1), Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing), Justin Williams (Rock Racing)
More photos in gallery
Complete results at USA Cycling