Yellow jersey Jeff Louder and his Mighty Mighty BMC team battled until the end against the attacks thrown at them during the brutal final stage, the Sunset Road Race, to win the overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Louder grabbed the lead after stage 1, the windy Beaumont Stage Race with a scant lead of 7 seconds, placed his team at the front and controlled the front of the peloton for the final two stages. Both Tom ZIrbel (Bissell) and Ben Day (Fly V Australia) gained a few seconds back but it wasn’t enough to overcome Louder and finished in second at 5 seconds back and third place at 6 seconds back respectively.
“I’ve said it a million times, you need a team, you need teammates and those guys died a million deaths. Jackson came back … he just kept coming back, coming back and Brent did the same, everyone else worked really hard early on, this was a one hundred percent a BMC team victory, I’m really proud of the guys. I was concerned but I knew we had it in us and we did it, and I’m happy for that. ” said tired but proud Louder.
After capturing the green jersey in Saturday’s Redlands criterium, all Kyle Wamsley (Colavita/Sutter Home) had to do was defend his lead in the two sprint points in the first two short laps and just finish the stage. Instead, the 29-year old Wamsley who called himself a “criterium and short distance rider” stayed with the lead group and launched a solo attack in the final short finishing circuits to take the win.
“I was feeling really good and I think because I have the green jersey and that there was no pressure for me to finish the stage, I was really, really relaxed the whole day and that kind of helped me through it, I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t fighting for position, I was just along for the ride. I just kept seeing less and less people in the group and it wasn’t until 3 to go on the circuit that I started thinking ‘alright it’s time to race, I might actually do well’.” said Wamsley.
Kirk Carlsen (Garmin-Holoweko Partners-Felt) and Jacob Erker (Kelly Benefit Strategies) chased the lone escapee for two laps but were not able to catch him and finished in second and third place on the stage.
The Queen Stage. Brutal, beautiful. The attacks started as soon as the men hit the first of twelve laps of the up & down, never flat 6.2 miles (10.0 km) Sunset Loop which brought the BMC team to the front controlling and setting tempo.
“The race just brings itself back, it’s a race of attrition, it’s just very hard to get out there and stay out there because there is a lot of momentum in the peloton. A lot of those moves just came back because of attacks and counter-attacks. We were concerned about guys but we knew that a lot of these breaks would bring themselves back and it was a matter of us setting our own tempo and just riding as steady and controlling the race that’s what you have to go.” said Louder about the ebb and flow of the breaks.
On the first full lap, the first time up the climb, Cesar Grajales (Rock Racing), Frank Pipp (Bissell) and Brad White (Ouch) gave it go but were reeled within two laps.
Under the impetus of the sprint to the KOM with 7 laps to go, Karl Menzies (Ouch) and Justin England (California Giant-Specialized) made their move and were soon joined by Burke Swindlehust (Bissell) and red jersey Kirk Carlsen (Garmin-Holoweko Partners-Felt). The four men stayed away for two laps gaining an advantage of over 30 seconds.
The constant accelerations and the course took its toll on the field of 100+ riders which splintered into small groups and reduced the lead group to about 20 riders which included all the GC men vying for position.
With three laps to go, Ouch sent out another man on the attack, This time, Tim Johnson (Ouch) and Peter Stetina (Garmin-Holoweko Partners-Felt) and this one got dangerous as Stetina gained enough time to become virtual leader on the road before finally being reeled in by a tiring BMC team with one lap to go.
“I was concerned, the last two laps, just hard racing to control. All the teams hit me really hard, were hitting us hard and my boys really reacted very well, every lap, guys were starting to fatigue, these guys dragged the peloton around for 12 laps and so as we get to the finale of the race, the last 3 or 4 laps, I really only had Jackson Stewart and Brent Bookwalter.” said Louder.
Then Rory Sutherland (Ouch) pulled out his countermove in the final climb of the final lap which put Louder and his BMC team in trouble. Louder confirmed that Ouch was the primary aggressor of the day.
The BMC team got a little help from the Bissell and Fly V Australia team to chase down Sutherland who was threatening their top 3 GC results. Sutherland was caught as the group entered the first of the five finishing circuits raced on the same course as Saturday’s criterium.
“He had a little bit more time, the buffer between Louder so we let him go and then we had to work together on the descent to bring it back so Ben and myself, Louder, Bookwalter and Sulzberger brought him back. Then I just tried to shadow Ben. We actually got a couple of seconds there at the time gap, but I don’t know if they counted that or not but it definitely wasn’t 7 seconds, it wasn’t enough to overtake Louder. ” said Zirbel.
Counting on the fact that the GC riders would not chase him down, Wamsley hit it with three laps to go and crossed the line first, taking time to celebrate in front of a loud and appreciative crowd in downtown Redlands.
“I know that I have the capability of doing GC, I’ve won one stage race already last year, Fitchburg-Longsjo, to be able to stay with these guys on this kind of course is just a huge morale to me, to the team and it’s just going to be an awesome momentum to carry into the next couple of races. ” said Wamsley.
Two years ago, the BMC team lost the yellow jersey on Sunset Loop but this time they got it right. In his fifth participation at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Louder whose first Redlands was in 1999, can now add his name to the list of winners of the classic NRC race.
“These guys are learning, there are things that I think maybe I take for granted and I see them doing, I’m not the most PC guy when out racing, you have to yell at them sometimes but you don’t learn in cycling unless you get experiences, this was an experience race, they learned a lot and that’s where confidence comes from.” said Louder about the team gaining confidence from defending and winning the yellow jersey.
“Today unfolded as we anticipated. I would have liked to have seen the defense stay intact a little longer, that was a good education for the guys to test out that limit a little bit more and some of the guys that are preparing for the next European trip, I think we’re seeing good form out of them. Nice to see Jackson Stewart get a good result, that was a nice result in off itself. Overall, it’s an example of the team coming together, starting to race like a team, we’re seeing good results because of it.” said BMC DIrecteur Sportif Gavin Chilcott.
This is Zirbel’s first time to get second-place in a general classification race for an NRC race. “Next time, I guess I’ll expect to win, one step at a time.” laughed Zirbel. “I put in a move after we crested, there’s a couple of K before it starts going down and I got off with Will Routley but they brought it back.”
“We wanted to be represented in the breaks, we wanted to put pressure on BMC. It’s such a hard circuit, we were trying to make it hard. Honestly, I was on the ropes for the first few laps, I just can’t accelerate like those guys but I can recover fast so the harder it is the better for me over a long period of time, by the last couple of laps I was starting to feel pretty good. ” said Zirbel.
Day won the prologue and the yellow jersey on the first day of the race but lost it the next day with the well-timed attack by Louder.
“On the first day when I won the prologue, it was almost a curse to be leading going into the next stage. It was always going to be a difficult stage to control and with those winds we had there, 85 km/hr in one direction and 20 km/hr the other direction, the boys absolutely killed themselves and they got to the last climb and they were completely spent. I felt myself a little bit isolated there in the last 10 kilometers and when I look at it back now, there was that one moment where Jeff attacked, Zirbel, Stetina, they got to the finish and that’s the race right there. ” said Day.
But he kept on fighting and attacking.
“We threw quite a few things at each other today, I was throwing them at Tom, he was throwing them at me, and we were throwing them at Jeff, and throwing them at Brent. Everyone was just throwing stuff at each other and we all came in together anyway, we could have just gone to the pub and and a few beers and just decide it that way.” said Day.
Carlsen also won the mountain classification and his team, the U23 development squad Garmin-Holoweko Partners-Felt won the overall team classification.
What’s next? Well Louder and the BMC team are starting a series of European races that include Paris-Roubaix as a wildcard invitation and conclude with Tour of Romandie.
As for the domestic schedule well unfortunately, again there is a one-month period with no NRC races on the calendar. The next races are the one-day Dana Point Grand Prix of Cycling on April 26 and the Tour of the Gila on April 29-May 3.