The Bissell team launched attack after attack but in the final two-mile long, eight percent grade to the finish, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) dropped Paul Mach (Bissell) in the final meters to win the Sea Otter Classic Road. Winner of yesterday’s criterium Morgan Schmitt (Bissell) was third.
“This is home for me. I came up through the ranks doing these local races and I appreciate them. And I wanted to keep a light spring training schedule. So, this is what I call free training – to get out there and battle with these guys. And it was tough,” said Leipheimer who was riding without a team.
Under blue skies and with warm temperatures, the Bissell team had clear tactics before the start of the race – fatigue Leipheimer and try to keep some of their riders fresh.
“Our goal was to get as many guys to the finish as fresh as we could so we’d have a lot more bullets against Levi so we just kept hitting him but he went with just about everything. Luckily Paul went up the road, it was pretty rough coming up that final climb though because he was just riding good tempo all day.” said Schmitt.
A group of 6 riders that included two riders from both Bissell and Garmin-Holoweko-Felt teams went off the front in the first lap of 8 laps on the rolling 69-mile course that looped through the verdant sage and oak forests of the Fort Ord backcountry. Leipheimer chased and brought with him three other riders including 2 more riders from the Bissell squad to form the break that would last until the finish. Along with Leipheimer, the 10-man group included Ben Jacques-Maynes, Burke Swindlehurst, Mach, Schmitt from Bissell, Alex Howes and Caleb Fairly of Garmin-Holoweko-Felt, Chris Jones (Team Type 1), Nate English (ZTeam) and Seba Haedo and Luis Amaran of Colavita/Sutter Home.
“The cooperation in the break was good until some other guys bridged up, and then the attacking started.” said Jacques-Maynes who finished fourth in the race.
Leipheimer then set a higher tempo on the climb dropping the riders that had just bridged up. “He was big ringing the climb for the last four times, it was strung out, it was good and definitely hurting.” said Jacques-Maynes about Leipheimer.
At that point, Swindlehurst launched his first attack, taking with him two other riders but they would get reeled back in one lap.
“Burke break got brought back, we did a couple of moves and then Burke comes flying from the back and takes Haedo with him and they got up to one minute. 1:10 was the biggest gap that I heard but it was just Levi riding tempo at the front and he was just slowly tempoing them in. On the last lap, they were at most 15 seconds ahead of us the whole time.” continued Jacques-Maynes.
Finally, the break came back together in the final lap, and the games started.
“It came back in the feed zone and then we played games, we pretty much came to the bottom of the finishing climb together. The whole break, 8 guys to 10 guys, and then Nate attacked, Morgan attacked, I attacked, Levi was all over everything and just sat on me the whole time, he didn’t really have to, he could have done it any way he wanted to but then he beat me.” said Mach.
“Me and Ben were kind of sitting back and we were creeping up it and catching that ZTeam guy, a couple of guys were up in the front but they were not doing a whole lot. Chris Jones attacked up the left, I went with him and then we bridged up and rolled again and I went for it because I felt I had a second wind and hoped that Paul could maybe sit on Levi and say my teammate is coming across but I don’t think that worked out. “ said Schmitt.
The last road race at the Sea Otter Classic is the tough SRAM Circuit Race held on the Laguna Seca Raceway which includes a challenging 300-foot climb and the descent down the world-famous Corkscrew. The men start at 1:10pm for a 70-mile race.