Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati took the bunch sprint at the NRC Manhattan Beach Grand Prix for the third year in a row, besting Sebastian Haedo (Colavita/Sutter Home) and Ken Hanson (Team Type 1) for the win. (report by stephanie & lyne)
“It feels good. This is – if you want to call it pressure – the most I’ve had in the three years I’ve done this race. The team came through again, I couldn’t have done it without them, it was phenomenal leadout by all the guys, everyone contributed. Justin Williams had an unfortunate crash with two laps to go but we still had some strong guys so it worked out.” said US Criterium Champion Bahati.
The Rock Racing squad came ready for battle, fielding a team of 8 riders in a field of 107 riders under gray skies to defend Bahati’s two consecutive wins. Even though the race was on the NRC calendar, many pro teams chose not send a full squad, sending mostly their Southern California riders and instead try to use the Rock train to their advantage.
‘We knew that Rock Racing had a full team and we only came with two guys, the idea was to wait for the sprint and play our cards.” said Haedo who only had one teammate, Alejandro Borrajo, with his at the race.
The pace started off relatively slow but that didn’t stop attacks from being tried during the 80-minute crit around the 1.4-mile course – shaped like a slightly bent “paperclip”, it features two long straight-aways, two sweeping 180° turns, and 50′ of climbing per lap. Riders such as Patrick Briggs and Steve Reaney both from the amateur team California Giant, Dan Ramsey (Mt Khakis), Roman Kilun (OUCH-Maxxis), Adam Livinsgton (Kahala-LaGrange) and from the Liquid Fitness team tried their luck either in solo moves or with a group, but the field would have none of it, bringing everything back.
Things got a bit livelier when about halfway in the race, BMC’s Tony Cruz went off the front with a few other riders on the backside, Bahati joined in the chase group and was heard yelling for his team to come to the front.
‘I just can’t sit in a race the whole 80 minutes and try to sprint, my body doesn’t react to it so I knew a break wasn’t going to get away but just to kind of wake the field up, it was a little dead out there maybe because it’s gloomy out, I’m not sure, I just went across to wake the field up, wake my legs up so I could be ready for the end.” explained Bahati about the action at that point in the race.
But the riders were caught soon after, and the race continued on to its expected bunch sprint finish. With four laps to go, the Rock Racing train set up shop at the front of the field and started to ratchet the speed up.
“In the team meeting, we didn’t want to do it so early but it was slow so we had to commit. Keep me out of the mess behind me, it worked out, it was good.” said Bahati about starting the leadout so early.
Bahati’s last man was Ivan Dominguez who is returning to the US racing scene after a 6-month stint with the ProTour team Fuji-Servetto in Europe.
“I followed Ivan Dominguez, the last three or four laps, he just kept telling me ‘don’t lose my wheel, whatever happens don’t lose my wheel’ and that’s all I did. ” said Bahati.
With two laps to go, a crash happened on the back straightaway which forced some riders to stop and then chase back to the field still under the control of the Rock Racing team. On the last lap, 200 meters before the final corner, Team Type 1 made its move.
“My team mate Aldo [Ilesic] got us to the front for the last corner. We wanted to have him lead me out to through that last corner but it didn’t work out that way so I had to jump out early. It was too early for me. Bahati and Sebastian came around me with less than 100 meters to go. I ran out of gas. I lead it out the whole last corner. It was a little early for me but that was our plan. We thought lose from behind instead of never getting a chance to win. I am disappointed.” said Hanson.
Bahati reacted by dropping Dominguez’s wheel and jumping on Hanson’s.
“I did have to take off of his wheel coming into the last turn because Team Type 1 had a great jump on us so I just slid right in, third spot. Came out of the corner third, hit it from there.” described Bahati.
“We came on the last lap, I was with Borrajo and we lost each other, one took the left side, and one took the right side, and finally I found a hole and got onto Bahati’s wheel near the last turn. Bahati was very fast and it was hard to get on his wheel.” said Haedo as translated by DS Sebastian Alexandre.
Uber-junior Coryn Rivera of the Proman Hit Squad took the bunch sprint in the women’s race ahead of Malindi Maclean (Jazz Apple) and Catherine Fiedler-Cook (Tommasini).
As the women’s race was not on the National Racing Calendar, only 60 riders lined up for the 50-minute crit. Throughout the attacks during the race, Rivera followed the team game plan and stayed safe in the first third of the field at all times, waiting for the bunch sprint.
“I had my team, I had Nicole Brandt and Christen King helping me out. The goal was to watch the moves because usually this race comes down to a bunch sprint, so we just made sure to stay in the front and keep an eye on things, tested my legs out with a prime, didn’t quite make it but my legs warmed up after that. I came to the race late, gathered with the team real quick, set some stuff up and I just bid my time and I happened to be in the right spot at the right time and missed the crash.” said Rivera who is only 16 years old.
On the final lap, Jazz Apples tried their luck for the last time, launching a solo flyer up the road which caused all the teams to start chasing hard. On the top of the hill on the backside of the course, just as the Jazz Apples rider was caught, the field slowed down and a crash took down some riders about 500 meters from the final turn.
“There was a lot of fighting for position in the backside. There was a crash about 500, from the last turn which changed things around.” said Maclean.
“I just heard it [the crash], I was pretty lucky that I was in front of it, I hope that none of my teammates were in it. After that there was another attack from Helen’s Racing, I stuck on it and came around the last corner in fourth or fifth wheel and stuck it out for the sprint in my junior gears and it worked out. ” said Rivera right after the finish.
“Coryn was very smart, she followed wheels and she is also really good through the corners. She hits the corners with a lot of speed. I think she was on my wheel on that last corner. As the end it was a sprint between me and Coryn.” explained Maclean.
With 21 National titles under her belt, Rivera is headed to the Junior Track Nationals which start this Thursday.
“We’ll see, I’m at 21 right now and I’m doing four events and we’ll see how it goes. ” smiled Rivera when asked how many more titles she’ll win over the weekend.
Complete results at USACycling
Also check out Ken Conley‘s photos of the race.
Photo Galleries – as always, click for larger images.
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