With a whopping $11,000 on the line for the winner, the Chicago Blackhawks Pro Men Stage 2 of the Alexian Brothers Tour Elk Grove came down to a bunch sprint won by Colavita/Sutter Home’s Sebastian Haedo ahead of Karl Menzies (OUCH-Maxxis) and Jonathan Cantwell (Fly V Australia). By picking up a 12 time bonus for finishing second, Menzies grabs the lead, with one stage to go, trailed by previous leader BISSELL’s Tom Zirbel at 8 seconds back, and BMC’s Brent Bookwalter at 9 seconds.
“The last 3K, I had three teammates in front of me, Davide Frattini, Alejandro and Anibal Borrajo. The last 2K, it was Alejandro behind Menzies. Finally Alejandro started his sprint with 300 meters to the line, he brought me to first place to 150 meters and I just kept going all the way to the line for the win.” said Haedo via translation by the Colavita/Sutter Home DS Sebastian Alexandre.
“Obviously, we wanted to win the stage, Haedo is a class act in sprints here in the US, second to him, we’re certainly happy with that. We wanted to run top three with the time bonus, it would have been nice to win the stage but second place is more than enough to move into the jersey. We did a lot of work in the last two laps.” said Menzies.
While billed as a 97-mile (156 Km) road race, the twist and 26 turns of each of the 10 laps really made the run into a criterium, a 156-km criterium that is. The race also brought rain showers – twice – but sadly no ninjas nor wizards (see twitter). In the final laps, with a dangerous 2-rider break up the road, the OUCH train came to the front to set tempo and time the catch to set up Menzies for a podium position at the minimum.
But lets go back to the beginning. Over 120 riders lined up on drying streets after an earlier rain shower to tackle the cashtastic stage two, with numerous primes, points sprints for money and time bonuses and a step closer to the big money.
“It wasn’t too bad, everyone slows down. I think the first 5 laps were worst than the last 5, the first 5, everybody had so much energy, they probably had coffee in the afternoon for the first time in a while, so much energy and everybody is just trying to attack and get into breakaways. The last 5 laps, especially the last 2, were more relaxed as we were on the front, controlling the pace, we were leading it out. ” said Menzies about the weather conditions as the field was hit with two rain showers during the race.
Jelly Belly’s Phil Gaimon tried his luck solo on the first gaining seconds on the field quickly until he crashed on one of the turns made slick as the rain started again, which shrunk his gap of over 60 seconds to the field. With the first of the 3 intermediate sprints looming, Gaimon’s escape was doomed. Five riders including BMC’s Jonathan Garcia, Aerocat’s Emile Abraham and Jelly Belly’s Bernard Van Ulden crashed and only Abraham was able to continue.
Crafty Luis Amaran (Colavita/Sutter Home) took off and went hunting for the first intermediate sprint at the end of 7 laps to go which he easily won and kept on going when he saw that he had a gap of 20 seconds. A chase group quickly formed behind him with BISSELL’s Ben Jacques-Maynes, Kelly Benefit’s Ryan Anderson and BMC’s Jeff Louder who picked up the follow-on points in that order. After Jacques-Maynes flatted out, Anderson and Louder worked together to chase Amaran up the road. But with the half-race prime of $1,200 coming up at lap 5, Amaran put his head down to collect the money and only then waited for the duo.
“When I opened the gap, I tried to sprint for the intermediate sprint, then I opened the gap and realized that I had a gap and felt strong so I kept on going to keep going for the halfway sprint and make sure I could get it, then after that he decided to wait for the others.” said Amaran.
Perfect race so far for the Colavita team. “The idea at the start of the race was to always have representation in the move, anyone close on GC was a better call but if not, at least to have always somewhere near the front. Amaran goes off the front and that was a very good situation for us and he’s the closest guy on GC for the team and once he got caught, we tried to set the sprint for Sebastian. ” said Alexandre.
With five laps to go, the duo connected with Amaran and managed to get 35 seconds to the field with Subway Avanti’s Josh England trying to bridge up which he did but the gap was already shrinking, and the four men were caught with 4 laps to go. But not before going through the second intermediate sprint point, this time won by Anderson.
The fact that such a strong break could not managed to get a bigger gap made it clear that a bunch sprint was coming.
“It was just so hard out there, you had a strong group when Louder and Amaran, strong dudes and they could only get 45 seconds and usually they could go out to three or four minutes. We were confident in a bunch sprint, we knew we had a strong team to lead it out and that’s what we banked on for today. It puts pressure on you to sprint but I think that’s good, it’s the only option you give yourself and you have to do it.” commented Menzies.
But that didn’t stop two riders, defending champion David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) from trying their hand in a counter-move with 3 laps to go. With 2 laps to go, the gap was up to 60 seconds and going up when finally the OUCH squad massed to the front with a 90 seconds gap to the duo. Veilleux was sitting at only 9 seconds from the lead on GC but the OUCH squad were confident in the catch and feathered the gap.
The final intermediate sprint points were awarded at the end of 2 to go, with Veilleux crossing first followed by Chadwick and Jacques-Maynes and Anderson in the field. Anderson amassed the most number of points and was rewarded with a 6 second time bonus and a check for $2,000, followed by Amaran who received 4 second time bonus + $1,000 and Jacques-Maynes who got 2 second time bonus + $500.
With one lap to go, the duo was reeled in and it was on for the bunch sprint.
“The final lap, every team was trying to get some sort of train formed. It was just chaotic. The course is very tight, it suits the criterium sprinters. OUCH controlled the race because they knew if Menzies got the time bonuses, he’d be in the yellow jersey. It was so dangerous, I’m glad that they weren’t too many crashes. Coming into the sprint, it was pretty windy, it was a headwind sprint. I kind of got squeezed coming into the last two hundred meters, I was on Karl Menzies’ wheel and he ran second. I’m happy with third. ” said Cantwell.
The OUCH train brought Menzies to perfect position, with only Haedo besting him to the finish.
“They worked all the way through, John Murphy and Andrew Pinfold led me through into the homestretch, an amazing leadout, I didn’t have to do much, I probably sprinted for 100 meters,” said Menzies with a chuckle, “it was all I had to do for the day. Hats off to the team, they did an awesome job today. At the end, the time bonus and the yellow jersey is what we come out to do. ”
Good day for the Colavita/Sutter Home team too who won the stage and it’s big check, won the half-race prime and the points payout.
“We had tremendous beginning of the season, after that the team took a break and we came back at Cascade knowing that we may need to sacrifice a race to be ready for the other ones and even if we finish the week at Cascade a little tired, I had the confidence that after that race, the team was going to be going very good here and all the work has paid off.” said Alexandre.
Marked man. Riding solo, Astana’s Chris Horner was a marked man throughout the race.
“I can’t go anywhere, the bad things it when you have teammates, you can have a teammate on your wheel so when you attack, he can open a gap so I don’t even get that benefit.” laughed Horner.
Prior to the stage, Horner was saying that he wanted the thermometer to go up to make it harder because the harder the stage, the better his chances.
“This is the best field they’ve ever had here, it’s a fantastic field, it was definitely hard. It was hard, so much speed so going into the last corner is always going to be hard. ” replied Horner when I asked him it the stage was hard enough for him. “I was trying to get into it first but I was getting blocked in. One of the Colavita dudes was taking his hands off and kind of grabbing me and stuff like that so then I started hooking him and that kind of stuff. Then I got swarmed going into the last corner, I was sitting on Menzies’s wheel before the last corner, and I got swarmed just before and that caused me to hit the brakes and scrub my speed. And coming out of the corner already like 3 miles an hour slower than the sprinters, ooohhh it got ugly into the finish, but what are you going to do.”
What next? Sunday brings the final stage, the 72 miles (115 km) criterium on a 1.2-mile (2 km) circuit with four turns and a long straightaway to the finish line with a check of $8,500 to the stage winner. Once again, just to keep it interesting, time bonuses are awarded on the finish line for the top 3 finishers: 20, 12 and 8 seconds. And, there are three sprint challenges: at the end of lap 25 to go, lap 20 to go, and lap 10 to go with the same time bonus and checks awarded.
The war is still raging as 15 riders sit at less than 20 seconds to leader Menzies, including 4 BMC’ers, 5 BISSELL, 3 KBS’es, and Horner. Teams are going to send one rider after another up the road to try and disrupt the OUCH control. It’s on baby, and it starts at at 2:30pm.
Complete results here
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