The speed was high, the turns numerous, the sun shining, the crowd appreciative for the final stage of the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove, the criterium which was shortened to 55 laps or 106 km (66 miles) from the original 60 laps. In the end, the finale came down to a chaotic bunch sprint won by Australian Jonathan Cantwell (Fly V Australia) ahead of Ken Hanson (Team Type 1) and Sebastian Haedo (Colavita/Sutter Home). Hanson crashed mid-race and finished on a spare bike.
“The last lap was identical to the 55th lap [to go], it was just crazy, teams tried to take control but the course was just too tight and too fast basically with all the hot-dogs and the U-turns, no one took control. We actually tried to take control with 30 to go, we didn’t want anyone to get away, the win really goes out to my team today, it was good.” said Cantwell.
With a tight GC race and huge time bonuses available in the stage, yellow jersey Karl Menzies and his OUCH-Maxxis team had to pay attention to breaks and make sure to be positioned well at the finish. In the end, his direct competition did not get those bonuses and Menzies won the overall along with the $25,000 check – yep that’s 25 thousand smackeroos.
“You’ve got the fastest guys in the country and all the best teams, it’s just a shame that you don’t get this every race, this is the best field assembled and it’s amazing. Everyone has come in because there’s good prize money but there’s also good racing so to win this against this field is huge. Prize money is a bonus but we come in to win, as I said, if you win, you win money.” said Menzies.
The second and third spots on the overall podium were hotly contested between the BMC and BISSELL squads as they battled for the points – and their associated time bonuses – in the three intermediate sprints. Going into the finale, BMC’s Brent Bookwalter and BISSELL’s Ben Jacques-Maynes were tied in points, each with 7 with the final stage placings being the tie-breaker. Bookwalter finished 6th on the stage ahead of Jacques-Maynes who was 28th and picked those 2 seconds as time bonus to leapfrog over BISSELL’s Tom Zirbel for second place in the overall standings.
“We don’t have a pure sprinter but we still wanted to show we were a strong team and really play hard, we’re still disappointed we couldn’t win the overall. I think we worked well with what we had and we weren’t just protecting what we had, we wanted to improve on it too.” said Bookwalter.
On from the gun. The attacks started immediately as the race started with a cash prime on the line in the first laps won by Subway-Avanti’s Josh England. A group of three riders, England, Jonny Clarke (Jelly Belly) and Sergio Hernandez (Rock Racing) were the first riders to get some daylight to the field. The trio was soon joined by 6 other riders, Mike Creed (Rock Racing), Jackson Stewart (BMC), Kyle Wamsley (Colavita/Sutter Home), Australian Crit Champion Bernie Sulzberger (Fly V Australia), Juan Pablo Dotti (Aerocat) and Graham Howard (BISSELL). The 9-riders worked well together and second by second increased the gap to the field which brought the OUCH-Maxxis squad to the front on a field already in single file throughout the 1.9-km course.
“It was such a hectic start, there were a few guys going, it’s always the same when you haven’t got your full team at the front straightaway, there’s always that hesitation which is why guys try to get in that move. It got out pretty quick and we made the call ‘we’re going to shut it down’. I don’t think it was because the guys were dangerous, it was just too many, it was 9 guys, if it had been 3 guys no problem, but it was 9, so that’s why the huge effort from my team. ” said Menzies.
“Jackson did a great right from the start, slipping into that break, Jackson was the danger man up there so that really put the pressure on OUCH from the beginning, they had to work really hard to pull that back.” commented Bookwalter about the break.
Stewart became the virtual leader on the road for a brief time before the break was reeled back in 18 laps later. And the ever aggressive BMC team went on the attack again, this time it was Jeff Louder who broke away with Tom Soladay of Mt Khakis. The field, cooked from the high pace set to catch the earlier break, was happy to let them go. Lap after lap, the gap went up to over 30 seconds with 31 laps to go.
A perfect situation for the OUCH team as the duo was gobbling up the points and the potential time bonuses. “That was perfect, they could get the 6-second bonus, if someone else got it, like Jackson [Stewart] and Veilleux, anyone that was going to be dangerous, but they didn’t. Fly V went to the front and started chasing but it really wasn’t in our interest to catch it too early, as long as it stayed away with ten laps to go, as long as the bonuses were all eaten up, then we were going to start chasing.” said Menzies.
But not so perfect for the Fly V Australia team who wanted a bunch sprint. “We took control basically because there was a gap that was getting to about 30 or 40 seconds and OUCH brought the first break back and they seemed to run out of legs a little bit early and we were dedicated to get the win.” said Cantwell.
While the Fly V team was chasing, Louder won the first two intermediate sprints, and BMC and BISSELL contested the lower placings. With 14 laps to go, the duo sat up and were gobbled up the peloton intent on the field sprint.
But before that, the third and final intermediate sprint was hotly contested in a 2-up sprint won by Jacques-Maynes over Bookwalter.
The lap cards hit the single digits which meant one thing, the battle of the trains. But the headwind on the finishing straight played havoc as Kelly Benefit, Planet Energy, Rock Racing and Colavita/Sutter Home took their turns at the front.
“It was all together in the final laps, a little bit of chaos but in general it was pretty fast so it kept it generally safe at the front. In the final, there was not one team, multiple teams getting at the front, their guys would do and another team would take over, then another team. With five laps to go, they were five different teams at the front all the time, no one team could hold the pace fast enough. And it’s because you come down the stretch and you’re in a headwind, just nobody could put out that power. It was swarming because of the headwind, guys had to put out enormous power to keep it single-filed down this section, that’s why you kept seeing so many teams changing. You could stay at the front through the back section, through all the turns, but you couldn’t stay at the front here.” explained Chris Horner (Astana).
The battle was on for positioning in the final corner to the finish line. Menzies followed his teammate Andrew Pinfold who was first through the last corner.
“It ended up that I had Pinner [Andrew Pinfold] and John Murphy looking after me because we couldn’t have the whole team, they were cooked from chasing earlier. It was just a gamble, I had perfect position, Andrew Pinfold got me through the last corner, we were first and second, the same as yesterday, we took off exactly the same, we sprinted exactly the same but the other guys were a bit fresher and a bit quicker. ” said Menzies
Cantwell launched his sprint in the final 200 meters and never looked back.
“I had one of my guys who’s been leading me out all year, Bernie Sulzberger who just came out a win at Superweek, he’s paying me back now for Superweek.” laughed Cantwell. “I had him go, he went last corner, fifth or sixth behind Menzies and led me out, took all the wind, sacrificed his race to me , dropped me out with about 250 to go, slotted in behind Menzies and at 200, I made my run to the line and yeah got the win.”
For BMC’s Bookwalter, they only thing to do was to finish ahead of Jacques-Maynes.
“The finish was really important to me, me and Ben were tied on point, so I had to finish in front of him to get the two seconds to finish in front of Zirbel so I wasn’t really worrying too much where he was. I figured if I could run top 10 in the sprint, I had a really good chance to be in front of him, I think that’s what I ended up doing. I was up there, it was a really chaotic finish, happy to have my skin at the end of this weekend.” said Bookwalter.
For Horner, the name of the game was to stay safe. “First objective is to be safe, most likely I will never win the sprint, it would be beautiful if I could come out of the last corner on a sprinter’s wheel, but the main thing is to shoot into the corner in a safe position and take it to the line, just follow sprinters because it’s always going to be a sprinter that’s going to beat me. ” commented Horner.
But that didn’t stop him to try and get third place to move up on GC, but in the end he finished fifth overall. “But fifth is not too bad, especially for a course that’s not too ideal for me, I enjoyed the racing, it’s exciting, but it’s not my type without a big hill in it.” Horner added with a chuckle, “damn sprinters.”
Complete results here
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