March brought the start of the NRC, the Redlands Bicycle Classic but before that a race on its fifteenth year, the MERCO Credit Union Cycling Classic
One of my favorite photos of 2009. It is so beautiful in March in Merced county with the almond trees in bloom surrounding the hilly roads for the Merco Foothills Race. A stalwart race in the norcal calendar, it it hotly contested as many riders use it to test their legs before the official start of the pro racing season, the Redlands Bicycle Classic. At the same time, its laid back with the locals out enjoying the festivities on Saturday’s crit – and there’s BBQ too!
A few minutes before the last battle broke out in the Sunset Road Race, rivals Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Columbia-High Road) and Amber Neben (Nurnberger) laughed together at the start of the final Redlands stage. After grabbing the yellow jersey on the prologue, World TT Champion Neben mounted a strong defense but stage after stage Teutenberg nibbled away at her lead such that only two seconds separated the two before the finale. In a fight to the end, Neben and her composite squad was no match for Teutenberg’s mighty Columbia-High Road team with Teutenberg taking the overall.
A familiar sight at Redlands. For two stages, the BMC team was patrolling the front, noses in the wind, as they defended against relentless attacks in a field fired up and racing aggressively. In a quest to not repeat the result from two years prior where they had lost the lead in the Sunset Loop stage, yellow jersey Jeff Louder mustered his squad as the other teams throw move after move looking for chinks in the armor. Even though their numbers dwindled as rider after rider was used up chasing rivals, the team was able to successfully defend the lead in an NRC race, a first.
The other story was the U23 squad Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin who battled with the big boys to come out with the overall team classification and the KOM jersey on Kirk Carlsen‘s shoulders.