The Fly V Australia team came into the Amgen Tour of California with a plan to showcase the team, to prove that they belong on the international cycling scene. The Continental team is on a trajectory to become the first Australian Pro Tour team.
“We’ve shown that we’re the strongest team in the US this year and we want to do it on the international stage as well.” said Ben Day at Joe Martin Stage Race. The first goal is to get a stage win, and secondly the general classification.
In order to achieve their aim, the team has many options to play with, from sprinters Jonathan Cantwell and Bernie Sulzberger, all arounder Ben Day and climber Phil Zajicek. Halfway through the race, the team has come close but has yet to achieve the top step.
“It’s been a little harder than anticipated.” said Zajicek at the start of stage 5. “Every day has been very solid.”
Everything was going to plan on stage 3 for sprinter Cantwell. The team came to the front in the final kilometers to reel in the lone breakaway rider and set up the sprint. The team was still at the front around the final and Cantwell jumped with 350 meters with the finish line in his sights. But he then discovered that he had broken his shoe in an earlier crash which hampered his sprint. The Australian finished in fifth spot.
“We’re right there, Jonny is super close, all the sprinters are really good and I’m climbing really well.” Zajicek added.
On stage 5, it was Day’s turn to come close to the win.
“Cycling is a game of chess.” said Day who made his way into the 6-rider break at 18 miles into the 121-mile stage. The break quickly established a good rhythm to move out to a 5 minute advantage. As the break crested the first KOM, the gap had solidified to 4:30 and the field behind them had split under pressure of the chase.
Day heard on the radio that his teammates had made the yellow group while most of the top sprinters from the other teams had not. Playing the team card, Day sat on the break, waiting to help out his teammates.
“We had to play our best cards at the right time and those guys are sprinting very well at the moment. I was happy to sacrifice myself so they could be in the position to win the stage. We’re here to win as a team and not to win as individual. So I kind of sat on a little bit and pissed a few people off.”
Just before the top of the second KOM, with 25 miles left to race including two very tough finishing circuits, Day attacked. His move was covered and the attacks continued as the break descended to the finish line in Bakersfield.
With 4 miles to go, Day went at it again on a solo move. He managed to get a gap with the field chasing hard behind him reabsorbing the remnants of the break. With the huge crowd roaring and urging him around the finishing circuits, Day dug deep but was caught with 1 kilometer to go.
Day was awarded Most Courageous Rider jersey at the end of the stage.
After five days of hard racing, Zajicek was sitting at 31 seconds down on GC waiting to pounce on the Queen Stage. The 135.3 miles (217.7 km) stage 6 from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake with 7 KOMs and more than 12,000 feet of climbing.
“It’s going to be an incredibly long stage, probably the most magnificent stage that the Tour of California has ever had.” said Day.
Zajicek is ready for it. “I’m going to try and go with the big guys again, I think it’s going to be something like 20 guys coming to the line. And it’s a nice uphill sprint which is perfect for me after a long hard day so I’m just going to save everything for that final sprint.”
After years of battling Crohn’s Disease, Zajicek is healthy and managing the disease. “The Crohn’s disease is is complete remission which is amazing.”
“I love it, it’s great. I’m feeling super.” said Zajicek. “It’s a big week for us.”
Update: Day crashed after the feedzone on stage 6 and got back on his bike to continue the stage.