Brad Huff and his Jelly Belly presented by Kenda team did it again at St Francis Tulsa Tough. Just like last year, Huff won the first two crits and the omnium in the aggressive 3-crits in 3-day of racing in the heat of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“Jelly Belly won Tulsa Tough again because of a phenomenal team effort, it was amazing,” said Huff, “it was amazing.”
Not only did Huff win the overall but his teammate Sean Mazich grabbed two podiums, a third and a second to finish second in the overall.
“It feels good,” said neo-pro Mazich about his second-place, “it was a little hectic I didn’t know if we’re held on to it or not. We all rode hard, it’s a hard race it just makes it more worthwhile.”
A welcome win for Huff after a slow start to the season. “I’m ecstatic.”
After Redlands Bicycle Classic, the 31-year old Huff did not participate in the Amgen Tour of California and came back to racing in May in regional races in Missouri and Iowa.
“It was a rough winter in Springfield and I got married,” smiled Huff, “I’m getting used to the whole change.”
Another challenge faced by the team was the heat and humidity with temperatures hovering in the high 90s.
“It’s impacted the race.“ said Missouri-resident Huff about the heat. “I’ve ridden in it every day and I’ve raced in it the last two weeks in a row and it’s really helped me a lot even though I noticed the fatigue due to the heat I was able to push through it.”
Control. With only four riders in the squad, Jeremy Powers, Will Dickeson, Mazich and Huff, the Jelly Bellies took control at key points in the races.
With fifteen laps to go, after all attacks had been caught in the first race of the series, the pancake-flat bunch-sprint friendly Blue Dome Crit, the boys came to the front in what many called a gamble. Not only did it seem too early to try and control the race with only four riders but the main sprinter, Huff, was seen taking pulls.
“I thought it was 15 minutes, okay we can do this.” smiled Huff. “It was a bit early, we had a lot of help from Hotel San Jose. That really helped out. Our team just showed that they’re really solid.”
“It was a little bit of a gamble but it worked out in the end. “ said Powers about the team taking over with 15 laps to go. “A couple of guys tried to attack but we kept it solid.”
It did work out. With help from Hotel San Jose squad who also wanted a bunch sprint, the team stayed at the front and took over solo once again with three laps to go, amping the pace every lap.
Chaos reigned in the final lap but Huff found a wheel on a different leadout train to cross the finish line first with Mazich taking third behind Chris DeMarchi (Amgen/Giant Masters).
The tactics changed a bit in the second race of the series, the Brady Village Crit, but the outcome was the same. Actually it was one better as Huff won the bunch sprint and Mazich held on for second ahead of Kyle Gritters (Williams Cycling p/b SC Velo).
Attacks flew once again and once again anything dangerous was shut down. With sixteen laps to go, Huff made his way into a promising break, giving some time to rest to his teammates back in the field. The break was caught with ten laps to go, and it was game on for the bunch sprint. This time, it was Hotel San Jose who took control at the front with fifteen laps to go, first to bring back the break and then to set up the sprint.
But with three to go, the Jelly Belly squad massed at the front to take control and they never let go. With one to go, Powers kicked in the gas to set up the final sprint. He dropped Mazich, the final leadout man, before the final corner and Mazich led Huff out for the win.
“Jeremy did an amazing job on that last lap taking it all the way up to the top of the hill and halfway down the hill. And Sean got second and he led me out to the corner and got second. Just great work all around.” said Huff.
Tactics in the third and final race of the series, the Riverview Criterium, were completely different. With a course conducive to breakaways, with its steel kicker nicknamed Cry Baby Hill, rollers after the climb and a swift descent before a final right-hand turn to the start/finish line straightaway.
For Huff and his team, it was all about watching the eight danger men that could take away the omnium lead, so they reeled in any dangerous move but the heat and hard racing was taking its toll on everyone in the race. No team seem to be able to take control at the front for the whole race.
“Everyone didn’t want to do an effort because of the heat and then if a group did an effort, that one guy was let it go and it would just be gone.” explained Huff. “I was just lucky that my teammates were so strong to be able to pull it back or another team would chase and bring it back, I commend my team they did all the work.”
With four laps to go, eventual winner Brian Jensen (Tradewind Energy/Trek Strores) initiated a break from which he took a solo flyer with two laps to go.
Not being a danger to the overall, the Jelly Belly squad was content to let Jensen and his breakmates up the road. The alarm bells did ring when one dangerous rider, Chad Cagle (Park Place) bridged up to the break and the pace amped up in the field to catch the riders up the road.
With omnium points going 25-deep, it was a mad dash to the line for the field. Huff and his teammates were in good position coming to the final corner but the lead out faltered and the team got swarmed.
Huff continued, “We weren’t able to get into position. Everyone goes nuts that last corner so we just played it safe.” Huff crossed the line in fourteenth place followed by Mazich. Enough to win the overall omnium.
It was about control and unity. “I think we’ve shown everybody that even though we only have four guys we’re really coming together as a collective unit and making it happen.” said Huff.
What’s next for the team? “Hopefully [bigger & better].” replied Huff.
Next races on the schedule are the Tour de Grove in St Louis and then Nature Valley Grand Prix.