The official start of the NRC is here, and every team is sending its A squad to the 27th edition of the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Lots of changes in the domestic field this year which, I think, will make the racing even more exciting. It will be the first time this year, that all the top squads meet and compete and the Redlands course is a great place to do it, it offers up a tough uphill prologue, two road races and a crit. (See cheat sheet for details).
The two favorites going into the race have to be the San Dimas Stage Race winners, Ben Day (Kenda/5-Hour Energy) and Amber Neben (HTC-High Road). Both won the opening time trial last weekend and with the help of their team successfully defended their yellow jersey. And both have won at Redlands in the past, Day, once in 2010, and Neben, twice in 2006 and 2007. But both have also lost the yellow gained at the prologue, when their lead was eaten away by the numerous time bonuses over the tough stages.
Neben has a strong team behind her and will be a tough cookie to crack. And if she does crack, the team has a strong fallback with Amanda Miller. Strong contenders for overall GC include 2010 NRC individual winner Cath Cheatley (Colavita Forno d’Asolo), Alison Powers and Carmen Small (TIBCO/To The Top), Olympic Gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12). A favorite for the prologue is Mara Abbott who will be guest-riding for the SC Velo – Empower Coaching team.
Many teams will be focusing on stage wins with their breakaway artists and sprinters such as Rouse Bicycles, Vanderkitten-Focus, Primal/MapMyRide and Webcor Alto/Velo. (See women’s startlist)
The field is packed to the gills, literally with 207 men on the start list, and includes very strong GC contenders and past winners. After spending most of last year recovering from knee surgery, 2007 winner then with Jelly Belly, Andy Bajadali is hoping that the form is back. Maybe this is the year for BISSELL’s Ben Jacques-Maynes who has come close many times and finished second last year. Other contenders include 2010 NRC winner Luis Amaran and his Jamis/Sutter Home teammate Tyler Wren who had a great San Dimas finishing 3rd overall; Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com), Sergio Hernandez (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), Matt Cooke (Exergy) who just finished 2nd at San Dimas and Carter Jones (Trek-Livestrong).
There is another previous winner on the start list, 1988 winner Alexi Grewal who will be guest-riding with the Swamis Development squad. (See men’s startlist)
Along with the yellow jersey, at play are also the red KOM/QOM jersey, the green Sprint jersey and the overall team classification.
The stages. The 4-day stage race starts with the the 3.1 mile (5km) uphill prologue with 207 meter (680’) total vertical ascent. The fastest times in 2010 were Neben (Dare to Be-BMW Bianchi) with 10:56 and Day (Fly V Australia) with 9:16.
Friday April 1st, though it’s not April Fool’s joke, is the Beaumont Circuit Race where winds have played havoc in the past. Slightly modified from last year, the riders face a 24.1 mile (38.8km) circuit. The women do 3 laps for 72.3 miles (116.3 km) total and the men 5 laps for 120.5 miles (193.2 km). It was on this stage that eventual overall winner Jeff Louder (BMC) took over the lead – from Day – with time bonuses from an intermediate sprint and the stage win.
Saturday is the traditional City of Redlands Criterium, 60-minute for the women, 90-minute for the men on a 1.0 mile, flat, highly technical, tight 9 turn course.
And the race concludes with the iconic Beaver Medical Group Sunset Road Race which includes the Sunset loop, a 6.5 miles (10.5 km) affair with considerable climbing, especially during the first 2.6 miles (4.2 km). It is possible again to lose the jersey on this stage due to time bonuses; it happened in 2009 when Ina Teutenberg won by 1 second over Neben and in 2008 when Alex Wrubleski nibbled away at the lead of Abbott via the intermediate sprints to win the overall.
No lead is safe at Redlands. In the past 10 years, the odds of successfully defending the jersey won in the prologue is 50%.