The duel is on once again at the Joe Martin Stage Race between RealCyclist.com and the BISSELL Pro Cycling team. After the opening time trial, RealCyclist’s Francisco Mancebo is in the lead with BISSELL’s Ben Jacques-Maynes at three seconds down. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
It’s happened before this year. At the NRC opener, the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Mancebo won the prologue with a one-second lead on Jacques-Maynes. The two riders and their teams battled it out for the next four stages where BISSELL threw it all on the line risking not just Jacques-Maynes’ GC placing but his teammates’ overall results. RealCyclist survived all assaults, up to losing the lead virtually for most of the final stage to take the overall win – with a one-second lead. Jacques-Maynes was “gutted” at the end.
Fast forwards to now in Arkansas where we have a three-second gap and lots of BISSELL riders in the top 10. Looking back at Redlands, Jacques-Maynes said he won’t change how he approaches this race but it might change the team’s approach.
“I don’t think we need to sell out everyone’s top 10 position, we’ve got 5 guys in the top 11, I don’t think we need to give those up in order to win.” Jacques-Maynes said. “I think the way that we’re going to try to win the race is going to be pretty different but the overall goal will still be to win while maintaining those other GC places, I don’t think we need to give up anything in order to achieve that.”
The next two stages, road stages, including rolling terrain and turns where riders up the road can disappear from view and he’s hoping to take advantage of it.
“I think that the courses here are a bit more conducive to take the lead off a team with punchy rollers and constantly turning roads, and especially with that criterium in Sunday, there’s possibility of doing it in one huge fell swoop as opposed to a team effort like we did on Sunset Loop at Redlands.”
The upcoming three stages also have time bonuses at the finish, but contrary to Redlands no intermediate time bonus. The way to win the GC is to either take a break to the finish and/or get those time bonus seconds while making sure your opponent doesn’t.
Even though it’s a smaller field than previous years, the teams present brought their fast guys who will be going for those stage wins and those precious bonus seconds.
Strategy time for Jacques-Maynes. “It just takes two or three of those guys to take the bonuses away from me, and take it all on my hands for the finishes. I think maybe making the race play out so we don’t go to the finish with a bit bunch of sprinters or Mancebo might be more conducive as a way to take over the jersey. The road race that we’re doing Friday, it’s definitely possible to break apart the race on those rolling undulating roads, you might see something.”
Looking at the top 10 after the time trial, the only other team that seems to be in possible contention for the overall is the Kiwi team, Pure Back Racing with Roman Van Uden sitting in fifth at 14 seconds down. Van Uden is a fast finisher and Jacques-Maynes will be keeping an eye on him.
All the other teams are going for the stage wins. “Their best way to do that is either out of a breakaway which works for us rather than a big massive field sprint which may not work for us.”
But then, BISSELL also brought its fast men. “In terms of winning GC, time a field sprint doesn’t do those but we definitely have our sprint crew here and between Paddy [Bevin], Frank [Pipp], Kyle [Wamsley], Jay [Thomson], Andy [Jacques-Maynes] and myself, we have a good leadout train and any of those guys can win so we can play our odds. We’re not going to hesitate if it does come back together to take over the front and do another leadout like we did at Gila.”
With 3km to go, the BISSELL team took over the front and delivered a flawless leadout capped by Frank Pipp‘s win at stage 2 of the SRAM Tour of the Gila.
The team is looking forwards to the hard racing this weekend, to try and get the win and to cap their preparation for the upcoming Amgen Tour of California.
Jacques-Maynes is not concerned about digging too deep this weekend in the fight for the yellow jersey. “All the guys here are super fit, super strong, honestly we’re here to race as hard as we can and then have a little bit of recovery for that final kick into California form. I could race full gas every day here and it would probably help me at California, I’m looking forwards to that, hoping for hard racing this weekend.”
The most important thing with California is to keep the riders safe. Last year, an on-form Kyle Wamsley went down hard on a sketchy corner in the crit and was out of the California race. That corner is out for this year’s crit.
“We just want to make sure that everyone stays upright, has a safe race but we want to race hard, pedal hard and that’s what we’re here to do.” Jacques-Maynes concluded. “Obviously it’s our job but we’re extra motivated to do that final sealing the deal for Tour of California and have a good ride here as well.”
The BISSELL team has more than one card to play with three riders total, Jacques-Maynes, Jeremy Vennell and Paul Mach at less than 20 seconds from leader Mancebo. Fans should be treated to a great duel to watch once again.