What a stage at day 3 of the Joe Martin Stage Race. Every time you thought the race was decided, that the break would make it, that Francisco Mancebo (RealCyclist.com) had lost the yellow jersey, the deck would get re-shuffled and new cards would be played out.
The second time was the charm for Jay Thomson (BISSELL) who took the win from a late race break that escaped the splintered and hurting field; it was his second break of the 104 miles (167 km) stage. Alfredo Cruz (Chipotle Development) was second and Louis Crosby (Pure Black Racing) third.
No major changes to GC. Mancebo survived an onslaught of attacks that decimated his team to remain in the yellow jersey with one stage to go. He still holds a 7-second lead on Ben Jacques-Maynes and 9-second on Jeremy Vennell, both of BISSELL. Thomson took over the points lead while Crosby now leads the U23 classification.
Everyone knew that the stage would be aggressive today with a tight GC, twisty rolling roads conducive to a breakaway and boy did it happen. RealCyclist DS Gord Fraser called the best day of racing so far this year with no way to predict the outcome until the riders were about 100 meters from the finish line. Breaks that looked like almost a sure thing were reeled back, the yellow jersey looked in trouble but rallied, riders crashed and recovered to podium. Wow.
Attacks went immediately from the get-go with the riders racing on the 12-mile section to enter the 23-mile loop. The road started to climb and the field splintered. Riders went off the front while RealCyclist was in trouble, showing a chink in their armor for the first time this year. That first break attempt was brought back with every team wanting to be in the move but the damage was done for many riders shelled off the back. A few riders were also caught in a crash on the first lap, which included Cole House (RealCyclist) and James McCoy (Pure Black) who both pulled out. Crosby also went down but was able to get back into the field.
The second time up the climb, Mancebo put in an attack, counters and a break was off. This one looked promising and the gap went up, 1 minute, 2 minutes, all the way up to four minutes. The 12-rider break included Thomson and his teammate Paul Mach who was the highest on GC at 4 seconds down, Alex Howes (Chipotle), Darren Rolfe and two V Australia teammates, Taylor Gunman (Pure Black Racing), Marsh Cooper (Kelly Benefit-OptumHealth), Eric Schildge (Jamis/Sutter Home) and Cesar Grajales (RealCyclist).
It looked like the yellow jersey would change shoulders but then it re-shuffled again. Thomson crashed out of the break but was able to get back into the chase group. Cooperation in the break was not optimal and Hagens-Berman put in riders in the rotation to protect their 8th place on GC. At the end of the third lap, the gaps between the break, the chase group and the yellow jersey group were all coming down. And it was all together as the field tackled the leg-sapping climb for the fourth time. Once again, attacks flew and four riders were off, Teammates Howes and Cruz, Crosby and Thomson.
The four out their heads and pushed the pace with Howes putting in massive pulls. Once the break was established, lowest man on GC Thomson sat on a bit while behind the chase was on with BISSELL leading the charge to protect its GC spots. Thomson had scoped out the finish two days earlier and knew that he needed to open his sprint before seeing the finish line which he did and held on for the win.
In the end, the GC did not change and we get to do it again on Sunday. The final stage is the 85-minute criterium in downtown Fayetteville, on a technical 1.2-mile course with an uphill section leading to the start/finish line. Time bonuses at the finish line are 6, 4 and 2 seconds. Attacks will fly.
Jay Thomson (BISSELL Pro Cycling). “I think RealCyclist misjudged today. The guys came out of the block just hammering, we were pretty aggressive from the start. We had to put pressure on Mancebo, they’ve been riding incredible the last three months they haven’t put a foot wrong, you have to carry on trying, you know that they’re going to be able to pull it back together. Hats off to the them for pulling it back together at the end. But I’m on the moon, a win finally. It’s a pity it didn’t work out today that we couldn’t get Ben into yellow but I’m super happy with the stage win and hopefully I’m starting to pay BISSELL back for giving me a contract on the first of January.”
About his first break. “It went on the first climb, the guys just started attacking. RealCyclist were in sixths and sevenths at the back with only Mancebo and Grajales, he had to decide when he wanted to send somebody he could let off the front. They got together, rode really hard, they rallied. I said to our guys, when we hit the climb Mancebo is going to go, and true to my words, he went pretty hard on the second time up the climb. We managed to get guys back together and I went off the front again with Paul. Then I crashed off the sprint because of a guy taking me out, took a couple of layers of skin off but luckily Frank was coming pretty fast from behind, got in a group with him and recovered a bit.”
About his second break. “Went up the climb again, it started splitting again and over the top, I saw Alex Howes from Chipotle go and I thought ‘you know what, just keep on going, might as well, been in breaks all day, might as well keep on going.’ Rode across, we got to about one minute. I thought there’s a chance. Went out to a minute fifteen, then I knew we really had a good chance, though it was going to be super close at the end. I had a feeling it was going to stay and I just knew if it came to the end, I was going to beat them, the small little climbing guys, I was pretty happy with that.”
About his final sprint. “You don’t really see the line until about 200 to go. Actually me and Ben rode from the time trial, we rode through here just so we could see the finish, and I knew that you had to open the sprint up before you saw the line. I saw the chance, I kicked from the back of the little group with about 250, 300 to go.”
Alfredo Cruz (Chipotle Development Team). “We wanted to get a couple of guys in the breakaway. It was a pretty aggressive circuit, there was going to be a breakaway for sure. A couple of guys went, some of us, then we sat up but other teams wanted to have guys in the breakaway, they didn’t have them so a lot of attacks started to happen and we got even more guys to the front. It split into three groups, Mancebo didn’t get in the front. They tried to get a lot of guys working and eventually we caught them on the last lap just before the climb. More attacks of course started to happen, nobody was going.”
About the final break. “Finally saw a guy from Pure Black attack, I followed him then my teammate Alex Howes and another guy from BISSELL. We worked hard and we stayed away. We wanted the yellow jersey too but we needed 20 seconds on the field so we didn’t get them. We’ll try again.”
Louis Crosby (Pure Black Racing). “It was a really interesting day because early, maybe 45km in, a pretty solid looking break got away. It had all the teams in it so we were kind of thinking that was going to stay away for a lot of the day. It was quite interesting because another split went with about 10 guys and after that basically Mancebo’s team, RealCyclist got on the front, and started riding. We had a couple of guys up the road so we were pretty comfortable sitting in.”
About the final break. “The last lap, all the boys were sitting near the front, the break came back, we started firing one guy after the other off the front and eventually, I just timed it right, got across with a couple of Garmin and one BISSELL. Then we were just pretty much ride as hard as we could to the finish.”
About his result. “Very happy. The team did a great job today, we basically covered every move, we did everything we had to. Sadly it wasn’t a win, it was still a good result at the end of the day.”
Gord Fraser, DS (RealCyclist.com). “It was a very aggressive stage. Finally a break went that we couldn’t contain, it’s been a testament to our guys this Spring, we’ve done a very good job in getting breaks that we like, unfortunately we had Cesar up there, it was kind of a paper dragon. We were doing okay and then Cole crashed and took a lot of our horsepower of our chase, we were down a guy. This is a hard circuit to chase on, there are a lot of places where you pay a big price to work, we were looking for all kinds of help out there today. I think the biggest thing that happened to us was a team like Hagens-Berman, they have a guy in fifth overall and it took a long time and once the dust kind of settled, basically we were very vulnerable, the race was slipping through our grasp, they were losing a fifth place which for them is a great result. So it was really good to see them offer help, I didn’t really ask, they really helped us weld everything together into the last lap. It was crazy. ”
About the final break. “When everything came back together, it was a whole new race. We had a break at the end, two Chipotle, one Pure Black, 35 seconds on GC, BISSELL, it’s not quite the right guy for them in terms of the GC. They’re not improving their GC, they’re obviously going to have a good shot to win the stage with Jay, even though he was in the beak all day, he’s still such an animal, I’m so impressed with the way he rides, really hats off to him. He even crashed out of the break at one point so to see him rally, that was pretty impressive.”
About the aggressive racing. “Just real knock’em, sock’em stage. It’s too bad the general public couldn’t witness that because that was US racing at probably one of its best stages this year. We made it, another day.”
Top 10 Stage 3 Results
1. Jay Thomson (BISSELL Pro Cycling) 4:00:54
2. Alfredo Cruz (Chipotle Development Team)
3. Louis Crosby (Pure Black Racing) 0:02
4. Alex Howes (Chipotle Development Team) 0:04
5. Michael Northey (Pure Black Racing) 0:09
6. Aaron Kemps (V Australia)
7. Kyle Wamsley (BISSELL Pro Cycling)
8. Anibal Borrajo (James/Sutter Home)
9. Roman Van Uden (Pure Black Racing)
10. Danny Summerhill (Chipotle Development Team)
Top 10 GC After Stage 3
1. Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com Pro Cycling Team) 8:21:49
2. Ben Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL Pro Cycling) 0:07
3. Jeremy Vennell (BISSELL Pro Cycling) 0:09
4. Paul Mach (BISSELL Pro Cycling) 0:10
5. Roman Van Uden (Pure Black Racing) 0:12
6. Cesar Grajales (Realcyclist.com Pro Cycling Team) 0:23
7. Frank Pipp (BISSELL Pro Cycling) s.t.
8. Louis Crosby (Pure Black Racing) 0:24
9. Christophe Parrish (Hagens Berman Cycling) 0:26
10. Michael Northey (Pure Black Racing) 0:29