It was a heated battle at the Joe Martin Stage Race, and this time the BISSELL came out on top. They finally won the overall at an NRC stage race, it’s been a long time coming.
For DS Omer Kem, the win meant “the world.” He added, “We finally figured out how to win, that was it. It took some trial and error, I have no regrets. “
One of the most aggressive race this year, so far, Joe Martin was non-stop attacking from the field with BISSELL throwing in major fireworks, to put yellow jersey Francisco Mancebo and his RealCyclist.com team under pressure. And it worked, when a break was able to get away in the final 10 laps of the final stage. A move that included two BISSELL riders, Frank Pipp and Jeremy Vennell.
“To see guys like Frank and Jeremy be able to go up there and basically fight it out amongst each other for the overall and more importantly for us, for our goals for the overall season.” Kem continued.
In the end, Pipp won the overall with Vennell taking second.
“It was a team effort because we have five of us that were sitting pretty high overall, we just kept attacking until finally, we broke RealCyclist. It took us three days but finally, it’s been awesome to finally do it, to finally do it is really, really great.” Vennell said after the race.
So what does it take to win? “It takes eight amazing guys, bottom line.”replied Kem. “They all don’t care who wins and that’s the mentality I wanted to build in the program from the end of last season coming into this. I wanted them all to be able to sacrifice for each other, it’s the only way. The rest will figure itself out.”
The team came close earlier this year at the Redlands Bicycle Classic in another duel with RealCyclist.com and came up short by a slim one second. And in the process, the risked and lost top GC results for some of the riders.
After stage 1, the standings looked quite similar to Redlands; Mancebo on top and four BISSELL riders in the top 10. The goal for BISSELL remained the same, winning the overall, but the approach for the team was different than Redlands.
“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. 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.” BISSELL’s Ben Jacques-Maynes said after finishing a close second to Mancebo at the time trial, stage 1 of Joe Martin.
Some in the field grumbled about the BISSELL tactics, but it worked.
Attacks flew on the second stage but the fireworks really exploded on stage 3, what some called the best day of racing so far this year and others simply called it crazy. A stage that included 4 times around a 23-mile twisty, rolling loop and a wall to climb every lap. A 12-rider that looked promising went up the road and got a 4-minute gap and it looked like a done deal. But cooperation was not great in the break with a couple of riders sitting on and yells were heard. Some of the guys starting to play games included the BISSELL riders in the break, Jay Thomson and Paul Mach. If the break had made it, it would have put Mach in the yellow leader’s jersey but it would also have helped other riders in the break jumped ahead on GC, including RealCyclist’s Cesar Grajales, covering the break.
“I started the games a bit early because we had guys sitting on. Everybody wants to beat Mancebo but I’m not going to be your chariot to win the golden fleece. When guys just sitting on, they don’t want to roll through anymore, you have to think, are we going to sacrifice having second, third, fourth and fifth so we can take Paul into yellow but then take five other guys with us to jump everybody else.” Thomson explained after the stage.
That break was caught on the next lap by a massive pull from Mancebo but a counter-move went and this one stuck. Thomson sprinted for the win with the field, led by his teammates, closing in behind in order to keep their riders high on GC.
“We had eight guys at the front, we were driving it, we timed it perfectly with chasing Jay down. It went to a minute 50 at 10 miles to go and we chased it down, timed it perfectly ten seconds at the line, we wanted Jay to win but we had to protect things for today, keep things status quo.” Pipp said about stage 3.
The attacks continued on the final stage which Mancebo was often forced to chase down by himself. The break that could not be brought back was off with about 7 laps to go in the tough 85-minute criterium. Who would take the overall?
With two laps to go, Pipp attacked and was joined by only one rider out of the break.
“Once I saw the gap open on Jeremy I just drove it because I thought, ‘here’s my chance at glory.’” laughed Pipp.
Vennell smiled, “I hung my head in shame.”
Pipp continued, chuckling, “And then when I crossed the line, I looked back and I saw Jeremy sprinting for all his worth.”
In the end, BISSELL won the overall and kept four of their riders in the top 10 for those all important NRC points.
“I want to win races all year but the team NRC is important because we also want to be known as the best team. Again, all year there was one guy that was wrecking our world but we want to be the best team and I think we are the best team.” Kem said.
It’s been quite an interesting season so far and there are still lots of NRC races to come, Kem and his team are ready for it.
“We’ve been racing the same way, it doesn’t matter who’s there we have to race the same way. I have a lot of cards to play.” Kem concluded.