KABOOM. Chinks, small chinks but chinks none the less, were seen in the UnitedHealthcare armor on Friday evening and the other teams were ready to take advantage of them in Friday’s Menomonie Road Race, stage 5 at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The Kelly Benefit Strategie-Optumhealth team made it an all or nothing stage and it paid off for them, hoisting Jesse Anthony into yellow after an amazing stage.
Riders were chomping at the bit during the short neutral section of the 100-mile stage, waiting to pounce, moving up on the side to always stay at the front. The first attack was launched by BISSELL as soon as the whistle was blown and the rollers started. The whole stage was up and down, with four KOH climbs and a lot more uncategorized.
None stop attacking at the beginning with BISSELL, Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, KBS-Optumhealth, Exergy and more all trying to go before the first KOH, 12 miles into the race. And it worked, a move with Kyle Wamsley (BISSELL), Sergio Hernandez (Jelly Belly), Logan Hutchings (ELBOWZ), Matt Cooke (Exergy) and Luis Amaran (Jamis/Sutter Home) had a gap of 50 seconds by the first KOM won by Wamsley in a duel with Hutchings. The two would continue to battle it out for the KOH points for the next two opportunities.
The five rolled through the first intermediate point sprint with Cooke, Hernandez and Hutchings taking points as the gap was now 1:50 to the field. The five continued to rotate with Wamsley showing some difficulties on some of the harder rollers but he always clawed his way back. The gap was over two minutes as they approached the next KOH climb. Once again, Wamsley took top points, edging out Hutchings and Amaran was third.
Behind them in the field, KBS put the hammer down on the steep climb. After working very hard for three stages, two of them criteriums, the crit specialists on the UHC squad could simply not respond to the massive accelerations on the climbs. The field exploded as the green team launched Anthony and two teammates Andy Bajadali and Marsh Cooper. Joining them in a chase group were Chris Baldwin, Andy Jacques-Maynes and Frank Pipp of BISSELL, Andres Diaz and Freddie Rodriguez of Exergy, Heath Blackgrove and Joseph Schmalz of ELBOWZ, Brad Cole of Mercy, Chad Haga of Rio Grande, Tyler Wren of Jamis/Sutter Home and Rory Sutherland of UnitedHealthcare.
UHC had not given up and the gap was going the other way, down to one minute by the time the chase group connected with the break just before the third KOH at mile 44. After battling to take top points, Wamsley popped and dropped out of the break while Tom Zirbel (Jamis/Sutter Home) bridged up solo.
It became a numbers game as the break powered away with Sutherland sitting on in the back, looking over his shoulders to see if his teammates were in view. The extra fire-power in the break pushed the gap back up, one minute, two minutes. Cole was the next one in the break to drop back with the high tempo set at the front while both Cooper and Zirbel had mechanicals. Amaran dropped back to pace Zirbel back in while Cooper yo-yoed off the back, hanging on as he could but would eventually fade back.
But it wasn’t over yet as another chase group was coming, with Reid Mumford (KBS-Optumhealth), Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly), Jamey Driscoll (Jamis/Sutter Home) and Jay Thomson (BISSELL). The chase group connected just before a dirt road section as they sped back towards town with the gap holding below two minutes.
But the organization in the field stopped, there was no one left with the engine to chase such a big group down and by the second feedzone, at mile 72, the gap was almost five minutes back. The plan had worked and now it was time to start thinking about stage victory and yellow jersey for the teams in the break.
With 30 miles to go, and 8 miles to the four finishing circuits, the attacks at the front started and the big group broke apart. Shuffling and re-shuffling led to seven riders breaking away. Thomson, Rodriguez, Anthony, Hutchings, Blackgrove, Van Ulden and Amaran were off with Diaz joining them before they entered the circuit. (Note that Diaz & Rodriguez were both penalized by 20 seconds for drafting behind team cars.)
The eight riders entered the circuits with over a minute on the next group, making Anthony the virtual leader on the road. But with time bonus seconds of 12, 8 and 6 at the finish line, stage placings were also important. The games were on. Anthony was at the front pushing the pace with two laps to go.
With one to go, Van Ulden launched his first attack, quickly covered by Amaran. But Van Ulden wasn’t done, he counter-attacked when Amaran sat up on the backside and was able to stay away for the sweet win. Anthony edged out Thomson for second.
After the dust has settled, Anthony had a 12-second lead on Van Ulden, 37-second on Diaz and 40-second on Amaran. Sutherland had dropped down to 11th at 5:33 down. But there is still one stage left, the tough Stillwater criterium, the toughest crit in the USA. Last year, the KBS squad lost the overall lead on this stage in a final lap attack up the tough Chilkoot Hill, the infamous 20 percent grade wall. The men race at 1:30pm CT.
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Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda). “That’s the thing that always happens, you see that at the Tour of California, Tour of Missouri, it’s the standard example, it’s such a cookie cutter race, the ProTour teams let a break go off, they roll it out, they roll it back and field sprint. Well clearly we haven’t been able to break the UnitedHealthcare sprint train so we have to try something else. That’s what you do, you let the break roll off, the team has to start riding and as soon as you start to see them, halfway through the race you know that they are going to start feeling it, start hitting him again and that’s exactly what happened. Kelly was the one that put in that big move, and forced a big split that a lot of guys, including Rory went across to and I went across on another little roller.”
About the big group of 20 breaking up. “Again you have a lot of guys, including myself, sitting on there because I was hurting even on the bridge across. (laughs) But a lot of teams had multiple riders driving it and some guys were driving it hard, we were doing 50, 55 k an hour once, and I was thinking ‘this is great’ but numbers. You don’t want to take Rory to the circuits, he’s strong enough where he can start fielding moves. It was the first or second attack and Rory knows he can’t follow all the attacks because then it’s really going to start one-two’ing him. Second or third attack, a couple of guys gave it a go and I went with him and real quick we got representation from all the teams that had multiple riders and that’s it, that’s going to roll.”
About the finishing circuits. “As soon as you’re in the break you see that Rory is by himself but from there, you still have other guys to contend. Jesse Anthony from Kelly Benefits is riding really well, of course the Jamis/Sutter Home guys are always riding well, BISSELL had a couple of guys in there so you just had to try to play your numbers and race aggressively and see what happens. Coming into the circuits here, I was dying a thousand deaths, I started cramping and I knew I didn’t have the legs to go against the sprinters so I figured my best chance was going to be either keep it together and try not to lose time because I was relatively high up there on GC, or to try to get off the front. Once I did the first time, I thought oh this is great, basically almost got reeled back in, I gave it a go again and that was the final gap that got me off.”
Long time coming. “Since my last pro win, not a local crit, the last pro win would have been in 2008 in the Atlanta US100K, it’s been awhile. So many of the races always come down to sprint, if we can have more 20-km TT’s, that would be great. ”
About his win. “Without my sponsors none of this would be possible. The final lap, I died a thousand deaths but held on, the last corner I think I was going full lactate but held on for it and got the win. I’m very happy. ”
Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth). “We had a bunch of teams attack on that second KOH, about 60 kilometers in, and Mike Creed set it up, he went first and then Andy Bajadali took over, we had the whole team up there. And then over the top, Jason Donald just took a massive, massive pull and I was on his wheel just absolutely dying but he really created the separation in that group. And from there, we had a solid group and a bunch of teams with interest in keeping it away. Bissell was riding, Jamis was working, my team was working, It was still a long way to go, you never know what can happen. Initially we had to drive it really hard, get the gap open. And then once that opened, we got towards the end of the race. We had to start to look for places to attack on a couple of these little rollers, and I was able to get away on them. From there, the last couple of laps were really hectic, especially for I was leader on the road but there are other guys that are right there on GC. I couldn’t just pull and give them the time bonus at the end, so I had to watch a couple of guys, and that’s why Van Ulden went away. He rode a great race, he did exactly what he needed to do, put himself in the right position, that was a really smart move from him. And he just dug in so hard, I was just trying to keep him in check, I didn’t mind maybe letting one of the other teams win the stage, if they weren’t close on the GC but with the time bonuses, it makes it a really interesting race. It was definitely a battle out there at the end, I was really hurting but thankfully it worked out and I had the legs to keep it together a little bit in that group.”
About wearing the yellow jersey. “I don’t think it’s settled in yet. We’re really, really happy to have the lead in this race especially with OptumHealth, one of our title sponsors here, and the whole Kelly Benefit Strategies-Optumhealth team has been working so hard all year and we’ve been racing really well. We’ve been racing aggressively and it’s awesome to finally see it pay off. This is a team effort, I wish all my teammates could wear the yellow jersey with me, we all worked for it equally. ”
About Stillwater. “It’s going to be an amazing race, that’s all I can say. That course just explodes the race, it’s hard the whole time and hopefully I have the legs and all the guys are ready to do their best. We’ve been working on this for the whole year, we’ll go out there and see what we do.”
Jonas Carney, DS of Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth. “We went on the second KOM of the day but the first big one, we went all in, everyone one hundred percent and that was our goal, to cause a big split. We pretty much knew Rory would follow it and we would get rid of most of the rest of his team. That was really our goal, to cause a big split and then drive it. As soon as we hit about 1 km to go on that climb, everyone on my team went, we started the fireworks. We had, obviously, Bissell, Jamis guys, etc follow suit.”
About defending on Stillwater. “We defended last year and then Rory jumped us at the end and he won on the last lap. Obviously, we can probably defend as well for Jesse and we always risk that something like that would happen at the end. But, I think that we’ve done it once and we know how to do it, we’ll talk strategy tonight. Obviously if Van Ulden is incredibly strong tomorrow, or Diaz is incredible tomorrow, Jesse will have to go with them when they go but I feel like if Jesse has a good day, if he rides anything like he rode today – he was amazing today – I think if he can have a solid race tomorrow, I think he can control those guys. ”
Top 10 Stage 5 Results (Complete Results)
1. Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) 3.49’43″
2. Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) 2″
3. Jay Thomson (Bissell Pro Cycling) 2″
4. Andres Diaz Corrales (Team Exergy) 4″
5. Luis Romero Amaran (Jamis Sutter Home) 4″
6. Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz Racing) 7″
7. Freddie Rodriguez (Team Exergy) 15″
8. K Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) 2’38″
9. Reid Mumford (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) 2’45″
10. Jamey Driscoll (Jamis Sutter Home) 2’45″
Top 10 GC After Stage 5
1. Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) 8.46’41″
2. Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) 12″
3. Andres Diaz Corrales (Team Exergy) 37″
4. Luis Romero Amaran (Jamis Sutter Home) 40″
5. Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz Racing) 1’22″
6. Freddie Rodriguez (Team Exergy) 1’49″
7. K Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) 2’45″
8. Reid Mumford (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) 3’10″
9. Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) 3’15″
10. Jamey Driscoll (Jamis Sutter Home) 4’01″