The already heated duel for the overall win between Kenda/5-Hour Energy and Team Exergy kicked up a notch into explosive territory on the final day of the Sea Otter Classic men’s stage race when yellow jersey Andy Jacques-Maynes (Kenda/5-Hour Energy) suffered a flat. After a wheel change, he found himself with three teammates at one minute behind the field led by Exergy working for Morgan Schmitt.
For the next six laps, the yellow jersey gave chase to try to get back on. Tempers flared and heated words were exchanged during the race when the catch was made.
“High drama day, a couple of highs and lows in there.” acknowledged Jacques-Maynes a few minutes after crossing the finish line pumping his fist to celebrate his overall win.
By the time of the podium ceremony, heads had cooled down for the most part but it will be very interesting to see what happens when the teams go head to head again this year. As we’ve seen before and as was proven in this race, memories are long.
Did Exergy push the pace while they GC leader had fallen back from a mechanical? Or were they only keeping the pace high to control attacks off the front from other teams? What exactly happened?
Realistically only three men had a chance at winning the overall before the start of the circuit race on Sunday. Jacques-Maynes, Schmitt at 15 seconds down and the outsider, Schmitt’s teammate Matt Cooke at one minute and 32 seconds down. For all the other teams, the focus was on the stage win.
Team Exergy launched attacks early on the climb followed by the corkscrew on the Laguna Seca course.
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“Morgan started lighting it up early. And I was like, um he wants to go, start to finish and that plays in my favor because I think I’m a little bit stronger than him for endurance. That’s his tactics, okay, he’s not going to wear me down, he’s not going to wear my team down so that’s cool.” said Jacques-Maynes.
Through Jacques-Maynes closed down one or two attacks himself, he says that he was never under pressure. “They were trying to send Cookie and then Morgan would bridge up to him. It was pretty obvious. I’m going to let Cookie go, I have a minute and a half on him anyway. At one point, I even called them on it.”
For Schmitt, the team tactics were to try and use Cooke to get the overall win. “We thought maybe we could distract Andy with me and then Cookie could get up the road maybe with another teammate, drive the break and get the gap passed a 1:30 and take the jersey that way. That was one scenario because this Andy’s bread and butter this course, power climb, he’s riding well so honestly for me to get time on him on this stage is a tall order. Basically our other option was to get Matt into the jersey.”
Then, the flat with more than 13 laps to go. Jacques-Maynes put his hand up on the climb while Cooke was bridging up to a break of four riders that included his teammate Sam Johnson.
No panic from Jacques-Maynes who waved on a teammate that stopped to help him. “He wanted to give me a wheel but the car was pulling up. We’d even discussed what would happen if I flatted, I was like everybody just keep going, the field will wait, I’ll get back on, it will be fine.”
“This time the field didn’t wait, I’ve been racing 20 years and this is the first time that the attacks and the teams have been riding when the yellow jersey is off the back. I was pretty surprised and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about it.” Jacques-Maynes said.
Exergy was working on controlling the attacks flying at the front, while Jacques-Maynes was getting a new wheel from neutral service.
Schmitt commented that his team did not push the pace initially, but then they had to follow direction. “Guys were attacking, we were following moves and then, right from there our director Tad gave us orders to ride.”
Team Exergy DS Tad Hamilton was making the call from the side of the track on the KOM climb. “Andy put up his hand and I told him (Cooke) to keep riding. On the backside of the lap, it came together, I told them to keep riding based on what happened to us last month in California. Two weeks in a row, it cost Morgan podium spots in San Dimas and Redlands.”
“Flat tires, bad timing of flat tires.” replied Hamilton when asked what happened to Schmitt. “Once when he was virtually yellow at San Dimas. He had a 20-second time penalty, we lost the race by 19 seconds. Because the neutral car passed him on the downhill and he followed it back in. He lost San Dimas because of a penalty which was unwarranted. And then the next week at Redlands, on the terrible rain day, we trimmed it down to seven people, and he was second place on the road, six seconds back with a ten second bonus on offer, he flatted coming into the finish circuit at Redlands Sunset race and never got a chance to contest. If he had won that day, he would have won the overall as well and no one was waiting for Morgan.”
So Team Exergy lined up at the front and the gap quickly went up to one minute and then held at one minute 30 seconds.
Behind, three teammates, Jim Stemper, Max Korus and Roman Kilun dropped back to help Jacques-Maynes. “They were just studs.” said Jacques-Maynes. “The gap is a minute, a minute and a half, we might be in trouble. We were only going to get back if the field decided to let us back, it’s not three guys is going to chase down fifty.”
A few laps later, the final rider of the team, Nate English sat up from the main field to wait for the chase group after Kilun fell off the pace. Kilun was feeling the aftermath of his crash on the second stage.
Jacques-Maynes continued, “So, eventually, somebody was like yeah this is dumb, we don’t want to win this way and they finally slowed down and we got back up. We even sent Nate back because Roman was hurting from his crash so we need a third guy so we sent Nate back. Honestly I didn’t take a single pull. If we have been riding on the front setting tempo, I would have been working just as hard. It was really a simple ride for me and my guys just killed it, good on them, I’m so proud of them.”
With six laps to go, Jacques-Maynes, English and Stemper were back in the field. Some more heated words were exchanged and then the reset button was pushed.
“After Andy eventually got back on, we had some words, try to get us all on the same page.” Schmitt commented. “After that there was a break of six and Cookie tagged onto it so it was a good setup for us. Unfortunately it didn’t go.”
Cooke, once again, went into a move that the field never really let go. “So with three to go, it’s 25 seconds on the hill, I can potentially jump to that but then the next time around, I think Cookie attacked just after the feedzone and it kind of blew to bits after that. I was looking to jump across that lap because it was getting close. I attacked and then it was just me, Matt, Andy was just off and getting back on so I was like, well this isn’t good.” Schmitt explained.
“The last few times up the hill, Morgan really went for it and I was expecting that. I knew that it was coming so I responded.: Jacques-Maynes said,
When it was obvious that the move wouldn’t go, Team Exergy focused on their sprinter Logan Loader but eventual stage winner James Wingert (Mike’s Bikes) surprised everyone with a solo flyer with 2 kilometers to go.
“Coming into the finish, Exergy lined it up, they had a guy on Morgan’s wheel, I banged him off the wheel so I had Morgan’s wheel coming into the finish and I got around him before the line. Good on the Mike’s Bikes guy for winning, that was just so cool.” Jacques-Maynes smiled.
Jacques-Maynes said that he owed the win to his team. “Kenda/5Hr Energy has really shown that they are just so strong and happy to be able to finish it off for them because they worked so damn hard and if I hadn’t won, I couldn’t even look at their faces, I owed it to them.”
The Kenda/5Hour Energy has been hot, winning a lot early in the season, but are they too hot? “We’ll take it.” replied Jacques-Maynes who also won the overall at the San Dimas Stage Race.
He continued, “I still feel that I still have a little bit more. In the TT, I wasn’t super tip top. I feel that I can still improve a little bit so I feel that I’m right where I want to be especially going into the next weekends of NRC stage races. Joe Martin and then Gila. This is just the opener for the month of racing, doing a whole grand tour right now.” he laughed. One race however that is not on their schedule is the Amgen Tour of California.
As for Schmitt, he was also looking forwards to future races which do included the UCI race in California. “I’m excited to see what happens the next two weeks, and then obviously California. Joe Martin, Gila and the California, a good little block.”