What would you do if you found yourself in a 22-rider break that also included one teammate and four riders from the Garmin-Sharp team and a few more from other WorldTour teams? Would you work? When to work and how much to work are part of tactics 101 while in a breakaway.
Mike Creed and Andy Bajadali of the Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team found themselves in that exact position on stage 1 of the USA Pro Challenge.
“We were both rolling through, we wanted the group to go but obviously I’m going to pull as fast as the slowest guy is going to pull. And if everybody is fully committed then I’m fully committed.” Creed told podiuminsight.
The plan for his Continental team going into the race was to be aggressive and look for opportunities. “There was no grand master plan, we figured that there was going to be a bunch kick like today but we wanted to chase points where we could because realistically we don’t have somebody that’s going to finish top 10.”
“The start was insanely aggressive.” Creed explained. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) who calls Durango his hometown was ready for the uncategorized climb which started off the 202-km stage.
“Danielson did some peacocking and wanted to lead through Durango in front and that’s what he did. A group of three Garmin guys just went and then it was a little bit of a race after that. I got in a group of eight that picked another group along the route and eventually we all came together at 25 km into the stage. We had been just rolling the entire time.”
The break included Danielson and three teammates, two riders each from Liquigas-Cannondale, BMC, EPM-UNE and Exergy, and solo riders from Bissell, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Bontrager-Livestrong and Radioshack-Nissan, Astana and RusVelo along with Creed and Bajadali.
With four strong riders in the move, the onus was on Garmin-Sharp to keep it going. “Sometimes you almost shoot yourself in the foot by stacking the break because then the whole breakaway looks at you. I remember one year at Philly, I think Healthnet put six guys in the early move and there was 25 guys and it totally worked against them because nobody took a single pull. Just sat behind Healthnet the whole time, and waited for them to get tired and then attacked them on the climb.”
Creed and Bajadali did pull through in the rotation. “We weren’t going to work any harder than anybody else was. We’re underdogs and we want the break to work but when you have four Garmin in there, it’s definitely their responsibility to keep things rolling. It was just too bad that in the break there were some guys that felt that could sit on with 100 miles to go, that’s ultimately what caused the break to split because people got tired of other people sitting on.”
With still 92 km to go, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) had enough and split the front group, taking Danielson with him. Soon the duo was joined by eight others which did not include Creed.
“There was an attack and I had Baj up there so I just sat on those guys because it was just their tough luck.” Creed laughed.
“I understand sitting on and eventually I probably would have sat on for a bit before the climb because obviously Danielson is a good climber and he’s probably drop me normally so you’d want to sit on 10 miles before the climb with him, but you want to hit the bottom of the climb with the biggest gap that you can and some people don’t always understand that.”
First Creed, then Bajadali were caught on the first KOM up Lizard Head Pass leaving only two riders off the front who were ultimately reeled with less than 5 km to go.
Back in the field, Creed started working for his teammate Alex Candelario, the sprinter on the squad.
“There were some really hard sections and I was already kind of tired, we got to the top of the first KOM and there were some crosswinds.” Creed said. “Now you’re already on the limit and now you don’t get to draft because you’re setting up for Cando so you’re really pissed at the crosswinds.”
The sprinters’ teams jockeyed for position at the front of the field. With one kilometer to go, the Optum p/b KBS train made his way to the front but they were swarmed and lost control. “We didn’t really know that that hill was in there, the 120 meter hill and we were just a couple men down and it didn’t really work out.”
For awhile, many thought that the break could make it to the finish, causing many of the major GC contenders to lose out. It’s happened before at the Tour of Missouri and the Tour de Georgia.
“If we all would have fully committed for 20 or 30 km to ride as fast as we could, and blew it out to eight minutes I bet you we could have gotten the pack to just give up. It’s happened at Georgia and Missouri, it’s happened at a lot of early season races and late season races, some people are motivated, some people aren’t.” Creed said.
There is a lot more racing to be had in Colorado, six more stages to be precise. Creed said that he didn’t know what would happen next but did add, “I think BMC will probably be a little bit more on guard after having , I imagine the breakaway being much more status quo, much more of a plain Jane breakaway.”