Not only did Janier Acevedo outclimb everyone to claim the victory on stage 2 of the Amgen Tour of California but his Team Jamis-Hagens Berman p/s Sutter Home has been able to successfully defend his yellow jersey for the past two days. A first for a UCI Continental team in the eight years of the race.
It really wasn’t a surprise to see Acevedo climbing with the big boys on the tough Tramway climb on Monday, after all the Colombian grabbed attention in the United States with his solo stage win at the 2010 Tour of Utah. The 27-year old started off his year with his new squad with a sixth place at the UCI 2.1 Tour de San Luis in January.
“We are very excited. Janier has been racing very well since the beginning of the year with San Luis, he finished top 10 in San Luis which is very impressive and I knew that he was going to be very good on the hill day. I knew that he could be very good at stage 2, I didn’t honestly expect him to win but I though he was going to be super good. And now that he won, we took the jersey and we are defending well.” Team directeur Sebastian Alexandre told podiuminsight.
“I’m very happy to continue wearing the yellow jersey every day. It was difficult today; it was a hard stage — high speeds. But in the end my team was helping me to keep the yellow jersey.” Acevedo said after stage 4.
What a difference a year makes. In 2012, the squad was not invited to race in California or the other two major UCI stages races in the United States, the Tour of Utah or the US Pro Cycling Challenge. This year, the team is setting the pace at the front of the field, delivering major TV air time for their sponsors.
“It’s great, it’s surreal.” said team veteran Tyler Wren. “We were watching this race on TV last year and to maximize our opportunity, it feels really great.”
For Ben Jacques-Maynes, who joined the squad in 2013, each day defending the yellow is simply “another layer of icing on the cake.”
Staying realistic and racing smart is the best way to describe the team’s approach to defending the yellow.
“You have to treat it as leading any other bike race, not get obsessed with the skill and scale of what you’re trying to do here. We’re also realistic with only six guys in the race, we know what we are capable and incapable of and I think the other teams know that well” said Jacques-Maynes.
“We have the experience of defending a lead at the NRC level and it’s the same game you play, trying to select the break, trying to keep it close but it’s just at another level. I think just Janier having the jersey has motivated us to be a step above of where we normally are, it’s worked out so far.” added Wren.
And then, use your matches judiciously. “We don’t have the horsepower to throw eight guys on the front and just ride. We have to be smart about our energy expenditure and really try to make every pedal stroke count because when we’re going up against these other teams, there’s only a few chances and opportunities to make a difference. If you can effect the race with one good effort like that then it’s job well done, and we’ll take it.” added Jacques-Maynes.
Bike racing has always made competitors into temporary allies, either in breaks or in reeling in the escapees. We saw it at the Giro D’Italia stage today when Mark Cavendish’s team, Omega Pharma-Quick Step controlled the pace from the start and we saw it in the last two stages in California.
“I think that we’ve been very fortunate to have some sprint stages on the docket here, and so we automatically get help from the sprinters’ teams who are interested in keeping it together. We do the best that we can and it’s been working out great so far. Winning a stage was great a thrill and has already made out Tour, and every day in yellow is just another day of icing on the cake. We’re taking it as it comes.” said Jacques-Maynes.
Another advantage for Wren could have been the extreme heat.“It’s the kind of thing where maybe the ProTour guys were a little more disadvantaged by it, we know that this is our one big opportunity to compete with these guys so whatever the conditions are we are going to continue to be motivated, and maybe it saps a little bit of their motivation and narrows the gap just that little bit enough for us to get on par with them. When you ride with these guys, you realize that they are not super-human, they are still people in the same ballpark and we just need to get small advantage like that and I think that it worked in our favor.”
Though the sprinters’ teams such as Cannondale Pro Team and Omega Pharma-Quick Step have helped with the pace making at the front of the field, the selection of the riders in the break was all up to the Jamis-Hagens Berman team.
“As long as we do the hard work in the beginning, to get the right break, we don’t have to bring it back for a field sprint. We lost J.J. so we’re okay, we just have to keep it close.” explained Wren. Team sprinter J.J. Haedo abandoned on stage 1
It was all hands on deck the first stage that the team was in yellow when a large group of over 20 riders was able to make it off the front with crosswinds blowing on stage 3. “That was a little more dangerous.” admitted Wren but once again experience came into play and the assistance of other teams who missed the break.
“All you have to really do was not panic and just keep the pressure on from behind because it comes down to it, there’s only a handful of guys up there who are willing to contribute, there’s a lot of passengers, the in-fighting and the attacking was going to start on some point and that was only going to slow them down. You just had to keep on toiling away and it definitely slowed down a bit, having the KOM there definitely helped us reel them back in.” said Jacques-Maynes.
But with the gap slowly decreasing, a flurry of counter-attacks was imminent. “Then the attacks started afresh, so at that point, I knew it was more important not to pull hard to get them back, once was the capture was imminent, to get back up to the front and try to continue to effect the race to our advantage.”
And then pick when to go deep. “If I have that one effort in me, it’s going to be to close down the big break that is too dangerous to let ride, not this little one or that little one. You have to gamble on what the other racers are going to do.” said Jacques-Maynes. The gamble worked out on both Monday and Tuesday. “The right combination going up the road, enough horsepower where the ProTour teams and the sprinters teams really had to chip in early in order to maintain the gap and to help us to get what they wanted out of the race so it’s to everyone’s mutual benefit to patrol the front and work hard.”
On Wednesday, another danger point in the stage was in the final kilometers which brought Jacques-Maynes to the front. “There was a couple of hills and guys were launching attacks over them, and I got on the front and took a long pull to try and settle it down and it really worked because there was no more attacks after that.”
Respect and recognition. Wren is seeing the respect traditionally awarded to the yellow jersey and his team continues at the Tour of California. “There’s a lot of respect for the jersey and for the jersey’s team. There’s a lot less fighting for wheels. Normally in this race, we’re fighting for the 30th wheel kind of thing but now we’re given the front row seat, we’ll always have a guy in the rotation, everyone is sort of fighting for our wheel I think with the jersey so it’s nice to have the respect extended to the team.”
For Alexandre, the current situation is bringing more recognition to his well-respected team. “Every year we had respect from several teams the way we race. Our team always raced very professionally, we went to the race, we did our job back in the day when Armstrong, Levi, and all those guys were racing at Gila, we always raced professionally.” he commented. “Probably now it is getting more recognition from ProTour teams but everybody who raced against us, I know that they respect our team.”
Wren also had another take-away from the experience. “I think when I was saying that the gap got a little narrower with the adverse conditions, I think that not only are we motivated to be riding at another level because we have the jersey, I think it also inspired the other teams.” He added the example of Ken Hanson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) sprinting to second yesterday, 5-Hour Energy on the podium, Carter Jones (Bissell) leading the KOM classification and Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) on the white best young rider jersey. “We’re all riding pretty well, everyone got a little bit extra motivation seeing that we can beat these guys.”
Enjoy the moment as much as possible while performing the best that you can in the situation for Jacques-Maynes who has raced in every edition of the event. “I think in a grand scheme of things I’ll be able to enjoy it later down the line. I always just enjoy riding the Tour anyway, getting the ride roads that you know and really enjoy the race routes and the fans and all the people that come out to cheer you on and spectate, I always try to relish those conditions and the situation because it’s not every day that we get the fans lining the road watching you race, got to enjoy that.”
Acevedo concluded on Wednesday, “I’m trying to enjoy the moment and try to keep going. I’ll continue to give 100 percent and will keep trying to defend it.”