The Jamis-Hagens Berman team finished one-two at tonight’s fast and furious Saint Paul Downtown Criterium, stage 2 of the North Star Grand Prix. Ian Crane sprinted to the win ahead of teammate JJ Haedo in front of an enthusiastic crowd that lined the finish straight. Travis McCabe of Team SmartStop rounded out the podium. Tom Zirbel (Optum) remains in the yellow race leader’s jersey.
The plan worked to perfection for Crane and his team, after all the same strategy delivered three stage victories for Haedo in last year’s event. After Optum worked hard to reel a break, the Jamis-Hagens Berman leadout train took over the front of the field on the penultimate lap.
“We wanted Optum to do most of the work and then take over at the end which we were able to do. We had numbers, we had four of us up there. We wanted to be able to hit it hard and hit it all the way to the line. We had Luis Amaran and Ben Jacques-Maynes who did about four or five guys worth of work and then they dropped me off on the second to last straightaway, halfway down before the last corner. I went through the corner hot and JJ didn’t come around, it works out well. I think both of us are capable in the sprint, the plan itself was to try and set JJ up but I was a little bit higher up in the TT so the bonus was good for me,” Crane explained.
McCabe and his teammate, the reigning US National Road Race Champion Eric Marcotte sat behind the Jamis-Hagens Berman train. “We made sure that no one really stole our wheels and we were comfortable. On this course, there is a lot of backlash that goes on, that rubber band effect, so we wanted to stay clear and out of trouble of all the other racers. We stayed right there for the last ten laps, there was a little bit of shuffling going on but we were in a really comfortable position. Optum brought the breakaway back, Jamis went to the front.”
He added, “It was Ian Crane coming into the last corner, JJ Haedo and then me, and we sprinted from there and we finished like that. Ian has a fantastic sprint tonight, opened up a huge gap.”
Though seven riders escaped off the front for almost 20 laps in the second half of the race, Zirbel was not concerned about the gap that grew to 23 seconds. “I was happy about to let them win the race by 15 seconds honestly but we have some fast guys right behind me and it would be nice if they didn’t get time bonuses,” he said. “Once the break went, honestly, the guys rode so well, I had such an easy ride, riding fifth wheel for 20 laps, it just made my life so much easier and so much stress-free. It got a little dicey there the last couple of laps but I was in such good position and hadn’t used any energy so I was able to stay up there. The team did amazing.”
The pace started off fast and never let up for the men’s 40-lap race on the Downtown Saint Paul course. Attacks flew from the start but nothing stuck as the 147-rider field flew around the 1.4-km five-corner course. Optum came to the front and kept the speeds high to stay safe.“That was survival.” Zirbel stated about the high speed. “It’s just so much safer on the front. We had to go fast and let a strong break go, that was the only way that we could stay safe.”
The front of the race shuffled and re-shuffled as attacks flew until finally one rider got clear at 21 laps to go. Belgian Stef van Zummeren of Team 3M, in his first race in the United States, was feeling good.
“I think the form is good. We didn’t know the teams, and no one from the team knew how the races are ridden here so we didn’t know if it’s going to be really fast or a close race, we didn’t know nothing. In the beginning I was a little bit behind but then I came to the front and I attacked, I had really good legs, I just tried to stay in the front as long as possible,” van Zummeren commented.
More riders bridged up and a few laps later, the break was finally established. Off the front were Andrew Bosco (Seasucker/Guttenplan Coaching), Michael Olheiser (Incycle-Predator Components), David Santos (KHS-Maxxis-Jackroo), Ruben Companioni (Jamis-Hagens Berman), Adam Myerson (SmartStop), van Zummeren and his teammate Gerry Druyts. The gap slowly grew to 22-seconds while the Optum squad lined up at the front of the single-file peloton.
Van Zummeren admits that he didn’t think the break would stick to the finish line. “I thought it was difficult because there were whole teams riding after us but I’m totally not a sprinter so I just tried to make it as long as possible. I still had good legs in the final so I just thought ‘let’s just try’. If you don’t try you can never win.”
With that philosophy in mind, the Belgian made one final attack with three laps to go and was awarded the Penn Cycle Most Aggressive Rider jersey for his efforts.
Capturing top points at the finish line gave the blue Xcel Energy Sprinter jersey to Crane. Peter Disera (Jet Fuel Coffee-Norco Bicycles) is the new TRIA Orthopedic Center Best Young Rider while Coulton Hartrich (SeaSucker / Guttenplan Coaching) keeps the green North Star Top Amateur jersey.
The race moves south to Cannon Falls on Thursday for a rural road race showcasing the wide open spaces of Minnesota’s heartland, dotted with family farms, boutique wineries and the famed Cannon Valley Trail, stretching 20 miles along the Cannon River. The 97-mile race finishes with multiple laps at high speeds through the quaint downtown.