NorCal’s Ben Jacques-Maynes has been a mainstay domestic pro at the Amgen Tour of California since the race’s first edition in 2006, and he’s back for 2009. Jacques-Maynes, who hails from Berkeley but lives outside of Santa Cruz, will co-captain the Bissell squad alongside fellow time-trial specialist Tom Zirbel.
This year’s California Tour is a tad different for Jacques-Maynes. For the first time he comes into the official season opener with racing already in his legs — he finished eighth at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina last month. He’s racing alongside his twin brother, Andy. And while in years past Jacques-Maynes held his bullets until the time trial — he finished ninth in the TT at last year’s AToC — Jacques-Maynes say’s he’s not afraid to take some chances on the road this year.
VeloNews caught up with Jacques-Maynes to hear his take on the 2009 race.
VeloNews: The presence of Lance Armstrong at this year’s Tour of California has truly put the race on the global stage. What kind of pressure are you feeling with so many more eyes on the race?
Ben Jacques-Maynes: We’ve raced against Lance in years past, and it doesn’t put a ton more pressure on. It’ll be good. It makes it that more impressive if you’re able to grab a result because so many more people are going to see it and know about it. Anything that Lance brings to this race will increase the importance of us having a killer effort and trying to make a difference in the race. The payoff is that much bigger.
VN: You’ve been one of the top domestic performers at the Tour of California in the past. Who are some other non ProTour riders who could shine this year?
BJM: I think some new guys are going to step up this year. There are some of the Aussie riders on the (Fly V Australia presented by Successful Living Foundation) who haven’t stepped into American racing yet, but they are really strong. I’ve raced against them in Australia and read about them on the Internet, and I think people in America don’t necessarily know their talents. They could be a team to watch. And I think all of the former Symmetrics riders, bar non, are going to show that they are flying too. That team had some major talent.
VN: How have your own objectives at the Tour of California changed?
BJM: I’ve gone top-10 in the time trial so I’m more confident than in years past. I’d like to do something else in the race this year, whether it’s a really good result in a road race or getting into a breakaway. I want to put my strengths out there and see what I have. We’ll see what happens as the race goes along. We need to talk with (team director) Glen (Mitchell) about it. But it’s an idea I’ve been kicking around — to just ride and take a chance if the case presents itself. I think we’re coming to the race with the strongest team we’ve ever had. We have some sprint prowess, which opens up the flat days for us. So instead of me just rolling across the line in the back I can drag some teammates up and see what they can do.
VN: What are your thoughts on this year’s route?
BJM: It’s a catch-22. It’s more difficult in that it’s nine days long, there are some transfers and we have five hard days of racing and then the time trial. If it’s pouring rain it could be really miserable, an the field is really stacked. But on the flip side there is no Sierra Road. There’s no definite road stage where everyone is going to step out at the same moment and make a split and show what they’ve got. It could be game on every day. Every day could be that decisive day. If a 15-man group get away on a seemingly innocuous day, that could be game over.
VN: I noticed your twin brother Andy is in the race this year, racing alongside you.
BJM Yeah, it’s really positive. Fans want to have their local riders to cheer for, and there are a lot of Californian riders who aren’t going this year. No Taylor (Tolleson), no Jackson (Stewart). I’m honored that Andy and I get to represent the Bay Area. He’s on good form — he has a lot of strength left over from cyclocross. I can’t drop him on the climbs right now. And he has some speed, so if he doesn’t get dropped on the climbs he could win a stage like the one into Santa Cruz.
VN: Lets talk about that Santa Cruz stage. You’re a local, what’s your history with that (Stage 2) climb to Bonny Doon?
BJM: I’ve had a lot of training days on it, going back to the UC Santa Cruz days. I was climbing in the Santa Cruz mountains every day back then. I love the twists and turns in the road, and I’m looking forward to dialing it up on the descent and being able to use the full lane.
VN: Do you think the sprinters can make it over that climb?
BJM: It all depends on the pace. If there’s a breakaway and the teams really dial it up the sprinters could easily get dropped. If we ride an easy tempo then they could survive. If everyone is riding slow I’m not going to sit around and wait to see.
VN: That stage finishes in downtown Santa Cruz, your new hometown. What’s the significance of having the Tour come there for you?
BJM: I’ve been working with the local organizing committee for three years now. They’ve put in a bid to have the Tour come through for a while and I was designing some early courses a few years ago. To see their hard work finally get rewarded is really satisfying. I now know how much time and work was involved in getting it here, and the process wasn’t easy. I think it adds some motivation to me to have a better race.
VN: So who is your prediction to win the race?
BJM: The whole thing? I’m calling Floyd (Landis). I think he has the motivation. I know he has the legs to do it. He’s done it in the past. I’ve heard he was flying at his (OUCH-Maxxis) training camp. And he’s the only guy who can beat Levi at a Tour of California time trial. His team looks pretty strong to help him do the job. And I think if they won it would be a good showcase of what domestic talent can do. We could show that this race isn’t just about the ProTour coming in and trashing us. Above all I’d like to see some domestic guys — any domestic guys — show that we can own this race too.