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Sulzberger, Vzesniauskaite fly to uphill wins at Joe Martin

Bernie Sulzberger (Fly V Australia) offered a textbook lesson in teamwork when he made perfect use of teammate Ben Day’s GC positioning to take the stage 2 win at the Joe Martin Stage Race Friday. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Colavita-Baci) scored an impressive bunch sprint win in the women’s race.

Sulzberger wins
Sulzberger wins

Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) both earned time bonuses to take the overall leads.

The winds that buffeted riders at the SRAM Tour of the Gila last week were an unwelcome guest for many at the start in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The men faced a 110-mile route that included over 5,400 feet of climbing over a hilly course profile that looked like an EKG scan.

The racing was aggressive early, but no attack stuck for more than thirty minutes. When the peloton turned into a stiff crosswind headed south, the race exploded and a group of about 40 riders rolled off the front of the peloton. The race briefly came back together, but a counter attack drew out a new break of 16 riders. Bissell, Jamis, Kenda-Geargrinder, OUCH-Bahati Foundation, SpiderTech-Planet Energy and Team Type 1 each had multiple riders in the group, with Amaran the highest placed on GC.

Amaran’s teammates Jamie Driscoll and Ignacio Pereyra took their place on the front of the break and slowly grew the gap. When Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis) bridged across from the peloton, Bissell sent riders to share the workload for the break and their advantage grew steadily to two minutes at the summit of the Mount Gaylor climb, 26 miles from the finish. Jacques-Maynes replaced Amaran as the highest-placed rider in the break and took the virtual race lead.

Day, who was placed second on GC headed into the stage, missed the break, meaning Sulzberger was able to sit on the group as his teammates chased from behind. “I was in the break and I didn’t have to do any work,” said Sulzberger. “I sat on the back the whole time, so I knew I had descent legs for the finish.”

As the group approached the finish in Fayetteville, the gap shrank to 45 seconds, prompting Bissell and Jamis to send their full squads, including Amaran and Jacques-Maynes to the front. Their lead held steady from that point on and when the break turned onto the finish straight, Sulzberger jumped up the 350-meter, six-percent ramp to grab the win.

Amaran finished second and by way of time bonuses took the overall lead.

“It’s not an easy finish, which suits me better,” said Sulzberger. “It was a bit disappointing that Ben Day, our GC man, missed the break. (The team) was chasing really hard and got it back to 40 seconds before the finish, but (the break) knew they were coming and ramped it up.”

The women’s route was an abridged version of the men’s course, starting 23.4 miles before the climb to Mount Gaylor. With a headwind for nearly the entire day and with challenging terrain to soften the legs up before the climb of Gaylor, the peloton came to the line largely intact.

TIBCO-To The Top and Webcor Builders each tried to put riders into a series of moves, but with the intense headwinds and relative mild profile, the race was destined to finish with a bunch sprint.

“It was boring,” said Powers. “It was a headwind almost the whole race.”

Vzesniauskaite took the uphill sprint ahead of Powers, who took a time bonus and the overall lead.

“Defending is key,” said Powers. “I might not try so hard to get the time bonus because I’m really looking forward to Sunday’s crit race; it’s my favorite race of the year, but one day at a time and that’s to keep the lead after tomorrow’s race.”

Looking ahead to the weekend

Saturday’s stage 3 road race follows another demanding route that includes more than 1,500 feet of climbing per lap. The men will turn the cranks for 92 miles, while the women will confront 69 miles.

Joe Martin finishes Sunday with the final stage criterium in Fayetteville.

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