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REDLANDS, Calif. (VN) — The Redlands Bicycle Classic finished on Sunday with the challenging Sunset Loop road race. Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis) defended her race lead to secure her first overall victory at Redlands. Later in the afternoon, Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy-Kenda) attacked and stayed away to win the stage and snatch overall victory from Chad Haga (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies).
In the women’s race, the stage-winning move came with four laps to race. Mara Abbott (Exergy Twenty16) attacked with Claudia Häusler, and the two riders never looked back. By the final lap it was Abbott alone, and the 2010 Giro Donne winner survived to take a solo victory in downtown Redlands.
“This is exciting, and this is the stage, I’ve historically had some trials and tribulations with Redlands,” said Abbott. “In 2008, I lost it by one second on time bonuses, which was really unfortunate. It’s a great way to come back.”
The general classification at Redlands is very often a race of seconds. Indeed, Powers lost the overall classification in 2012 by one second on the final day. This year, Powers never faltered, despite attacks from the likes of Abbott, Häusler, Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon), and Rhae Shaw (Vanderkitten).
“It was a hard bike race today,” said Powers. “The first lap, I was like, ‘Oh my God, my legs! Ouch!’ But this race is hard. It comes to attrition and positioning. It was fast from the gun. It was hard. It’s really cool.
“I’ve gotten third, I’ve gotten second, so now to win. … Today, I was able to have the legs to ride strong. It was a team effort. It was really cool.”
The women’s race went hard from the first time up the Sunset Loop climb. Amber Neben (Dare To Be Project) played the heckler and attacked solo. The move did not last, but it forced an early selection, and after the first lap, only around 20 riders remained in the group with Powers.
Wiles started the day in second place and was determined to shake Powers’ hold on the lead. Ride like it’s the world championship, Specialized-lululemon team director Kristy Scrymgeour said before the stage. Despite her best efforts, Wiles never managed the gap she needed to overtake Powers, and the Specialized-lululemon rider finished second overall at the end of the day.
“I attacked on pretty much every climb I could, but Powers was just so strong, and she had Katie [Donovan] with her,” said a disappointed Wiles. “I’m really tired. I felt good, I feel like I could die right now, I’m so tired. So I pretty much gave it everything without falling off my bike.”
Shaw, meanwhile, moved up to third, thanks to her strong climbing on Sunday’s Sunset Loop. Shaw came to cycling from triathlon, and raced her first season in the pro ranks in 2012 with Exergy Twenty16.
“We’re just really happy with how today played out,” said Shaw. “We reclaimed third on GC [from Optum’s Brianne Walle] and that was our goal. I know that I am riding really strong and so it was just going to be positioning. And my teammates were fabulous in getting me into good position.”
Shaw put in an attack on the fourth trip up the Sunset Loop climb, but when no one came with her, she knew it would not last.
“The fourth lap was really hard. I thought if someone attacked right now, it would be miserable,” she said. “So maybe that person should be me.”
Shaw stayed away for a lap, and then it was the Abbott and Häusler show. The two climbers, both past winners of the Giro Donne, escaped on the climb, and never came back. Behind, Powers controlled to ensure that the clock did not run out, but once it was under a minute, she had no worries. Thanks to her efforts, Häusler took home the mountains jersey.
On the final lap, Abbott came through the feed zone alone and held on to the finish to win the stage. Behind Abbott, Joelle Numainville won the sprint for second ahead of Jo Kiesanowski (Tibco).
“It was really hard. I didn’t think I would make it. I was hanging out, but it was just survival each lap,” said Numainville. “They’re strong! Powers is strong! I was just impressed. They were going to win. It was my job, I was hanging up there, I had to sprint. It’s just so impressive. ”
Mancebo pounds the climb
To no one’s surprise, Mancebo lit up the Sunset Loop climb, taking a solo stage victory just ahead of the hard-charging field and winning the general classification for the second time in his career.
“I knew it was coming,” said Haga, who started the day in the race lead by five seconds. “You can’t think about it too much, you just have to chew on the handlebars and focus on the wheel in front of you. He goes, you either have the legs or you don’t. And I did not today.”
Mancebo’s 5-Hour Energy team controlled the race from start to finish. At the first time bonus sprint, Mancebo took first with Haga right behind him. The two riders remained locked together in the general classification with just four seconds separating them.
The real race began with two laps to go. Mancebo’s teammate attacked first, then it was his turn.
“It was a moment to try, the last two laps,” said Mancebo. “We had a teammate in the breakaway who attacked with two laps to go. And then I attacked again. It was better than yesterday! The crit, I hate! All the corners!
“The plan was to attack in the last two laps. It was good, sometimes it doesn’t work.”
Up the road, meanwhile, Andres Corrales (Elbowz Racing) rode solo. But soon, Mancebo joined him. The twosome built up a 30-second advantage that held all the way to the finishing circuits.
“Diaz, he is Colombian, and I can talk with him. It was good for me, he speaks Spanish!” said Mancebo, laughing. “It wasn’t easy, but it was easier for me. With only one rider, it would be too hard.”
Behind, Tom Zirbel, Scott Zwizanski and yellow jersey Haga rode an Optum team time trial in desperate pursuit of Mancebo, who was fast running out the clock on the general classification.
“I was at the mercy of the group we were with, and hoping maybe they would help us bring him back,” said Haga. “It came down to me, Zirbel, and Zwizanski just team time trialing on the front trying to bring him back and making up no ground. We were going all out.”
As they entered the circuit, Mancebo and Diaz held a 30-second gap and that was the bike race. Though there was a time bonus at the finish, the general classification gap was taken at the start of the five finishing circuits.
With the stage victory still in the balance, Jamis-Hagens Berman went to the front in the hope of setting up sprinter J.J. Haedo. The black Jamis jerseys strung out the field, but Mancebo and Diaz stubbornly resisted.
“The stage was not the main thing, we thought only of the GC. It’s good,” said Mancebo. “I saw the 40 seconds, and in that moment, I thought it was okay, I can win.”
At the line, Mancebo crossed first as the sprint came up behind him. Haedo won the sprint for second ahead of Travis McCabe (Elbowz).
Thanks to his work in the breakaways in Beaumont and on the Sunset Loop road race, Carter Jones (Bissell) won the mountains classification. At the start of the race, Jones had hoped for better, but he was happy not to go home empty-handed.
Christiaan Kriek (Jelly Belly), meanwhile, defended his lead in the points classification after starting the day with just a single point advantage over Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman).
For Haga, the final day was disappointing, but he is already looking ahead. The long time trial and difficult climbing at the Tour of the Gila should suit Haga, though he will again face the strong legs of Mancebo.
“It’s not a bad start to the season,” said Haga. “We’ve got a whole season of racing ahead of us, and we’ll get more opportunities for sure.”