The Redlands Classic, which begins Thursday April 3 in Southern California, marks the opening of the USA Cycling NRC series. By this time of the year, the NRC competition is usually well under way. But with the MERCO races in Merced and the Central Valley Classic in Fresno not having NRC status this year, the race for the NRC crown is off to a late start.
The Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis enters Redlands having won four consecutive NRC team titles. But team directeur sportif Mike Tamayo insists, as his predecessor Jeff Corbett always did, that the team’s goal at the beginning of the season is not to chase the NRC title.
“Our goal is the same as it’s always been,” Tamayo said. “Win races. If we win races then the points will follow.”
Regardless of whether the goal is winning races or the NRC, the task will be tougher on both counts this year.
“The past couple seasons, it’s mostly been a two-team battle between us and Toyota-United, but that won’t be the case this season,” Tamayo observed. “A number of teams, like Bissell and BMC, have upgraded their rosters. Plus you have new teams like Team Type 1 and Rock Racing that have strong rosters with guys who know how to win.
“The dynamic has changed quite a bit this year,” he continued. “It’s going to be a lot more difficult to control races like we did in the past. It’s harder for us, but it’s good for bike racing in general. Races will be a lot less predictable and more wide open.”
Health Net Presented by Maxxis got its first taste of Team Type 1 in the recently completed Tour of Taiwan. TT1 brought a strong roster that included last year’s Taiwan winner, Shawn Milne, who won the race in Health Net Presented by Maxxis colors. John Murphy of Health Net Presented by Maxxis won the green points jersey on day one of the eight-day race, then acquired the yellow race leader’s jersey on day two. The two teams slugged it out for the next six days, with Health Net Presented by Maxxis successfully protecting Murphy’s leads, while teammate Kyle Gritters also picked up a stage win.
Gritters, Corey Collier and Roman Kilun will bring their Taiwan form to Redlands. Matt Cooke will also be making his debut in Health Net Presented by Maxxis colors. Joining them will be Rory Sutherland, who returns to Redlands as the reigning NRC individual points champion, and the team’s leader. In 2007 he won two stages of the race and finished sixth overall.
Sutherland, Frank Pipp and Karl Menzies got back into the racing habit after nearly a month off following the Amgen Tour of California by competing in the San Dimas Stage Race last weekend. Gritters also contested the three-day race.
Redlands kicks off Thursday with a climbing, 5 km prologue. Rock Racing’s Spanish star Oscar Sevilla comes into the prologue as a strong favorite after taking out the win on a similar opening-day course at San Dimas.
“San Dimas showed that Sevilla is going well,” Tamayo said. “San Dimas also showed the parity of the teams.”
Sevilla carried an eight-second lead into the final-day criterium. But his team allowed Canadian road champion Cam Evans (Symmetrics), 11th overall coming into the final stage (0:37), to slip off the front and open a large enough gap on the field, combined with time bonuses for intermediate sprints and second place on the stage, to overtake Sevilla by one second for the overall.
Colavita-Sutter Homes also showed it will be a force to be reckoned with, especially in the sprints, by taking wins in the final two stages of the race with two different riders.
Following Thursday’s prologue, Redlands continues with a new 138 km circuit race in Beaumont on Friday, followed by the traditional downtown criterium on Saturday and the often-decisive 146.5 km Sunset Road Race on Sunday.
Health Net Presented by Maxxis for the Redlands Classic, April 3-6: