BEAUMONT, California (VN) – Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Forno-D’Asolo) took the stage 1 bunch sprint under oppressive heat at the Redlands Bicycle Classic Friday. A few minutes after the women’s teams cleared out of the Beaumont, 20-year-old amateur John Bennett (Cal Giant-Specialized) took a radically different win in the men’s race, topping a three-up sprint from the day’s long breakaway.
Overall leaders Amber Neben (HTC-Highroad) and Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com) held onto their yellow leaders’ jerseys.
Three storylines dominated the day in Southern California. The temperature was high and the riding nervous in the men’s peloton, but 20-year old Bennett led 19-year old Lachlan Morton (Chipotle) through for the win after 90-plus miles on the front.
Temperatures for the 9:15 and 9:30 a.m. start times were in the 70’s Fahrenheit and crept above 90 degrees by mid-day. The men started first and the opening lap was bumper cars. A number of crashes took down riders throughout the race, including 2010 NRC champ Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Trek-Livestrong’s Joe Dombrowski.
Amaran’s teammate Nick Frey and Jason Donald (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) were among riders suffering from cramps in the heat. Donald said his legs locked up on the final ascent of the Bogart Park KOM. New mountains leader Phil Gaimon (Kenda-5-hour Energy) was among dozens of riders covered in salt and seeking shade at the finish.
Young guns on the loose
Bennett, Gaimon and Frank Pipp (Bissell) got things started early. They jumped away from the peloton leading into the first climb over the Bogart Park KOM and were soon joined by Morton and Gaimon’s teammate Roman Kilun.
Mancebo’s Realcyclist.com team controlled the peloton two minutes behind. The Spaniard was the winner of the white best young rider’s jersey at the Tour de France back in 2000. Bennett wasn’t 10 years old yet. He punched above his age Friday. Andres Diaz (Team Exergy) bridged to the break ahead of the last climb and when the group ticked up the pace the fifth and final time over the winding road through Bogart, he was left with only Morton and Bennett.
“At the bottom of the last climb it just exploded,” said Morton. “It’s just such a long day here. We put the hammer down to stay on top of that gap. We hit the hill and it just exploded.”
Behind them, Mancebo’s teammate Cesar Grajales accelerated on the half-mile climb. A new chase group, including GC men Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home) materialized briefly, but didn’t work smoothly. The move split the peloton with only about 25 riders making the group. Mancebo was there, but so too were Bissell’s Ben and Andy Jacques-Maynes and Juwi Solar’s Chris Baldwin, second, fourth and third on GC, respectively.
Up ahead, Bennett was cooked and sat on the group as they returned on the long, wide avenues to downtown Beaumont. When they came through the final corner, 200 meters from the line, Bennett opened his sprint on the left side of the road and distanced the rail-thin climber Morton and Diaz.
“I was sitting on saving for the launch from someone basically,” said Bennett. “I worked really hard the last four laps to try and keep the breakaway. I wasn’t feeling so hot and sat on until the last corner and came around everyone.”
The yellow jersey group came through a handful of seconds later, led by Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home). Bennett and Morton started the day over a minute behind Mancebo, but Diaz sat at just 22 seconds off the pace. He shot up the classification with his result, moving to fourth midway through the four-day event.
Diaz was the day’s big winner on GC, but the finish was abuzz with Bennett’s breakthrough. He made a quiet entry into the national spotlight two weeks ago when he was the only rider able to match four Bissell men on the final day of the Merco Classic. The effort earned Bennett the best young rider’s jersey in Merced, California.
A stage win in the NRC opener, at 122 miles no less, is a whole new level for Bennett. Media and multiple rider agents hovered around the youngster before and after the podium presentation. Announcer Dave Towle added the four-time California high school mountain bike champion to a list of Cal Giant success stories that includes Andrew Talansky, Steven Cozza and Lucas Euser.
“This is a kid to watch for the future,” said Towle. “Just huge.”
The inevitable Cliff-Ryan
In the women’s race, just like a year ago, a number of attacks marked the opening laps of the race before the bunch gave in to the inevitable bunch sprint. Amanda Miller (HTC) and Alison Starnes (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) were among the aggressors, Miller earning herself the mountains jersey for her efforts, but the peloton would have nothing less than a bunch gallop.
“I was struggling a little more than normal on the climbs so on the final lap Janel (Holcomb) stayed with me and made sure I was close enough to the lead group over that final climb and then got me back into the lead group on the downhill,” said Cliff-Ryan.
The dominant criterium force of 2010 and the top sprinter in this weekend’s field, Cliff-Ryan was boxed in 150 meters from the final corner, but followed teammate Cath Cheatley through a narrow gap and through the bend. She ran up the gears for the win on the first road race day of the National Racing Calendar and Women’s Prestige Cycling Series. Christina Gokey-Smith (Rouse) finished second, with Jen Purcell (Danburry Audi) third.
“It’s great to get the first win of the year under my belt and to top it off its my first ever road race win,” said Cliff-Ryan.
The quiet Cliff-Ryan’s legs roared Friday. She’ll be back at home Saturday and will enter the stage 2 criterium in downtown Redlands as the top favorite.
Stage 1, MEN
- 1. John Bennett, California Giant-Specialized, 4:40:01
- 2. Lachlan Morton, Chipotle Development, s.t.
- 3. Andres Diaz, Team Exergy, s.t.
- 4. Anibal Borrajo, Jamis Sutter Home, at 00:12
- 5. Shawn Milne, Kenda/5hr Energy/geargrinder, at 00:12
Overall Standings, Men
- 1. Fransisco Mancebo, Realcyclist.com, 4:49:52
- 2. Ben Jacques-Maynes, Bissell Pro Cycling, at 00:01
- 3. Chris Baldwin, Juwi Solar-First Solar, at 00:03
- 4. Andres Diaz, Team Exergy, at 00:06
- 5. Andy Jacques-Maynes, Bissell Pro Cycling, at 00:09
Stage 1, WOMEN
- 1. Theresa Cliff-Ryan, Colavita Forno D’asolo
- 2. Christina Gokey-Smith, Rouse Bicycles, s.t.
- 3. Jen Purcel, Danbury Audi, s.t.
- 4. Carmen Small, Team Tibco-To The Top, s.t.
- 5. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, s.t.
Overall Standings, Women
- 1. Amber Neben, HTC Highroad Women, s.t.
- 2. Evelyn Stevens, HTC Highroad Women, at 00:08
- 3. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, at 00:13
- 4. Andrea Dvorak, Colavita Forno D’asolo, at 00:30
- 5. Kristen Armstrong, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty 1 , at 00:34