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By Neal Rogers
Eyebrows, and a few voices, were raised at the conclusion of stage 2 of the Tour de Georgia Tuesday when race officials announced that they had awarded the day’s most aggressive rider prize to G.E.-Marco Polo’s Rhys Pollock rather than Toyota-United’s Justin England.
After the peloton neutralized a series of breakaway attempts, England went on the offensive at mile 40, shortly before the day’s feed zone, and found himself alone in the wind with a gap that eventually grew to more than seven minutes. His was a sacrificial move that took the pressure off Toyota, whose sprinter Ivan Dominguez won stage 1 and started stage 2 in the yellow leader’s jersey.
England, a climber, rode alone for more than 20 miles before Pollock and Jelly Belly’s Bryce Mead bridged across. The trio rode together for another 40 miles before the peloton swept the up in the approach to Augusta. Pollock finished the day with the field, while Mead and England finished dead last on the stage, 9:04 behind winner J.J. Haedo.
Following the stage, race officials announced that they were naming Pollock as the day’s most aggressive rider. Pollock’s team, Marco Polo-Trek, has picked up an additional sponsor for this race in the form of General Electric Energy, also a founding sponsor of this year’s Tour de Georgia.
The event’s tech manual describes the Georgia Lottery Most Aggressive Rider Daily Prize as being decided by “four journalists based on the rider who shows the most sporting aggression by being involved in attacks, chasing down escapes, length of time in a breakaway and so on.”
The Tour de Georgia’s Web site explains that the most aggressive rider’s jersey is “Possibly the most subjective jersey awarded during the Tour… the jersey is given at the end of each stage to the rider who is judged to have instigated the most attacks and breakaways.”
Tuesday’s decision wasn’t the first time the Tour de Georgia management issued an award that reeked of politics. Last year on stage 2 into Rome Austin King of Jittery Joe’s attacked the field and was joined by Glen Chadwick of Navigators Insurance and Garrett Peltonen of Priority Health. The trio opened a 9:15 gap over the field, with Chadwick taking both of the sprint points and dropping both of his breakaway companions before being reeled in. But officials named King as that day’s most aggressive rider. Athens, Georgia based Jittery Joe’s Coffee is a longtime sponsor of the Tour de Georgia.
The procedure to award the most aggressive rider, explained the event’s field operations director Brook Watts, is to poll the media and VIP vehicles in the race caravan, as well as assembled media at the finish line. Watts then reports the consensus to race directors Jim Birrell and Chris Aronhalt. Watts said the consensus among the media was that England was Tuesday’s most aggressive rider.
However, Birrell reiterated that the most aggressive rider’s award is “subjective,”
and that there are three components to the award — the media vote, online fan voting and the race’s management staff.
“[Pollock] bridged a seven-minute breakaway, which was a pretty big effort on his part,” Birrell said. “It was our position to award him as most aggressive. Justin is also deserving of the effort, but it was a day we had to award it to our friends at Marco Polo.”
Toyota team manager Len Pettyjohn told VeloNews that he expressed his feelings to Aronhalt immediately after the race.
“It was certainly not a comment that is fit to print,” Pettyjohn said. “But I told them I felt it was inappropriate to overrule a media vote when a rider made such a heroic effort to single-handedly defend the jersey for his team. The entire Toyota-United team is buying beers for Justin tonight because we totally respect what he did to honor our defense of the Tour de Georgia leader’s jersey.”
Bissell team director Glen Mitchell said he thought it was a no-brainer that England would take the most aggressive rider’s jersey.
“I was a little surprised,” Mitchell said. “Obviously I wasn’t following the break, but the information I was hearing seemed to indicate that Justin had put in the longest and most aggressive move of the day.”
Asked whether he felt he was most deserving to take the jersey, Pollock said, “I was surprised but I was happy also. I’m not sure if the race officials noted some of the earlier attacks I’d been in during the first hour and a half. I kept trying and trying, but eventually Justin went on his own, and Bryce and I drove it across. I was trying all day. I certainly don’t feel like I didn’t deserve it.”
England said Toyota spent much of the early part of the stage rotating through at the front, making sure it had a rider in a breakaway so the team wouldn’t have to ride tempo for the entire stage.
“I wasn’t out there to get the most aggressive jersey, I was out there to take the pressure off my teammates and keep them as fresh as possible for the sprint at the end,” England said. “Dominguez finished third and kept the leader’s jersey, so mission accomplished. The most aggressive jersey would have been a bonus. I’m not too worried about it.”
Perhaps the most frustrating was that England — a climber — rode 60 miles off the front on a flat stage, yet took home nothing for the effort, while Health Net-Maxxis sprinter Frank Pipp earned three days in the KOM jersey for being first over the day’s only rated climb, a 150-meter riser on the route’s five-mile finishing circuit. While the peloton took two trips over the hill, only the first counted for KOM points. For his efforts, Pipp will keep the jersey for the next three days as there are no more KOM points on offer until Friday.