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Joe Martin Stage Race: Bryan Gomez wins in photo finish

Wildlife Generation cleans up after four days, going 1-2 in the overall, landing two stage wins, and taking home the green jersey and teams classifcation.

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At the end of stage 4 of the Joe Martin Stage Race, Best Buddies’ Bryan Gomez threw his bike over the line to steal the win in a thrilling photo finish ahead of 2021 overall winner, Tyler Williams. The L39ion of Los Angeles rider had suffered a mechanical on stage 2, ending his chances of defending his GC title. 

“We had a pretty rough week, we came here trying to fight for GC,” Gomez said. “Things didn’t happen the way we wanted but we knew we didn’t have anything to lose today so we went full gas. I was having some issues with my chain, but I timed my sprint pretty well and won because of my bike throw.”

Wildlife Generation’s Jonny Clarke secured the overall GC, seven years after doing the same in 2015. The Australian veteran had won both the opening stage and the overall that year before repeating the scenario this week in Fayetteville.

“It was really hard for an old man like me,” Clarke said, winning again at 37 years of age. “Notoriously, teams have lost the lead on this stage before because it’s hard to control. I had six of the strongest men in America, especially Noah Granigan and Scott McGill. They were covering Stites and the bonus sprints for me; without those two, I lose.”

Clarke had joked about his win in 2015, telling VeloNews he had won the first stage that year but didn’t care about the GC and ended up winning the overall in the end. After winning the first stage on Thursday, he joked again, saying he didn’t care about the GC so he could win again. The team managed to pull it off in the end. 

“For 15 years I couldn’t win a bike race, and my family are winners,” he said. “My brother [Hilton Clarke] may have won 100 criteriums. I could never win a race because I put so much pressure on myself. When I would get in the moment I’d crumble. I finally got a bit older and just gave up on that expectation and let it go.”

The final day of racing kicked off immediately with a break of five riders escaping soon after wheels began to roll. Tyler Stites of Project Echelon was able to bridge, with Noah Granigan (Wildlife Generation) quick to respond. With so many bonus seconds available and Stites only down 12 seconds on GC from Clarke, Wildlife Generation began the chase, shutting it down soon after. 

L39ion and Project Echelon later took over the front of the field. Stites was moving up, riding second wheel as his front tire suddenly slid out from under him in the first turn, sending him straight into the barriers and taking a hard spill. Wildlife Generation’s Ulises Castillo was just behind, unable to avoid Stites, flipping over him and falling face-first into the barriers. It would mark the end of the race for Castillo. Stites was slow to get up with his skin suit torn and skin missing, but was able to rejoin the peloton. He finished third overall on GC. 

2019 overall winner, Alec Cowan (L39ion) was next to attack, going solo at 13 to go. Wildlife Generation seemed content this time, allowing seven other riders to join him including Gomez, 2021 winner Tyler Williams (L39ion), Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle), Andre “Toby” Røed (Yoeleo) and Xander White (CS Velo). The group worked together to maintain a 22-second gap, finishing 13 seconds ahead of the field. 

At the end of the four days of racing, Wildlife Generation came away dominating the race, winning both the overall with Clarke and the green jersey with Noah Granigan. Those two finished first and second on GC, the squad won the team classification, and won two stages. Granigan just missed the KOM jersey by one point to NZ Pro Cycling George Jackson.

Jackson’s Kiwi teammate, Josh Burnett retained his lead to win the Best Young Rider classification. 

“Our whole focus was the GC, the whole team was just flying making it really easy for Jonny, Scott (McGill), and I,” Granigan said. “We have Armed Forces next and then go to Nationals before we go back to Romania for another Tour.”

Stage 4 results here.