Men’s battle coming down to the wire in 2013 Redlands Bicycle Classic

The women's race is all but settled, while the men's race — especially the struggle over the points jersey — is anything but a done deal

REDLANDS, Calif. (VN) — Sunday is the final day of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, and while Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis) has a commanding lead in the women’s race, the men’s classifications remain tightly contested.

Chad Haga (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) leads Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy-Kenda) by five seconds in the overall. The men’s points race, meanwhile, is separated by a single point.

After Friday’s criterium stage, Jelly Belly’s Christiaan Kriek leads Jamis-Hagens Berman’s Luis Amaran by one point. Kriek holds the green jersey of points leader thanks to the efforts of his teammates, who spent Thursday and Friday setting him up for the intermediate sprint. They also helped Brad Huff finish second in the crit.

The battle over the points jersey began on Thursday when Kriek made it into an early break. During Thursday’s Beaumont circuit race, Kriek finished second and first in the intermediate sprints. Amaran won the stage, but Kriek took the jersey by five points.

“I was in the breakaway yesterday,” he said. “Brad led me out for the first sprint. Luckily, yesterday I could pick up the jersey.”

But Amaran is plainly on form. The Jamis rider won the overall at the San Dimas Stage Race earlier this season, and on Friday at Beaumont, he took the stage victory by outsprinting a last-lap breakaway.

“To tell you the truth, Jamis is the strongest team here,” said Jelly Belly director Danny Van Haute. “They’ve been that for the last month.”

Jelly Belly came to the Redlands crit stage with two goals: Add to Kriek’s lead in the points race and chase the stage victory with Brad Huff. Van Haute wanted his riders to measure their efforts, and only chase the first intermediate sprint for Kriek. That tactic would keep the jersey with the team for another day, and ensure that the team had enough legs to deliver Huff to the finish.

“They took it a little bit further, the boys. The plan was to try to get Chris to win the first [intermediate sprint]. Then stop,” said Van Haute. ���Then, maybe it’s secured for another day. He got second in it, and so the boys did it on their own. Let’s try the second one, and he got third.”

Jamis-Hagens Berman took to the front with around five laps to go for sprinter J.J. Haedo. By the final lap, it was just Haedo and Amaran for Jamis. Amaran jumped with a half-lap to go, and held on to finish third.

Huff, meanwhile, had teammate Ricardo van der Velde for help, and the Dutch rider delivered Huff to Haedo’s wheel.

“The focus turned to Brad in the final, we wanted to win the race, and we’re getting closer all the time,” said Van Haut. “We’re a little short on help for him in the last five laps, but it’s coming. It kind of faded away at the end, but that’s how good Brad is. Brad did an excellent job getting second.”

Despite Amaran’s third-place finish on the stage, the Jelly Belly effort proved sufficient to keep Kriek in the jersey for another day.

“It’s great to get a jersey for the team and get on the podium,” Kriek said. “It’s fantastic for the team, and I would love to keep it.” Looking down at the green points jersey, he added, smiling, “It’s a beautiful jersey.”

The 23-year-old Kriek signed with Jelly Belly in April of last year. Originally from South Africa, he came to the United States with the goal of chasing a contract with a professional team. In 2012, he won a stage of the Tour of Murrieta, a stage of the Gateway Cup, and finished second in a stage at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

It will not be easy for Kriek and his team to defend the jersey in Sunday’s Sunset Loop road race. There are two intermediate sprints, and they come in the early part of the race, before the course heads out to the climbs. It will mean hard riding from the start.

“The sprints are on the first and the second lap before we go into the real race,” Kriek said. “It will be quite a hard effort to sprint for two laps and then go into the real race.”

Last year was Kriek’s first visit to Redlands, and it did not end especially well for him.

“I was here last year, but unfortunately, I crashed out on the last day,” he said. “So hopefully, I can finish it this year.”

Van Haute was happy to see his team in the thick of it on Friday. Kriek took home the points jersey, and Huff took second behind Haedo, one of the fastest sprinters on the U.S. circuit.

“It’s the battle we love. We want to battle,” said Van Haute. “We don’t want it handed to us on a plate.”