By Cherie Turner
The second day of the 13th annual Tour de Nez omnium stage race served up a 108-mile road race of epic proportions on Friday. Strong, cold winds, hail, scattered showers, and even a few snow flurries greeted riders throughout the four-hour-plus event.
Racers completed three laps of a stunning 36-mile course that began and ended in the historic town of Truckee, California. From there, riders ascended a steady 13-mile grade to Tahoe City, passing Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics, then continued along rolling terrain that ran parallel to the shores of Lake Tahoe. After reaching the shoreline town of Kings Beach, riders turned to ascend the challenging 3.5-mile climb to 7179-foot Brockway Summit, where the one KOM line awaited, giving riders the opportunity to earn additional omnium points.
“The climb was a little harder than people thought. That really stung a lot of guys,” said Scott Moninger (Health Net-Maxxis), winner of Thursday’s criterium and co-leader with Andy Bajadali (Vitamin Cottage) in the omnium standings. After descending the other side of Brockway, riders pedaled through the brutally windy flats of Martis Valley and back into Truckee.
Despite chilly conditions with temperatures hovering in the high 40s, crowds from this active and enthusiastic community cheered riders on throughout the day.
Action started early with Geoff Rappoport (McGuire-Langdale) taking a solo flier almost from the gun. After roughly six miles, a group containing Aaron Olsen (Colavita-Sutter Home), Jason Buesch (Team Seasilver), and Glen Mitchell and Tim Larkin (both Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada) formed off the front.
Mitchell fell back the first time up the Brockway climb, and Buesch came off the second, but Olsen and Larkin kept the pack at bay until midway up the long grade approaching Tahoe City on the last lap.
Back in the field, Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada and Team Seasilver kept the main field under harness, save a four-man chase group that included Carl Menzies (Advantage Benefits), Eneas Freyre (Target Training), Chuck Coyle (Vitamin Cottage), and Mitchell. The foursome escaped on the first Brockway ascent, all to the dismay of Moninger, who remained in the main pack.
“If I had to describe the race in one word,” said a somewhat frustrated Moninger, “I would say ‘negative.’ Part of the problem is that we [Health Net] only have three riders in the race and neither Gord [Fraser] nor Tyler [Farrar] are from altitude. I could tell right away that Gord was not having a good day. He lasted maybe a lap. Riders [in the field] all just looked at me like, ‘What are you going to do?’ My hands were kind of tied because I only had one teammate.”
The second ascent of Brockway, with the chase group having been absorbed back into the main pack, saw the field splinter. Menzies soloed behind Olsen and Larkin, trailed by Beusch and Freyre, who in turn were followed by a group containing Moninger and Bajadali. By the time riders hit that last grind out of Truckee to Tahoe City, a group of 13 had formed, including Moninger, Bajadali, Menzies, Beusch and Freyre. They caught the slowing Olsen/Larkin duo before the grade ended.
Soon thereafter, James Mattis (Webcor Builders) launched a solo effort in the hopes of staving off stronger climbers before the last ascent of Brockway. Though Mattis took a lead of 46 seconds in short order, Moninger, Bajadali, and Anthony Colby (Target Training) came together over a minor ascent between Tahoe City and Kings Beach, catching and dropping the tiring Mattis and splintering the rest of the group.
Moninger, Bajadali, and Colby worked together until the feed zone at the halfway point of the final Brockway ascent when Moninger put down a little extra effort that saw him steadily pull away. By the time he reached the bottom of the descent, Moninger had a one-minute lead on the two chasers.
“I was having a hard time getting a deep breath because of the cold air,” said Moninger of that last climb. “I didn’t feel really snappy, but I just put in a little acceleration and looked back and there was a gap. In the back of my mind I was thinking that we might as well stay together because it’s a long run in to the line, but when I had a gap I thought I’d see what those guys had on the climb. And then I had a minute at the bottom of the descent and I started feeling good.”
Moninger powered in to win with a margin of almost two minutes over the two chasers by the time he reached the finish line. Bajadali bested Colby at the line, and the rest of the scattered group trickled in over the next several minutes. Menzies finished fourth with Mattis and Zach Walker (McGuire-Langdale) rounding out the top six.
With this win, Moninger took the lead in the omnium with 208 points followed by Bajadali (196) and Colby (150). Steven Cozza of the U.S. under-23 national team and Menzies are tied for fourth with 144 points.
Skies are finally clearing for the final stage Saturday evening, a flat, technical criterium that will wind through downtown Reno, Nevada. With $8000 on the line, this 90-minute timed event is expected to be fast and exciting.