By John Wilcockson
Outside of the USA Cycling Pro Tour events, which include the Tours of California and Georgia, Southern California’s venerable Redlands Classic boasts one of the best fields and most challenging courses of the season.
Particularly this week’s 23rd edition, when, following its absence in 2006, the climb to Oak Glen is back. It will host the mountaintop finish of the 156.6km stage 1 on Friday, following Thursday afternoon’s 5km prologue, while the familiar Redlands criterium and Sunset Road Race complete the four days of racing this weekend.
At an elevation of 4819 feet, Oak Glen summit is a tad higher than the Georgia race’s keynote climb, Brasstown Bald, but the two climbs are vastly different. Brasstown is short and very steep, whereas Oak Glen is like a typical alpine climb, with more even grades. For its return, the volunteer organizers of the Redlands race have designed a new course that features three Cat. 2 climbs before the 9km Cat. 1 haul to Oak Glen.
The California climb is likely to see a showdown Friday between three key teams: HealthNet-Maxxis (headed by Aussie Rory Sutherland and Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, but without 2006 winner Nathan O’Neill, who’s recovering from anauto accident), Toyota-United (with 2005 Redlands winner Chris Wherry and Chris Baldwin) and Priority Health (the on-form Ben Jacques-Mayne and Tom Zirbel). Trying to play off of the favorites will be Colombian climber Cesar Grajales (Jittery Joe’s), Colorado veteran Scott Moninger (BMC Racing) and Texan Pat McCarty (Slipstream-Chipotle).
[nid:37825]In the pro women’s race, which also features the Oak Glen finish on Friday, defending champion Amben Neben (riding for her local Stahl-SC Velo squad before joining her Buitenpoort team in Europe) will be hard-pressed to repeat.
Beside the strong domestic teams, inclucing Tibco (with NRC leader Brooke Miller), Colavita-Sutter Home (with Dotsie Bausch and Tina Pic), Webcor (Christine Thorburn), Expresscopy.com (with Canadian veteran Anne Samplonius) and Cheerwine (with Laura Van Gilder), Neben will have to face the seven-strong, German-based T-Mobile squad headed by World Cup winners Oenone Wood of Australia and Ina Teutenberg of Germany.
Thursday’s prologue, which climbs 680 vertical feet over 5km, will give an initial indication of the relative individual strengths, but on the open road Friday over the climbs to Oak Glen, only the strongest teams (with the best climbers) will be in contention.
23RD REDLANDS BICYCLE CLASSIC
PRO MENMarch 22 Prologue: The Sun Time Trial. 5km – Redlands: Highland Ave to Sunset DriveMarch 23 Stage 1: Redlands Ford Road Race – Redlands to Oak Glen, 156.6kmMarch 24 Stage 2: 1st Centennial Bank/KWB Wealth Managers Criterium – Downtown Redlands, 90 minutesMarch 25 Stage 3: Beaver Medical Group Sunset Road Race – 12 laps of Sunset circuit, finish downtown Redlands, 146.5km
PRO WOMENMarch 22 Prologue: The Sun Time Trial. 5kmMarch 23 Stage 1: Redlands Ford Road Race – Perris to Oak Glen, 115.2kmMarch 24 Stage 2: 1st Centennial Bank/KWB Wealth Managers Criterium – Downtown Redlands, 60 minutesMarch 25 Stage 3: Beaver Medical Group Sunset Road Race – 9 laps of Sunset circuit, finish downtown Redlands, 105.8km