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The Redlands Bicycle Classic made its return Wednesday, after a two-year COVID hiatus.
The long break and travel restrictions left a lot of riders arriving on the start line unsure of what to expect or who to mark in the peloton. The lack of stage racing in the U.S. and teams folding or trying to survive overseas has also left the race wide open this week.
Known for the slogan, “Where Legends Are Born,” several of the past stage winners are now racing on the WorldTour in Europe. Only one of the victors from 2019 returned to race this week, Erica Cleavenger (DNA Pro Cycling).
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Canadian Emily Marcolini of 3T/Q+M Cycling, was among those unsure of her form, surprising herself in finishing third on the stage and climbing into the first queen of the mountains lead.
“Normally, I am pretty nervous on this circuit because it can be very fast, and hard and technical,” Marcolini said. “I hadn’t really raced in the U.S. that much over the past few years; I wasn’t too familiar with who the big names are anymore. I didn’t come in with too many expectations, I just wanted to get back into the flow of racing and try and get up the road and do well.”
Straight from the gun, the attacks began, setting the pace high for the rest of the 14-lap, 41.3-mile circuit before a 10-rider break was established. Working well together, the front group was able to gain an advantage that climbed to nearly two minutes, before fighting to a sprint finish.
“It was pretty aggressive from the start. There were attacks going constantly and the pace was high. The final time up the climb I opened up the sprint a little too early and I came around and ended up third. Overall. I’m really happy with how the race went and how my teammates rode. This is our first big race together so that was awesome to see that.”
Marcolini holds a slim one-point margin lead in the QOM classification ahead of Colombian national road champion, Diana Peñuela with DNA Pro Cycling. The stage 2 circuit race in Yucaipa will test the legs of the riders before the queen of the mountain battle heats up to the finish in Oak Glen.
Heidi Franz celebrates an emotional win
Racing for Rally Cycling in 2019, Heidi Franz and her teammates stood with arms locked together under the finishing banner at Redlands, trying to hold back tears in a moment of silence. It had been one month since their teammate, Kelly Catlin had passed away unexpectedly, and the first race back for several of the girls.
That week, Megan Jastrab sprinted up to the finish on the Highland Circuit, posting her arms in the air for the Rally win, and in honor of their fallen friend.
Three years later and riding the same circuit, Franz powered across the line in shock for her first major victory in several years. Now racing for InstaFund LaPrima Cycling, this place means a lot to her and she described just how special this victory was to her.
“I just can’t believe it. I think I sat down and sprinted all over again three different times. I’m just so happy,” Franz said at the finish.
“It’s really special because when we won this stage with Megan Jastrab, it was so emotional. I think of that every time I come here. It’s super special to come back to this stage and be able to pull it off. We have such a special team; they worked so hard. This stage is such a tough one to start Redlands with. I’m super proud of everybody.”
Mexican national road champ escapes injury on highland circuit
Eder Frayre had finished third on GC at Redlands back in 2019, his best finish ever. The current Mexican national road champion arrived in his best form, targeting this race for the season.
Heading into the 12th lap of the circuit Wednesday, he dropped his chain on a fast turn in the race causing him to crash, breaking his bike, helmet, and shoe. It left him unable to finish the stage and possibly the race.
“The pavement after that corner has a lot of bumps and my chain came off. I looked down to see what had happened and that’s when I crashed. It was my fault because I was looking down when riders in front of me moved, but when I saw them, my tire was coming off and I crashed,” Frayre said.
“We were going close to 40mph. The crash happened so fast, I got up right away and wanted to continue but my bike was broken. Because we didn’t have the caravan, I had to wait for the Shimano neutral service. They wanted to give me a bike, but I would have had to change pedals, and then with my shoe broken and helmet, there was no way.”
As a climber racing for a crit-focused team at L39ION of Los Angeles, Frayre has few opportunities to showcase his climbing strengths. Since he completed at least half of the stage, he is able to continue racing Thursday, hoping to salvage his race on the finish up to Oak Glen.
“Thankfully, no bones are broken. I was so motivated for this race since we’re not going to Gila. Honestly, the team came to race Redlands for me. I was so happy and in the best form I’ve been in, in the last three years … only to crash wearing number 1 and the national jersey,” he said.
Racing so close to the border of Mexico, the Baja California native has family and friends who made the two-hour trip to Redlands for the rare opportunity to see their loved ones race in person.
“Even if I lost all chances for the GC, with many of my family and friends coming to see me race, I am thankful that I am able to continue.”