By Robbie Stout
Mike Sayers (BMC) won Saturday’s Twilight Criterium in Reno, Nevada. The race concluded with a tactical sprint between Sayers and Jaior Perez of the Colombian National Team. Alex Candelario (Jelly Belly) used his explosive sprinting ability to win the chase-group sprint, finishing third in the stage and first in the omnium.
Saturday’s race was extremely fast from the moment it began. Once again, the Colombian team kept the pace painfully high on the 0.8-mile loop, turning the 90-minute criterium into a race of attrition.
An early breakaway by Perez was followed by 10 of the field’s strongest riders, including Candelario, Tony Cruz (Discovery), Juan Forero (Colombian National), and Sayers. This powerful train disintegrated the field as the officials kept the course clear of any stragglers—with 45 minutes still remaining, half of the 90 starters had been booted.
With three riders in the 11-man breakaway, the Colombians continued their aggressive racing. Forero, the runner-up at Saturday’s showdown in Truckee, California, assumed personal responsibility for keeping the breakaways far beyond their comfort levels.
In one of the most decisive moments of the race, Jaior Perez sprinted away from the lead group, and only Sayers could follow. Perez and Sayers maintained their distance from the chase group throughout the remainder of the race. Sayers remarked later that he had an incredibly difficult time hanging onto Perez’s wheel. Meanwhile, the two remaining Colombians in the chase group stopped working and left the chase to Candelario and Cruz.
With five laps to go, Sayers seemed to be struggling. Perez continued to drive their breakaway from the lead group at an impossible speed. Candelario and Cruz didn’t seem to be gaining any ground on the lead group.
In the final lap, the battle between Sayers and Perez turned into an all-out war. Just before the last curve before the finish line, the fight got ugly. Perez attempted to pinch Sayers off between himself and a course barrier. But instead of hitting the brakes, Sayers made a quick dash between Perez and the wall—narrowly escaping a repeat of his crashes at the Tour of California and Tour of Georgia earlier this year.
Even though Sayers was noticeably more exhausted than Perez, his sprint was fueled by the adrenaline from a near crash. Moments later, Candelario won the bunch sprint.
The final stage of the two-day omnium was an incredibly spirited race for Sayers. After his devastating crashes earlier this year, Sayers has found it difficult to regain the confidence needed to win at big races like the Tour de Nez, and said that winning Saturday’s stage was “a relief.”
As for Candelario, whose third-place finish was good enough to take the omnium title, he attributed his victory in part to the thin air.
“I’m a good altitude rider. Being at altitude played a role in my win this weekend,” he said.