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REDLANDS, CA (CT) — Twenty-four hours after a dramatic pile-up in the final turn of the Redlands Criterium sent him somersaulting over his handlebar, Travis McCabe returned with a vengeance, winning the Sunset Loop road race, the final stage of the 2016 Redlands Classic.
With his fists in the air and a scream across the line, McCabe’s sprint win from a group of 15 riders was a dramatic victory to cap off this year’s five-day stage race — and it was far from the only drama on course, as Canadian Matteo Dal-Cin (Silber) took the general classification from race leader Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Sutter Home).
Dal-Cin rode aggressively on the hilly Sunset Loop circuit, a hilly, technical course with 700 feet of elevation gain per lap, driving a large breakaway group with several teams that had not yet achieved a notable result and were motivated to make something of their week in Redlands.
Also in that group was McCabe, who moved into third overall, and time-trial stage winner Nielson Powless (Axeon-Hagens Berman), who vaulted from fourth overall into second.
The day was marked by two large breakaways of similar size, the first escaping immediately and brought back after four of 11 laps; a second breakaway formed immediately, and included many of the same riders, including McCabe and Silber’s Nigel Ellsay.
Missing from both groups was Jelly Belly’s Lachlan Morton, who started the day third overall, as well as Acevedo, whose Jamis team had held the race leader’s jersey all week but was unable to stave off the flurry of attacks that marked the Sunset Loop road race from the gun.
“It went the way we thought it would, which was pretty hot and heavy straight from the start,” Dal-Cin said. “We landed Ben [Perry], who was tenth in GC, up in that first one, along with Nigel, so we put pressure on Jamis to chase for the first three or four laps. I think that had them on the back foot. At four laps in, it reshuffled, and I was able to shuffle into the break with Nigel.”
Dal-Cin explained that Acevedo and Morton briefly made an appearance at the front of the race as the initial breakaway was caught, though they didn’t last long.
“Lachlan and Acevedo hit out, and then Chris [Dahl] dragged me up to them, and once we conglomerated with the breakaway, it was kind of a reshuffle of that breakaway,” Dal-Cin said. “Acevedo was there, with one of his teammates, very briefly. We saw he was isolated, and a lot of people wanted to take advantage. And then it reshuffled, without him in it. It was perfect, it went exactly how we had hoped it would.”
As the race wore on, and the time split went up, it became clear that Jamis would be unable to close the gap, and Dal-Cin, winner of the 2015 Grand Prix Cycliste de Saguenay, would take the overall. Still, he took to the front lap and drove the pace to keep the group together to the finish line.
“I was feeling good, but I knew I had to do that to mitigate the attacking that would come over the top,” Dal-Cin said. “There were a few times where I was fading, and Nigel just came to the front and set a super hard tempo, and kept everyone in check.”
Once off the Sunset Loop, the riders descended into downtown Redlands for several laps on the criterium course in front of large crowds.
The final sprint would be a rematch of sorts, between Stage 4 winner Ulises Castillo (KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo) — the only rider to be in front of the carnage on the final turn of the Redlands Criterium — and McCabe, who had been sitting third wheel when Silber’s Chris Dahl lost traction and crashed, sending McCabe flying off his bike.
This time around, McCabe took the turn first, out-sprinting Castillo to erase the memories of one day earlier and leave Redlands on a high note. It was McCabe’s first win on Sunset Loop, after finishing third in 2014 and second in 2015.
“I wasn’t going to make that mistake again,” McCabe said, referring to his insistence that he make it through the final turn first. “I knew I didn’t have a chance to take the overall, so I was just looking at the stage win. Just covering. Coming in, it was two Silber, two Axeon, and two Rally, so it was just kind of watching everyone, sitting back, and just trying to float through the five laps until the finish. I knew I had to be into that downhill first, took it right through, sprinted, and took the win. It feels great.”
“We knew it was going to be a really hard race,” McCabe continued. “As close as the time gaps were, and the way everything played out the past couple of days, we knew it was going to be really aggressive. I was at the front, in the right spot at the right time, and got into the break, that huge split that went up early. It was ideal for us, we had four guys, so we went to the front and rode it really hard. It came back, but Jamis had to do so much work to bring it back that all of their guys were blown. As soon as it bridged, I attacked again, just because, why not? At that point, everyone was so tired from an hour and a half of racing, we just rolled it, and it stuck.”
Powless, the stage 3 time trial winner, finished third on the stage, and jumped from fourth overall into second.
“I had high hopes and high expectations for myself here, and I definitely exceeded them,” Powless said. “I knew a lot of the people racing here and the level they race at is extremely high. There was a lot of depth in this field. So I knew it would be quite a challenge. But my form kept continuing to rise from San Dimas. The first day here was a bit rough and it had me down a bit. But from the second stage all the way to the end, I felt I was getting stronger.”
Jamis vs. the field
Jamis-Sutter home team director Sebastian Alexandre said the combination of teams and top riders looking to win the stage and move up on classification made it impossible for one team to control.
“We expected what happened today before the race,” Alexandre said. “We knew it would be a big battle. There were a few good teams that haven’t gotten much during the week, and they were fired up to break the race into pieces. Right from the beginning, there was full commitment from everyone. It was full gas from the first lap, to put pressure on us, and when you have everybody going full gas, it’s hard to control. Most years in this race [Sunset Loop], you’ll see one or two teams attack. Today everyone was on from the first lap. We tried to control it, and not panic, but every breakaway was 15 guys, and it was not just about the numbers, it was also the type of riders that were in the breakaway. Everyone was going for the race.”
Alexandre said the team tried its best to contain the breakaways by riding tempo in the field rather than sending Acevedo up the road, where he would be isolated and forced to cover attacks on his own.
“I knew if I sent Acevedo across, he would be isolated quickly, so we tried to ride tempo. But when you have 20 guys working hard at front, and we had five or six guys pulling, it’s 20 versus five, it’s hard to pull it back. And when you finally do, another group goes again. It wasn’t easy to control. We didn’t have the legs to control everyone.”
Alexandre said Jamis did not receive any help from Jelly Belly, whose rider Morton saw his third overall spot evaporate up the road. “Nobody helped,” he said. “We got no help from Jelly Belly.”
That said, Alexandre was complimentary of the tactics utilized by teams like Rally, Holowesko-Citadel, and Silber.
“Rally and Holowesko didn’t have much from the week,” Alexandre said. “Sometimes you race to win, but when you have nothing to lose, you go full gas from the first lap, and maybe something happens, maybe you end up winning. You could see there were four Holwoesko riders in the first breakaway.”
In the end, Acevedo lost 2:38 on the stage, and fell from first to eighth overall.
“I don’t complain, that’s bike racing, and at the end of the day, it was a good show,” Alexandre said. “It was a great bike race, with very hard racing. Everyone was committed, from the gun, to change the story of the race. They know we are strong, and the only way to beat our team was to go full gas from the gun. But we can leave happy with how our team rode. We had full commitment from our riders. Eric Marcotte was a monster today; he pulled from the first lap to the last lap, with stitches in his chin. Same with [Sebastian] Haedo and [Luis] Amaran. We worked all week to defend the jersey, we worked to defend the jersey at the San Dimas Stage Race, and today, we paid the price.”
Armstrong defends race lead as Thomas adds to Twenty16 tally
The Twenty16-Ridebiker squad of two-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong capped off a perfect week in Redlands with the stage win and overall victory Sunday as teammate Leah Thomas took a three-woman sprint ahead of Scotti Lechuga (Hagens Berman-Supermint) and Eri Yonamine (Dare to Be Project).
Armstrong crossed the line 37 seconds later to secure the GC win, her first Redlands title.
“When I think back, to all of the years I’ve done Redlands, I think it was always an early season race for me, coming from Idaho,” Armstrong said. “I always had all the riders coming here with California fitness. I’m happy for the team, but also super excited to bring home the yellow jersey, as this is one race I hadn’t won. It feels really good.”
Armstrong started the day with a 33-second advantage over Abbott, last year’s overall winner, and though Abbott tried to go clear early, she was unable to assemble a breakaway group.
Instead, the stage turned into a race of attrition until Kristi Lay (Rally) broke away on the sixth of nine laps.
Three riders bridged across — Thomas and Jess Cera, of Twenty16-Ridebiker, and Lindsey Bayer (Hagens Berman-Supermint).
On the eighth of nine laps, Lechuga and Yonamine jumped from the field, and made their way across to the four leaders.
Just as they were about to make contact, on the final lapo, Thomas attacked, dropping Cera and Bayer.
Lechuga and Yonamine rode past Lay and Cera, making a new group of three women at the front: Thomas, Lechuga and Yonamine.
The trio held a one-minute advantage over the field. Because Yonamine was a GC threat to Armstrong — she’d started the day 1:46 down — Thomas sat on the group, keeping her legs fresh legs for the sprint.
“I didn’t want to give Eri any extra time, so it as my job just to sit there, sprint for the win, and take away any time bonus,” Thomas said. “This is my biggest win, so I’m very enthusiastic and excited. And for Kristin to come back and have the yellow jersey is great.”
Yonamine moved into third overall, leapfrogging her Dare to Be Project teammate Amber Neben, a three-time winner at Redlands.