HIGHLAND, CA (CT) — On a searing hot day, Cuban rider Ruben Companioni soloed to victory at the opening stage of the Redlands Classic, a technical circuit race that started and finished atop a short, steep climb.
Companioni rode nearly the entire 20-lap, 93.5km (58.1 mile) stage off the front, initially with three breakaway companions, and then, for 20km (12 miles), on his own, nursing a gap that hovered around 90 seconds yet plummeted on the final circuit.
In the end, Companioni crossed the finish 14 seconds ahead of his Jamis-Sutter Home teammate, Sebastian Haedo, with Holowesko-Citadel rider Travis McCabe finishing third.
Companioni earned maximum KOM points on the stage.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” Companioni said. “With three laps to go I started to believe that maybe it was possible, but it wasn’t until the final lap that I actually realized I could win.”
The three other riders who broke away with Companioni were Thomas Vaubourzeix (Lupus), Julio Padilla (Arapahoe Resources), and Dennis Ramirez (Gateway Harley).
Ramirez was first to lose contact, and at the halfway point, the three remaining riders held a three-minute advantage.
Holowesko-Citadel put in the biggest workload at the front of the peloton to keep the breakaway in check, with Rally Cycling, Lupus, and Jelly Belly also taking turns. But there was rarely a concerted effort until the final lap, and by that point, it was too late.
“It was close, but not as close as we would have liked,” McCabe said. “We made a few errors. I think the entire field underestimated Ruben. Obviously, he won, with a pretty decisive gap. I knew, from racing with him in Florida a few weekends ago, that he is flying right now. At one point, one of the Rally guys said, ‘But it’s only one guy,’ and I said, ‘yeah, but it’s a fast guy.’
“We knew if it got up to three minutes, it was going to be hard to bring back, with this course and the speed, especially with the heat,” McCabe continued. “We went on the front with 10 to go and brought it back to a minute and a half. We sat up, because we wanted other teams to work, and you could see they underestimated him. We got it to a minute and a half, and then Rally went to the front for a couple of laps, and just kept it at a minute and a half. Then they got off the front, and then it was Jelly Belly. All of these teams, instead of working together to bring it back, they were hitting the panic button. With three laps to go, and having a two-minute lead and everyone had sat up, it was over, and you’re looking at second place.”
The win continued a hot streak for the Jamis squad, which also saw its Colombian climber Janier Acevedo win the opening time trial, and general classification, at the San Dimas Stage Race last weekend. With Acevedo, and Haedo, one of the best criterium racers in the field, Jamis could potentially leave Redlands with three different stage winners as well as the overall.
Thursday’s stage 2, the Yucaipa Road Race, features six laps of a 14.1-mile circuit with a 5.4-mile finish after a climb to Oak Glen Village.
“We have a really good team in this race,” Haedo said. “Acevedo will try to win the stage tomorrow and take the GC. It’s a good climb for him. He looked at it yesterday, and he liked it. If he takes it, we’ll see if he can hold it in the time trial. And if he does, then we won’t be racing on Saturday and Sunday for the win, we’ll only be racing to defend the jersey.”