Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Stage one of TdN

The opening stage of the revitalized Tour de Nez was a bling-bling criterium held in the parking lot of the largest casino in the 'Biggest Little City in the World.' For most of the race it seemed the peloton was content to open-up their legs with a tough, 2.75km uphill time trial looming in front of them the next morning. But not for hometown hero Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefits Strategies-Medifast) who attacked out of the peloton as the 75 minute race went from time to seven laps to go. Candelario quickly built nearly 30 seconds by himself but a large Bissell train reeled him in on the final lap, setting up their neo-pro sprinter Steven Howard for his first ever professional win.
"Aaron [Olson] took over when we were still chasing Alex on the last lap," said Howard. "We caught him about halfway down the back side. Aaron then took me to the final corner and I went from there - it was a pretty long way!"
Coming in second just behind Howard was Successful Living's Argentinean speedster Ricardo Escuela, who unclipped from his pedal half-way down the finish stretch. Despite the unfortunate malfunction his momentum was so great that is still carried him up the false flat to the finish in second.
"I'm pretty excited about the win," Howard told Cyclingnews. "This is my first year as a pro and six years total riding. I just finished my junior year a month ago at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids, Michigan native came to the Bissell team through their development system, which includes the Priority Health U23 squad. "I was on a couple of local teams and then the past few years the Priority Health U23 team. All the sponsors, like Bissell and Advantage Benefits, are pretty much local to Grand Rapids."
The attack by Candelario was an interesting move for the well-known field sprinter. "We wanted to smash in the last half of the race," he said. "It's a stage race and obviously I'm not going to do well in the uphill time trial. So I gave it a go to see if anyone would come with me, but no one came across. I just thought there would be more guys willing to race. But Bissell is just riding really strong and they have twice as many guys as anyone else."
Alex Candelario Storms off the front. Photo ©: Briggs Heaney

Candelario's uncharacteristic move did set off some alarm bells in the field, with many thinking of making the jump. But with only Bissell left as a major team, the rest of the teams and individual riders looked to them to chase. "I thought about going with him, but I had a brief hesitation," said race winner Howard. "With two laps to go I thought he was gone, but the team rode so well we were able to get him back."
A small bridge attempt did come from Garmin-Chipotle's Steven Cozza, riding on his own this week. "I just opened my legs up for tomorrow, for the time trial," he said. Cozza thinks that though Bissell and Kelly Benefits are strong in terms of numbers, the layout of the race does not necessarily favour them. It's a smaller field, about 75 guys, so I don't think team-mates are going to really help unless you want to win the sprints.
As for race strategy as a 'freelance' rider, Cozza said, "I'm just going to try to get into everything, and if anything has a Kelly Benefits or Bissell in it, get in it. They are the only teams here that can really control anything."
Conversely, for the two big teams, the usual GC guys are ready to go in the time trial tomorrow. One of them is Bissell's Burke Swindlehurst, who said the conditions are what he looks for in a stage race. "I'm one of them; I like the altitude and heat around here!"
Candelario said to look for his team-mate Andy Bajadali, who has ridden well in NRC stage races like Redlands. "Bajadali can drop pretty much everyone on the climb!"

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