Eric Wohlberg (Symmetrics) won the hard way at the Merco Cycling Classic Road Race on Sunday, March third. After a select group of twenty-four riders managed a substantial gap to the rest of the field, the Canadian soloed away on the final lap to cross the finish line with over one minute ahead of the charging group. Winning the sprint, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) finished a second time on the podium over the weekend, ahead of Anibal Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home).

"I jumped with one (lap) to go, I was just having to chase stuff all day long by myself so you might as well make that effort off the front. You're going to make that effort anyway so you might as well do it off the front. I'm sure I got my gap while the other three big teams were looking at each other, bluffing each other into committing to the chase, when you're by yourself either you're covering stuff all day long or you might as well be throwing it down. If you go, you go." said Wohlberg.

The field of over 100 riders started off early on a somewhat chilly Sunday morning to cover five loops of a rolling 24-mile course surrounded by acres of blooming almond trees, and their frequent companions, bees. With only a few teams having support cars in the race, the spirit of cooperation was evident amongst the teams, as cars supported multiple riders for the 120 miles race, with BMC's Gavin Chilcott providing feed support to Astana's Chris Horner and others.

The first lap started off relatively easy as most riders were trying to warm up, Matt Seagrave (Kahala La Grange) managed to get a gap of five minutes to the field before being caught in the second lap.

Attacks on the second lap

Attacks were relentless on the second lap, with each team trying to be represented in the break, and shutting down any moves that they didn't like.

Fast Freddie Rodriguez (Rock Racing) covering an attack

"Complete flurry of attacks, we had one guy up there, one group would go across, then another group would go across and we had one guy in each of those bridging moves, suddenly you have a big group up front and everyone sits up in the back, race over." said Jacques-Maynes about the attacks on the second lap.

A successful break of about 24 riders finally went on the second lap, and quickly established a gap which grew to over 10 minutes by the final lap. Most teams were well represented in the break with multiple riders, which included Colavita-Sutter Home's Tyler Wren, Davide Frattini and brothers Alejandro and Anibal Borrajo. Rock Racing also had four riders in the break: David Clinger, Sergio Hernandez, Sterling Magnell and Brock Curry. Bissell with three riders: Jacques-Maynes, Aaron Olson and Morgan Schmitt. California Giant Cycling Team also had three riders, Any Jacques-Maynes, Patrick Briggs and Jesse Moore. Also in the break were Amgen Tour of California King of the Mountains Scott Nydam and returning from injury Brent Brookwalter from BMC, Keven Lacombe (Kelly Benefits/Medifast), Markus Weinberg (Kahala-La Grange), Mark Shimihara (Team Clif Bar), Daniel Holloway (VMG) and Wohlberg.

The breakaway group on the third lap

Ben Jacques-Maynes and his team didn't like to way the break was being controlled, so they attacked with less than three laps to go to reduce the numbers to around fifteen riders. "Colavita took control on the pack and acted like they were in control and so, when three quarters of the break is sitting on, it was time to start breaking it up so half way through the race we started attacking them for a bit. (We) really wanted to break it down a little bit, drop some dead weight and, we brought it down, we still had the 3 of us in the front."

With one lap to go, Wohlberg launched his solo move, and the group didn't respond as they were busy watching each other to see who would chase.

"When Wohlberg went, Colavita was killing every single move that we did, it was like 'hey you want to kill move, kill that one, that's the one that you need to kill right now, if you don't, you're going to lose the race'." said Ben Jacques-Maynes.

While the chasing group attacked each other, Wohlberg built up a gap of over one minute, and was able to enjoy crossing the line. "I did a full lap solo. It was pretty tough, I don't know who was chasing."

Ben Jacques-Maynes won a close sprint ahead of Anibal Borrajo to finish on the podium for the second day in a row, following his third place finish in Saturday's criterium. "I've done good on this sprint before, I've been fourth and fifth, we were in a small group, Borrajo, once again, wanted to sit on my wheel. The group came back just at the top of the hill, we got all back together and Aaron hit on the front, got his wheel, dropped me off with 250 to go and just tried not to die in the headwind."

Ben Jacques-Maynes takes the sprint for second place

Wohlberg was happy with the weekend of racing by his teammates. "It was very aggressive actually, it was good racing. Beautiful out, not too many bees which is nice, fantastic marshalling both yesterday and today so we're always very happy to come up here. I'm in Sunnyvale so I'm relatively local. It's great to see these races continue and Merco stepping up to keep this race going and the town of Merced is fantastic."

Ben Jacques-Maynes was pleased to see Wohlberg claim victory. "He's been a training partner for years, he came second to me a couple of times last spring so I'm one hundred percent for him, great ride by him. He waltzed away from a stellar field here, he proved his class once again."

Wohlberg was disappointed that his team, Symmetrics, did not get an invitation to the Amgen Tour of California. "We were training for Tour of California hoping that we'd get into that, but it didn't work out for us. It's kind of disappointing so we got three guys in Northern California still riding pretty hard right now so we're going to try to pick these events as much as we can and continue with our season."

Wohlberg is not sure if he will do the third race of the series, the Fresno criterium. "It was a great race last year when it was a full on stage race but if it just a one-day criterium, it's a classic criterium but that's not really my cup of tea. That's kind of argy bargy all day long. If I had all my hockey gear down here." said a laughing Wohlberg. "Maybe one of these days, there's going to be a guy in hockey gear doing a criterium and that's going to be me."

Eric Wohlberg following a Colavita-Sutter Home wheel early in the race

Top 10 Results
  1. Eric Wohlberg (Symmetrics)
  2. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling Team)
  3. Anibal Borrajo (Colavita Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light)
  4. Andy Jacques-Maynes (California Giant Berry Farms)
  5. Daniel Holloway (VMG/Felt)
  6. David Clinger (Rock Racing)
  7. Markus Weinberg (Kahala-La Grange)
  8. Brent Brookwalter (BMC Pro Cycling Team)
  9. Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light)
  10. Aaron Olson (Bissell Pro Cycling Team)
All photos copyright Lyne Lamoureux.

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