By Briggs Heaney
Photos by Larry Rosa
Under clear skies and breezy summer conditions in Reno, Nevada, seventy five top professional cyclists embarked on a five stage, four day journey, starting at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nevada, with a seventy five minute timed criterium race around the parking lot of the casino resort. Unlike in previous years when the race was an omnium, based on individual points earned in each stage, this season's race is a true stage race, where the overall winner is the rider with the lowest total time combined for the five stages.
The criterium course was contested over a 1.04 mile loop around the parking lot of the Grand Sierra resort, with a slightly uphill finish to complete the first leg of the "Coolest Race in America." And from the opening gun, the action was fast and furious as the BMC team attacked, first with Jackson Stewart and then with Mike Sayers, looking to push the pace and stretch the field. They were never able to gain a significant gap, as the Bissell team made sure to contain any breakaways. Riding at the front, sometimes as many as five strong, Bissell put both the peloton and the audience on notice that they would be a force to be reckoned with throughout the five stage race.
The field remained largely together for the first sixty minutes of the race, but as the time continued to tick down, multiple attacks went off the front. Steven Cozza of the Slipstream-Chipotle team went away with Aaron Olson of Bissell, but was pulled back by BMC, who were trying to set up the sprint for their designated rider Taylor Tolleson. Finally, in a surprise move with five laps to go in the race, local favorite Alex Candelario went off on his own in an attempt at a solo victory.
As Candelario powered away from the field, the Bissell team once again came to the front and began the chase. The Reno resident was able to hold the field at bay for four laps, but he was caught on the back stretch of the final lap, setting up the bunch sprint.
Bissell continued to keep the pace high, discouraging any attacks, as a large crowd gathered around the finish line area to see the finish.
As they approached the finish line, the field was spread out ten wide on the finishing straight. Bissell began their lead out at about three hundred meters for young Steven Howard. Rocketing away from the field, the American completed the perfect day for his Bissell team, taking the win by more than a bike length ahead of Riccardo Escuela of the Successful Living squad and Eric Wohlberg of the Canadian Symmetrics team.
In the fight for the overall, Howard takes the race's first overall leader's jersey, as well as the best sprinter title. The best young rider jersey went to Roman Van Uden of Team Rubicon-Orbea. Racing for Lance Armstrong's cancer foundation, the jersey will make a good prize for the small team as they look to raise awareness and money for cancer research.
Racing continues tomorrow with a 2.75 mile mountain time trial to the Village at Northstar resort in north Lake Tahoe, and then a timed seventy five minute evening criterium in downtown Truckee. The morning time trial should provide for a major shift in the GC standings, while the evening criterium will provide another chance for the fast finishers to shine.