On a beautiful day in southern California, 200 men lined up for the long-standing and traditional one hour and thirty minute criterium around Manhattan Beach. There were several big teams on hand, including the Jelly Belly squad of defending champion Jonas Carney. Health Net also brought a strong squad despite being without former Manhattan Beach Grand Prix winner Gord Fraser, who was off representing Canada in the Olympic games. The standard progression of this race over the years has been that a lot of breaks go off the front, then get chased down, leading to a big sprint finish. The front stretch of the loop has a short little hill that often serves as a springboard for attacks. The back straightaway is slightly downhill, and ends with the road narrowing into a sharp turn that comes about 250 meters from the finish. That last turn has seen several crashes over the years as the sprinters jockey for position on the final lap. In other words, this race is usually one for the sprinters, and not for those sprinters who are faint of heart.
Photo by Jaime Nichols
Today the race followed the usual script, but carried a few surprises. There were a lot of little attacks and counter-attacks over the first several laps; riders such as Adam Livingston (Team Seasilver), Daniel Bomfim (Equipe Colibri), Arquimedas Lam (Salazar Construction), Bernard Van Ulden (Webcor Builders), and John Slover (Team DBL) gave it a go and got some small gaps on the field. Men from the bigger teams such as Ernie Lechuga (Jelly Belly) and Mike Sayers (Health Net) were also active in both chasing and countering these early attacks. Livingston's attack got a good gap, but Emmanuel Gomez of Los Angeles Wings (who also happens to be my mechanic at Budget Pro Bicycles in Eagle Rock) led the peloton in the chase to neutralize Livingston. During the first several laps, many of the big names, such as defending champ Carney, Superweek winner Harm Jansen (Velo RPM), and Ivan Dominguez (Colavita), were in the "tail-gunner" position at the back of the pack keeping an eye on things.
On lap thirteen, strongman Chris Wherry (Health Net) got into a small break with Lechuga and Patrick Caro (Team Monex). This break lasted for about a lap and a half, but got pulled back. Then, on lap eighteen, Wherry got involved in another big attack of seven men that turned into the break of the day. The group of seven also contained Mariano Fredrick (Jelly Belly), Karl Bordine (Team Monex), Jose Garcia (Los Angeles Wings), Curtis Gunn (Veloworx Racing), Miguel Meza (Team Dare), and the irrepressible Harm Jansen (now out of tail-gunning position and carrying the RPM banner proudly forward). Enough big teams were happy with the composition of the break, and the riders in the break were strong enough to push out their gap to 25" with ten laps to go. Emmanuel Gomez said that his team was happy because their strongest guy was off the front, and so he tried to block as much as he could at the front of the pack. The studly Eric Saunders (Ofoto) missed the break, but put in a monster chase in an effort to bridge up that lasted for several laps. Ivan Dominguez also tried to bridge up, but like Saunders, his efforts fell short.
For the seven leaders, the gap yo-yoed a few seconds back and forth for several laps. With only a few laps remaining, Bordine was left behind and the six remaining men in the break looked like they might make it to the finish. With only three laps left, the break still had about 20", but then a serious chase finally spurred the peloton to close it down. With Dave McCook and his McGuire Pro Cycling boys doing a lot of the work, the gap was closed down to a mere 7" heading into the final lap. With the break looking doomed, the Health Net and Jelly Belly boys came to the front and hammered the final lap to lead out their big sprinters. The breakaway was caught, and in the final corner Jelly Belly's Carney latched onto the wheel of Health Net's Mike Sayers who was leading out on the inside. Coming around the outside in that corner was Health Net's Dan Schmatz and Tyler Farrar. Seeing his mates coming on the outside, Sayers touched his brakes and slowed Carney. This gave Schmatz and Farrar the gap they needed heading into the final straight, and Farrar took out the sprint for the win. Carney came up in second, and Robbie "Freeway" Ventura, the sole United States Postal Service rider in the race, took out third. This was the second big victory of the week for the young Farrar, who claimed the Under-23 United States National Champion title in the time trial out in Park City, Utah on Thursday.
After the race, Jonas Carney (Jelly Belly) commented that "we had a guy in the break we felt could win it. We started the leadout with 3/4 of a lap to go. Things got super diced up in the last corner. I've had good luck here and bad luck. Today I rode the perfect race heading into the last corner." Carney had grabbed the wheel of Health Net's Sayers heading into that last corner, but "Schmatz and Tyler (Farrar of Health Net) came around on the outside." When Sayers saw this, Carney said that Sayers slowed, forcing him to hit his brakes. Coming out of that final corner, Carney said that Farrar had about "four or five bike lengths, and you can't make that up in about 250 meters." Carney thought that the Health Net guys rode a solid race and their tactics were sound: "I'd have done the same thing to them if I had the chance," he said.
Riding without team support, Robbie Ventura (United States Postal Service) came to the race to get in some competition miles and try his luck: "This race is a great tune-up for the US Pro Criterium Championships. Great race, great fans, great tradition."
After we complemented Eric Saunders (Ofoto) on his great ride while trying to bridge up to the break, he said with a bit of a grin, "I've got to get into the break and not go on these impossible missions."
Carney, Farrar and Ventura Triumphant
Photo by Jaime Nichols
MBGP Men's Pro 1-2 Results
- Tyler Farrar - Health Net
- Jonas Carney - Jelly Belly
- Robbie Ventura - US Postal Service
Full Results & More Photos to Come!