Eric Young takes Inner Loop stage with a speedy sprint, and Kristin Armstrong strong-arms her way to the win.
By Eddie Clark
(May 3, 2012) SILVER CITY, NM.—Starting at the old Army base just outside of Silver City, Fort Bayard, the 128km Inner Loop Road Race featured two bonus sprints and three KOM’s in addition to some white-knuckle downhills over narrow chip sealed roads. The first bonus sprint at 6 miles went to Bontrager-Livestrong and Jamis-Sutter Home teams who took all top three places for time bonuses, cash, and sprint points.
It wasn’t until the first KOM at Pinos Altos that the screws started being applied to the peloton in the form of a high pace. Excepting a few weary racers, most of the peloton regrouped on the downhill leading into the second KOM which precludes the dubious downhill to Sopilla Creek.
Eager to get something going, Robin Eckmann (California Giant) was the key instigator to get away before the second KOM, and also draw out his day’s breakaway companions. Carlos Lopez of the Mexico National Team was first to bridge up, and was followed by James Stemper (Kenda 5 Hour Energy), Chris Parrish (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits), Thomas Rabou (Competitive Cyclists) and Javier Magias (Team Type1 Sanofi).
As veteran racer Tom Zirbel (Optum Kelly Benfits) noted, “The race isn’t won on the descent”, and so the days break was able to slip away unseen while the peloton cautiously negotiated their way down the twisty descent.
The breakaway’s gap grew to nearly three minutes before the final KOM at 110km, at which time the peloton smelled blood in the water. Last year’s Gila winner Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclists) took the last big climb as an opportunity to bridge up to the breakaway, but in doing so he also brought up Marc De Maar (United Health Care) who was riding to cover the break for teammate and race leader Rory Sutherland.
“The guys did a great job as usual to control the race, and make it as easy as possible for me. We came here with a really strong team”, said race leader Sutherland.
Once Mancebo and De Maar caught the breakaway, the peloton got in it gear, and brought the whole race back together for a fast sprint back into Fort Bayard and the finish. Once they hit the finishing stretch, Bissell’s Eric Young got an immediate gap that he held for over 250 meters to claim the win ahead of the rapidly closing Competitive Cyclists duo of Francisco Mancebo and Chad Beyer.
In the women’s race, US road race champion, Robin Farina (NOW Novartis) put in a big effort with Courtney Lowe (Optum Kelly Benfits) after the Sopilla descent only to be caught in the latter miles of the race. In the end, Kristin Armstrong (Exergy Twenty12) flexed her muscle to dispatch the frequent attacks from the Optum team, and sequester Janel Holcomb (Optum Kelly Benefits) to second by a couple bike lengths.