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19th Annual MERCO Cycling Classic: Day 3

MERCED, CA – The 2012 MERCO Cycling Classic is a 4-day Stage Race being held March 1-4, 2012. It consists of the Merced Irrigation District Road Race March 1; Merced Boosters Time Trial March 2; McDonald’s Downtown Grand Prix March 3; and the Hilltop Ranch Road Race March 4. The MERCO Cycling Classic has long been considered the unofficial beginning of the U.S. Race Season, and the Pro/1/2 Team Simple Green/Bike Religion squad is hoping to use this race not only to gauge fitness but to show form and gain recognition to help in being selected to ride the biggest races later in the year.

For more info on each stage race, please visit www.topsportcycling.com.

Stage 3 – MacDonald’s Downtown Grand Prix – March 3, 2012

by Christiaan Kriek

The McDonalds Downtown Crit was to be a 40 lap race covering a circuit of 1 mile in downtown Merced. Even before the start the pressure was already on with everyone jostling for a good starting position. (Guys jumping fences, and always that one guy who squeezes into the gap that was never really there, sheepishly mumbling something like “Ah sorry man…squeeeeze in there”– as if that creates more space?)

Right from the gun the pace was high, with only the odd attack getting more than a 50m (approximately 150feet for the non-metric user) gap on the field. California Giant Berry Farms controlled the early part of the race as Evan Huffman stole the yellow jersey off Patrick Bevin (Bissel Pro Cycling) in the previous day’s time trial. The time gap was a mere 2 seconds at the start of today’s crit, so the pressure was always going to be on the race leader’s team to protect that lead. As the race got older, the young team of California Giant Berry Farms started to lose control of the race with Bissell, Optum and Exergy starting to put the hammer down.

With 5 laps to go, as cycling races go, all the riders started to get a little feisty for bunch position leading up to the sprint. A misjudged corner and a lapse in concentration by one of the riders is all it took to demonstrate the “ripple effect.” The crash brought down a few riders, but more importantly caused a split in the bunch which eventually saw the race leader lose his yellow jersey (which he would’ve lost anyway, as Patrick Bevin got 10  seconds time bonus for winning the stage). The pressure was on in the remaining 4 laps with Bissell taking full control with their lead-out train. The rest of the riders were kind of fighting for the “consolation prize”– bunch position going into the last right-hander. I managed to make a move on the back straight getting myself from 20th wheel into 5th, slotting in nicely between the Optum Kelly Benefit guys and Bissell’s lead-out train. While wearing Simple Green/Bike Religion kit, naturally I was going to get some verbal abuse from the pro teams, but who cares about being polite in road races these days — it’s all about winning isn’t it? I came into the finishing straight in 5th place and despite trying really hard to get around Justin Williams (Cashcall Mortgage), Ken Hansen (Optum Kelly Benefit Strategies), Logan Loader (Exergy) and Patrick Bevin (Bissell Pro Cycling), the win eluded me, close enough to be disappointed, relieved that I get another shot in tomorrow’s 120 mile road race.

Jos Le Roux also put in a strong performance, slotting in around 15th; Austin Carroll was less fortunate, succumbing to a broken rear derailleur.

General Classification Standings After 3 Stages:

  1. Patrick Bevin (Bissell Pro Cycling) – 66 points
  2. Logan Loader (Team Exergy) – 32 points
  3. Ken Hanson (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Kelly Benefit Strategies) – 29 points
  4. Tyler Brandt (Team Mike’s Bikes) – 25 points
  5. Christiaan Kriek (Team Simple Green/Bike Religion) – 24 points