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San Dimas Stage Race Day 2, an “almost” yellow for Team Exergy, Armstrong still leads

March 18, 2012

[Updated, 3/18/2012]

At 6:50 p.m. yesterday, 27 year-old Morgan Schmitt talked about the tactics that had, unofficially, earned him the race leader’s jersey after stage 2 of the 2012 San Dimas Stage Race (SDSR). How he bridged to the break because he knew it would be the one to win. How he weighed the strengths of his break-away companions and formulated scenarios of how the race would play out. Wearing the leader’s jersey through the end of the SDSR would be a huge achievement for Schmitt – his first stage race overall win. The yellow felt real.

A few hours later, Schmitt’s unofficial overall lead washed away with the day’s heavy rain and significant numbers of men and women who didn’t finish the races. The Commissaires had assessed Schmitt of Team Exergy with a twenty second penalty for sheltering behind a vehicle “for some time.” This knocked Schmitt down into 6th place in the general classification, 19 seconds behind the new overall leader, Andy Jacques-Maynes‏ on Kenda/5hr Energy p/b Geargrinder.

Chaotic women’s race

Exergy TWENTY12’s Kristin Armstrong won stage 2 during the worst of the day’s storm. Three or four laps into the race staff stripped banners from barriers near the start/finish line after thirty-plus mile-an-hour winds leveled several barriers. The weather conditions led to multiple crashes, created chaos in the field, and made it difficult to call the action.

Kristin Armstrong before SDSR stage 2 (photo by Nicola Cranmer)

Nicola Cranmer, General Manager for Exergy TWENTY12, reported that Clara Huges of Specialized Lululemon and three other riders stole off the front early on, with Exergy TWENTY12 trying to reel them back. Armstrong made it to the break and a little over half-way through the eight lap race Armstrong emerged from the thick veil of wind and rain with Huges, Joelle Numainville of Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefits, and Alison Powers of Now and Novartis for MS in a lead group of four. They rode the remainder of the race together to the finish.

The chaos continued as race officials decided to cut one lap from the women’s race due to weather conditions, but were unable to notify the four leaders who pedaled over the finish line thinking one lap remained. Officials decided to handle this by combining the stage finish time bonuses and points and dividing them equally among the four leaders. Just two-thirds of the women on the original start list should line up for stage 3.

Armstrong said, “Weather conditions made it a tough, tough day. By the end of the race my fingers and toes were frozen. The Exergy TWENTY12 girls did a great job of helping me get to the break.” Her position looks solid as she goes into stage 3 with a 35 second lead over Hughes who holds second place.

Break-away winner for men’s race

Rain continued to pelt the field when the men’s race began at 1:15 p.m. “It was similar to training and racing in Seattle where I’m used to rain, but more windy than usual, which had an extra chilling effect on the body,” Schmitt said yesterday evening after the race.

Multiple breaks formed, the peloton chasing and reabsorbing each of them until the winning break got away and succeeded in building a gap to the chasing group that extended to at most about two and one-half minutes. Schmitt described how he inserted himself into the winning break: “I was happy we were represented in all the breaks except when another one got off with seven to eight guys. We were all really tired, but none of our guys were in it, and I thought this could be the winning break. I had to jump across 20 seconds to get into it.”

The eight man group included Heath Blackgrove and Joe Schmalz of ELBOWZ Racing, Cameron Peterson of RBS Morgans-ATS, Landis/Trek’s Thomas Jondall, Chad Beyer on Competitive Cyclist, Andy Jacques-Maynes, and Ben Jacques-Maynes of BISSELL.

Morgan Schmitt (photo via Team Exergy website)

Schmitt and others thought he had become the virtual leader on the road. He assessed which riders in the break could threaten that lead. Andy Jacques-Maynes and Ben Jacques-Maynes both sat on the break, Schmitt said, which concerned him because he knew Andy packs a decent sprint and wouldn’t pull in the break with his teammate Phil Gaimon wearing the leader’s jersey. “I was concerned he could be fresh when I’m worked over at the end of the race and get the ten second time bonus. So I knew I couldn’t count him out. I thought Ben could gang up with Andy. I wanted to work with the break but at the same time I needed to keep an eye on these guys,” Schmitt said. Schmitt classifies himself as a climber. The Jacques-Maynes’ are brothers and Schmitt has been their teammate in the past.

As the laps counted down and the peloton ate away at their gap, Schmitt knew yellow jersey threats and stage hunters also lurked in the following bunch. “With two and one-half laps to go and the gap coming down, all of us in the break hit the panic button because we had thought we would stay away and duke it out. Then I thought, ‘oh God if we get caught, all scenarios go out the window.’”

By the last climb, two riders had slipped off the back of the break-away, leaving five guys for Schmitt to work out tactics against. “Into the finish I wanted to stay with them, but was more concerned about staying away from the peloton because I knew there were good sprinters in it. I wanted to ride for the leader’s jersey instead of going for the win.”

Schmalz won a three-up sprint against Jondall and Andy Jacques-Maynes. Ben Jacques-Maynes took fourth place four seconds ahead of Schmitt. “I didn’t know Schmalz was that close [in GC] until after the race. I would have played the scenarios differently had I known. He’s a rider with a team I’d never raced with, so he came out of the blue,” Schmitt said.

Back at it

Competitive cyclists will get penalties during their careers because they’ll take risks and there’s a lot at stake. Wins are rare. Not winning and feeling victories slip through their fingers like running water again and again is as sure as the passing of time.

It’s not clear if the Commissaires’ decision and penalty on Schmitt could be deemed “fair.” But in the end it doesn’t matter. Showing up race after race is what matters, suffering, and coming back for more like it’s manna from heaven – or in Schmitt’s case, like it’s another chance for a yellow jersey.

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