February 23, 2015 – Team SmartStop knew going into the first stage of the 36th Vuelta Independencia Nacional they wouldn’t be taking anyone by surprise this year around, but today’s stage showed the strength of the team in it’s opening race of the season.
High temperatures, periods of rain, humidity were all challenges the team faced in the Dominican Republic today. Team SmartStop showed the hard work at training camp over the last two weeks has paid off and when push came to shove, they split the peloton in two, dropping riders in the process.
“It was an aggressive stage,” said Sporting Director, Michael Creed, “but it wasn’t fast.”
Travis McCabe was our top finisher sprinting into fourth place behind Eduardo Colon (Sel. Puerto Rico) with Zach Bell and Chris Butler finishing in 10th and 12th respectively just three seconds behind. Bobby Sweeting, Travis Livermon and Evan Huffman all finished safely in the peloton four minutes back.
Attacking a 184km stage featuring four opportunities for intermediate sprints, Team SmartStop set out early to collect sprint points and time bonuses. With Bell picking up points in the first two intermediate sprints (3rd and 2nd place respectively). A lone Dominican rider then broke away from the peloton in the early stages of the race, gaining a lead of one minute before being reeled back into the impending peloton.
Huffman took this as an opportunity to see what kind of gap he could create and with three others got out to a slight advantage but it was short lived as the peloton quickly gathered them back in.
Facing 20km/hr head winds, the course changed and with that the peloton was faced with a crosswind. With a three-man breakaway group up the road with four minutes on the clock, Team SmartStop used the crosswind to their advantage, hammered down on their pedals and took control of the race.
“There was a really strong headwind, but we knew that there would be a short jagged bit of road in the crosswind for about 5km,” said Creed, ” so we hit it hard. Ultimately it didn’t do much, but it did allow us to bring back the break and bring the peloton down to about 50 riders without giving anyone a free ride.”
The peloton eventually (mostly) came back together but the damage was done. 30 plus riders were left hanging off the back due to the high pace set by our team.
An opportunity came with roughly 25km to the finish line for Team SmartStop to once again increase the pace and Bell, McCabe and Butler became a part of a 15-man breakaway group leading into the final stages of the 184km race.
With 3km to go and still a lead over the peloton of 3 minutes and 45 seconds it was clear that the winner was going to come from this breakaway group. Colon eventually reigned supreme on stage one, with a hungry McCabe having to settle for forth this time round.
“The group worked really well together and were motivated to establish a gap,” said Creed, “coming into the sprint, Travis was just a little bit too close to the front and the winner came over the top of him.”
With the team only six seconds behind in the team classification, and both Bell and McCabe within an eleven-second reach of the leaders jersey, tomorrow’s 187km stage from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo will be another battle for time bonuses (there will once again be four opportunities for these) and another crack at a stage win in what is set to be another sprinters stage.
1. Eduardo Colon (Pur) Puerto Rico 4:44:02
2. Boris Garene (Vel)
3. Juan P. Suarez (EPM)
10. Zach Bell (Can) Team SmartStop 0:03
36. Etienne Samson (Can) Norco/PremierTech p/b ChewPOD 4:08
61. Simon Ouellet (Can) Norco/PremierTech p/b ChewPOD
73. Kyle Buckosky (Can) Team Bike Aid
74. Jacob Schwingboth (Can) Team Bike Aid
84. Adam Anderson (Can)
107. Kevin Archimbault (Can) 13:13
115. Samuel Blanchette (Can) 16:17