Redlands, CA – After a successful weekend in San Dimas, the H&R Block Pro Cycling Team made their way east to Redlands, California. With moral high and excitement building for one of America’s biggest stage races, the boys settled in with their amazing host families.
In true California fashion, the opening stage turned into a race of attrition with temperatures creeping towards forty degrees Celsius. The 20 lap course which included a steep and punishing climb to the finish line, claimed the first member of the team. Danick Vandale was caught in an unfortunate crash on the very first lap and a mechanical forced him out of the race as there was no caravan. The rest of the boys battled the field and the temperatures and managed to keep both Chris Prendergast and Jack Burke with the race favourites until the end. The first stage was summed up perfectly by team director Joe Holmes: “Stage one will not be the deciding factor in winning Redlands, but it can dash all overall hopes in the blink of an eye”. The boys were happy with the job done knowing that stage 2 would be the most important for GC hopes.
Stage 2 of the Redlands Bicycle Classic will be the race highlight for the H&R Block Pro Cycling Team. With Bailey McKnight and Travis Samuel covering the early attacks in the field, Travis managed to find his way into the move of the day. Knowing that the sprint jersey was up for grabs, Travis out sprinted his breakaway companions on both intermediate sprints to claim an outright lead in that competition. Travis had earned himself a trip to the podium and a shiny new green jersey. The infamous Oak Glen climb was home to many fireworks at the end of a long day, with both Chris and Jack finishing within striking distance of the leaders.
The new Time Trial course saw few changes in the GC. Armed with new Time Trial gear from Shimano and world class clothing by Pearl Izumi, the riders rode comfortably through the rain with high ambitions for the next two stages.
With the highs of Stage 2 came the lows of Stage 4. With a large number of sprint points up for grabs, Travis made a valiant effort to retain the jersey in the criterium. With strong teams leading the charge, he saw his lead in the sprint competition disappear. To make matters worse, Travis was caught up in a crash late in the stage – a crash that saw him taken to hospital with severe road rash. Fortunately, road rash was the worse of his injuries and Travis was motivated to start Stage 5 in hopes of winning back the jersey.
The Sunset Loop at Redlands is amongst one of the most coveted stages in North American racing. With dark clouds looming over the field, Travis made one more brave effort to try and regain control of the sprint jersey but would ultimately fall just shy. Jack, who was sitting in 8th place in the GC going into the Sunset Loop, had a mechanical issue after turning onto the circuits. Here is a description of the event in his own words:
Saddened I drew some short straws in today’s race but couldn’t be happier with my teammates’ efforts towards protecting my GC. As soon as I had a mechanical at the base of the climb and the race started to blow up, Peter Disera gave me his bike effectively ending his race. I didn’t have to solo back up the climb to the bunch very far before Jure Rupnik and Travis Samuel had dropped back to get me and help bring me back to the group. Later, once I made it back up to the group with the yellow jersey, Chris Prendergast was with me the rest of the day helping look after me. Not much more we could have done today and so stoked I get to spend the season with such selfless teammates. Also chapeau to Danick Vandale who drew the shortest straw this week getting caught up in a crash in stage one and not being able to continue but never have I seen him without a smile on his face and always there helping the team out over and above.”
After the entire team contributed to aiding Jack retain his top ten on GC, a strong move that included Canadian Matteo Dal-Cin, broke free from the field. The breakaway would eventually last to the finish line where Dal-Cin became the first Canadian to claim the yellow jersey at Redlands. Jack slid to 13th overall but had a strong overall ride for his first time at notably one of America’s biggest race.
The team will now make the drive to Monterey, California, host of the 2016 Sea Otter Classic.
We would like to thank Matt Clark with Stirl and Rae Photo for joining the team on this trip.
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