(UPDATE: Complete Cherry Blossom Classic Stage 1 photo galleries are HERE. Pro/1/2 men; Pro/1/2/3 women; Masters)
THE DALLES -- The Bissell Pro Cycling Team pulled off a one-two finish today during stage 1 of the Gorge Delights Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic while Patricia Bailey (Wines of Washington) won a three-up sprint to take the women's race.
A bitterly cold wind opened the first stage of the inaugural Cherry Blossom Classic just east of The Dalles. The Men's Pro/1/2 field covered four laps of the 18.6-mile course, which featured one long grinder of a climb that faced squarely into the famous Gorge winds.
Paul Mach (Bissell) finished several minutes ahead of teammate Jeremy Vennell. The pair rode away from a break group that formed on the first lap and eventually grew to as many as 15 riders but was whittled down to five by the time Mach soloed away halfway through the third lap. His teammate followed suit on the last lap to solo in for second. Hagens Berman riders Sam Johnson and Nick Clayville finished third and fourth respectively. Evan Elken (Land Rover-Orbea) finished fifth.
"The third time up the climb I attacked, and Jeremy (Vennell) just kind of sat on (in the chase group)," Mach said of his final escape. "I was just going to wait and see what happened. If they caught me (Vennell) would be fresh. Plan B was looking pretty good. So I just went for it."
Mach built his lead on the fast tailwind section leading to the big climb.
"You're pedaling hard but you're going so fast it doesn't hurt," he said of the high-speed tailwind side of the course.
Clayville, the Hagens Berman rider who eventually bridged up to the winning move with teammate Sam Johnson, said the Bissell riders' tactics put them in an ideal position to counter any attempts to bridge up to Mach.
"It was just Elken, Sam Johnson and me," Clayville said, noting that Vennell didn't work in the chase after his teammate escaped up the road. "We were trying, but (Mach) just kept putting time into us."
Clayville attacked from the four-man chase group going up the climb on the last lap, followed quickly by Vennell, who sat on the Hagens Berman rider before attacking and dropping Clayville on the short rise before the descent to the finish.
On the road behind, Hagen Berman rider Sam Johnson attacked Elken and bridged up to Clayville for third and fourth. Elken held on for fifth.
Wines' of Washington rider Tricia Bailey won the women's pro/1/2/3 race after separating from a day-long break group near the finish with Veloforma's Robin Secrist and Heather Albert (Riverstone Women’s Racing Team). Cheryl Thonney was fourth overall and the first Cat. 3 woman to finish. Team Group Health's Jen Akeroyd finished fifth overall and second of the Cat. 3 women.
The seven-rider breakaway group formed on the big climb going into the headwind and quickly started putting time into the chase group. The mix of category 1s, 2s and newly minted 3s worked well together throughout the three-lap 60-mile race.
Once free of their breakaway companions, Bailey, Secrist and Albert worked together adding to their gap until Albert attacked with about 400 meters to go. Bailey as able to come around Albert for the win and hold off a hard-charging Secrist, who finished seconds behind.
Turpen Wins Field Sprint For Masters Win
ZteaM's usual tactic of sending riders down the road, bridging more riders up to the lead group and then ganging up on their breakaway companions didn't work at Friday's stage 1 when one of a ZteaM rider flatted on the first lap. The team stayed behind to help tow the rider back, and ZteaM breakaway rabbit Dan Zimbelman ended up staying away by himself for most of the day.
Eventual winner Greg Turpen (Chinook Cycling) said he worried when he initially saw a ZteaM rider roll off the front early.
"All I could think of was a similar strategy of Banana Belt 3," he said of the race where he lost the overall series as a result of ZteaM tactics. "They roll a guy off and then have a strategy to bridge others up and roll the team off the front of that group."
Apparently the first-lap flat also deflated those plans.
"We rolled on for the next couple of laps," Turpen said of the chase. "And everybody was taking it real easy up the climb. I don't know what happened. We saw (Zimbelman) kind of coming back toward us, so everyone started working a little harder. We pulled him in with maybe 2k to go."
Turpen took the lead with about 300 meters to go and outlasted the closing pack. Cyclepath's John Browning finished second. Todd Gallaher (Counterbalance) was third.
Women's Pro 1/2/3
(More photos from Stage 1 are posted HERE)