For the first time in the race’s history, the Mellow Johnny’s Classic will not take place in Lance Armstrong’s backyard. The first race of the US Pro XCT season will be held at nearby Flat Creek Crossing Ranch and draw the best domestic racers for the chance to gain early glory in 2012. Todd Wells, Sam Schultz, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Geoff Kabush and last year’s winner Max Plaxton all return to Texas preparing for the heat. Every year the race is hot. Really hot. A few riders were wearing ice vests during the race last year. For this edition, the race was moved a few weeks earlier to stay away from the humid spring temperatures of late March. Weather predictions for the race put a high at around 70 degrees.
Lance’s Juan Pelota Ranch was the original home of the race and Armstrong owns the bike shop that serves as the title sponsor. The race has gained Cat 1.1 UCI ranking in just its third year in existence, in no small part to the Texan’s celebrity. In addition to the pros, over 1,000 amateurs will race this Saturday at the Classic.
Max Plaxton and Georgia Gould have dominated the Classic every year since its first running in 2010. For Gould, the tactic has been pretty similar: crush everyone. in 2011 she won by five minutes, a depressingly large margin for a pro race. For the rest of the women’s field and the men, however, it has been a battle of attrition in the scorching heat.
This year’s race is even more important because the US is already looking to fill spots for this summer’s Olympic team. Riders with solid early season form have a bit of a leg up, which bodes well for Jeremiah Bishop and Sam Schultz. Todd Wells has been specifically training for some early season fitness with the Olympics in mind, as has Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. Many of the US women have solid spots already, including Katie Compton, Heather Irmiger and Georgia Gould.
Canadians at the race will also have the Olympics on the brain, especially Canada’s strong women’s field. Emily Batty (swoon) and others will need solid results throughout the spring in order to have a chance to go to London.