The biggest Grand Tour of the season kicked off, and there doesn’t appear to be rainbow jersey curse for Mr. President.
Ryan Kennedy is the favorite every time he starts SOL, but this time, he entered with big ambitions and some great competition. With no Craig Webb, defending champion Ty Schmidt, or Sean Kickbush on the start line, some may have expected an easy victory from Kennedy, but it was anything but. Nearly every rider in the top ten put in a personal best time on the course, despite deepening sand throughout the circuit.
The first stage took the gun with the promise of 5, 3 and 1 second time bonuses on the line to the top three finishers, as well as normal points in the points and mountain classifications. But it was all about getting in position for a GC run for much of the field, and it fell to Kennedy to set the pace early over the first climbs. First points in the Mountain classification were split between Keegan Myers and Jason Whittaker, with Ryan Kennedy and Tyler Kelly with the next best times.
Kennedy and Myers opened up a small gap with Jason Whittaker on the wheel, with Cody Sovis covering the five second gap early onto the Power Section, bringing together a select group that also included Luke Tjosvold, Tyler Kelly, Josh Zelinski, Ryan Kushman and a very tough Eric Grassa. Myers did the bulk of the pace making, with Kennedy putting in some work and setting Cody Sovis on the front to contribute as well. Myers and Sovis opened up the sprint late for the green jersey, but it was Kelly with the best time and the honor of wearing green for Stage Two.
Eric Grassa was the first to break the stalemate after the Power Secton, and he opened up enough of a gap to put all the GC men on full alert. It was Kennedy who moved to pull it back, with Myers and the rest making contact as Zelinksi fell off the pace. Across the two-track crossing, Kennedy and Myers were on the attack, passing Grassa with the rest of the field scrambling to make the selection. It was that move that split the bunch, with Myers a short ways back from Kennedy and Sovis leading a group that included Kelly, Whittaker, Kushman and Tjosvold. With Myers disappearing and Kennedy out of sight, the Einstein team rode tempo, leaving the dash for the podium for late.
Ryan Kushman seized the initiative in the last mile, after briefly opening a gap to Sovis and Whittaker. Sovis rode into fourth place with a rattling, loose seat hanging on, with Tjosvold fifth and a flying Jason Whittaker safely in sixth place. Unbelievably, a full nine riders came in under the 40 minute mark, making it one of the fastest SOLs in history. Indeed, the entire evening saw a number of personal bests, with riders taking as many as four minutes of prior times. A special nod to Chad Jordan, who put in PR at 45 minutes, 5 minutes faster than just a few weeks ago.
In the women’s race, there were just two starters on the day, but Trisha Manion proved the mantra that you can only beat who shows up. She holds a five minute lead over Morgan Johnson after Stage One. If she can continue that form, she could conceivably break into the top fifteen overall by the end of the race.
Perhaps the most interesting battle of the day was that for Best Old Rider, with Hagerty’s only starter, Lars Welton, fighting tooth, claw and nail with Einstein Racing’s Rob Goepfrich all the way to the line. The pair were on level pegging right from the gun, and were all over each other even as they crossed the line just over 42 minutes, personal records for both riders. The pair will be neck and neck for the rest of the Tour, without a doubt.
The Team Competition is also looking interesting, with a late decision to reduce the counted times from 3 to 2 to keep more teams in the hunt. Einstein Racing takes great efforts from Ryan Kennedy and Ryan Kushman to form an early lead of over three minutes to City Bike, who had impressive rides from a battling Tyler Kelly and a determined Josh Zelinski. KEEN took heart in riders from Mike “Danger” Powers and Shawn Luca for third place, six minutes back. Hagerty Cycling, second place last year, failed to field enough riders to qualify for the competition.
Einstein Racing owner Jason Lowetz has already said his team will protect the yellow jersey of Ryan Kennedy, putting the GC win ahead of other goals for its riders. “We take a lot of pride in the yellow jersey, and we will dedicate our riders to protecting it as much as possible. Kennedy is on great form, and we have some fast riders ready to help make it easier for him, whenever and however possible,” he said via teleconference from his new digs outside of Zurich.
Jason Whittaker, sixth on the day, credited a nutritious lunch to the team’s great showing. “Eric bought us Bob Evans for lunch today, and I really think the combination of delicious farm fresh eggs, home-cooked hash browns and top quality ingredients really made the difference today. And at such great prices, it’s easy to feed the whole shop without breaking the bank.”
The race organization voted Keegan Myers the Most Aggressive Rider for the day, and he’ll wear the red jersey on Stage Two. Kennedy will swap his World Champion jersey for yellow, while Jason Whittaker will don the polka dot jersey. Tyler Kelly will grab a very well deserved green jersey, and he’ll be under pressure with double points on offer in that competition, and a lot of riders vowing to go after it. The return of Ty Schmidt, Sean Kickbush and Jason Lowetz could really make the sprints interesting the rest of the way, with that trio holding no GC cards. Lars Welton will wear the white jersey after a flip of a coin.
Here are all the standings after Stage One.
|Rider||Stage One||TIME BONUS|
BEST OLD RIDER
|City Bike Shop||0:39:41||0:41:37||1:21:18|