Orchard course blows apart men’s field, Johnson gets win
Check out the complete Stage 2 photo gallery.
THE DALLES — Sending riders over Cherry Blossom’s stage 2 Orchard Run Circuit Race was like dropping a bomb on the peloton; fields disintegrated early in the race into small groups fighting for survival on the constantly up-or-down roads as the Gorge’s infamous winds blasted through.
Despite the carnage behind them, the top two riders from Friday’s Stage 1 simply swapped spots on the podium after Sam Johnson (Hagens Berman) and Patrick Bevin (Rubicon-Orbea) got away with a small group the second time up the gravel climb. They soon whittled the break down to two and then battled to the final steep finishing pitch, where Johnson outgunned his young rival for the win. Bevin finished just three seconds later and held onto his leader’s jersey with a 1:50 lead over Johnson. Lenovo’s Ian McKissick finished third on the day, more than four minutes back, and now sits third overall at 6:05 behind Bevin.
With more than 8,000 feet of climbing in just 70 miles, the new Cherry Blossom course was merciless. Riders circled twice around a short, six-mile loop and then headed off for four laps of a larger 15-mile circuit that included a 1.5 mile gravel climb and a twisting descent back into the orchard strewn valley.
“That’s my hardest day of racing in Oregon — big time,” said Jelly Belly’s Jacob Rathe, who finished sixth on the day more than seven minutes back and now sits fifth overall.
The field quickly fell prey to the efforts the race’s two strongest riders, with Bevin matching Johnson’s attacks on his leader’s jersey, a feat he said was not so easy.
“That was a tough day on the bike,” Bevin said. “We knew with four guys we were going to be up against it, but I think you saw the two strongest guys in the end. Sam was amazing. Actually, the gravel it was something to see; he had me on the rivet, and he did a lot of the work.”
The pair escaped the field by bridging up to early escapees McKissick and Bevin’s teammate Mike Northey on the second gravel ascent. Johnson said he tried to shake the race leader with his attack, and it almost worked, but Northey saved the day and maybe his teammate’s overall lead.
“I got up to McKissick and we were working together a little bit,” Johnson said. “But then Northey dropped back, got Bevin and pulled him back up to us.”
The four riders worked steadily and began building a gap when another Johnson attack shed Northey from the group. (Northey later crashed out of the race). McKissick was next to go when Johnson attacked the third time up the gravel, but Bevin hung tightly to his GC rival’s wheel, and the pair started the last lap together.
“I tried real hard on the crest of the gravel climb and then on the tailwind climb to drop him, but he just wasn’t gonna get shaken,” Johnson said. “So I figured I’d ride for the stage win and put time into McKissick because I know he’s probably gonna win (Sunday’s time trial).”
With 1k to go, Johnson stopped pulling and forced Bevin into the lead, which he took into the final corner up the 300-meter pitch to the finish. Johnson jumped at the bottom of the straight, and Bevin tried to counter but had nothing.
“I butchered the sprint,” Johnson said. “I went way too early. But we were both cramping, and I still got him. He was feeling just as bad as I was. So, not bad. A stage win and move closer in GC.”
Bevin said the sprint played itself out slowly on the uphill grind to the finish.
“It came down to a bit of a slow-motion sprint, but I was toasted,” he said. “And (Johnson) had done so much work. I wasn’t sad to see him win.”
With less than two minutes between them on overall time, and the nearest competition lagging more than six minutes behind, it appears to be a two-man race for the 2010 overall crown. Johnson will have two more chances to eat into Bevin’s lead. The Sunday morning time trial will be his best bet, although it’s only 10 miles. Then there’s an afternoon criterium on a long four-corner course that’s not conducive to breakaways.
“I feel good about tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I’m ready to have a good time trial. I don’t think I’m going to put two minutes into Bevin, but I hope I can have a good time.”
Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic
Stage 2 orchard Run Circuit Race
1. Sam Johnson (Hagens Berman) 3:23:17
2. Patrick Bevin (Rubicon-Orbea) +:03
3. Ian McKissick (LENOVO) +4:15
4. Lang Reynolds (Hagens Berman) +5:45
5. Christopher Parrish (Hagens Berman) +7:03
GC AFTER STAGE 2
1. BEVIN, Patrick (Rubicon-Orbea) 6:28:26 @ 00:00
2. JOHNSON, Sam (Hagens Berman) 6:30:16 @ 01:50
3. MCKISSICK, Ian (LENOVO) 6:34:31 @ 06:05
4. REYNOLDS, Lang (Hagens Berman) 6:36:01 @ 07:35
5. RATHE, Jacob (Jelly Belly Cycling) 6:37:19 @ 08:53