What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ On The Scene: Armstrong Back On Top

It’s not every day Lance Armstrong lines up for the local, Sunday crit in small town USA. Ok, so the Nevada City Classic isn’t your typical local Sunday crit, but it sure is a long way from the the opening stage Tour time trial in Monaco. Lance and friends were present and accounted for on Father’s Day in Nevada City. The end result? Lance’s first win in a long, long while.

Contributed by Scott McKinney

Let’s jump to the part you really want to know. Yes, Lance won the Nevada City Bicycle Classic convincingly, first bridging to the early break by Levi and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), then working to lap the field, and ultimately using the break as a spring board to solo away for six laps

There was no stopping Lance on Father’s Day in Nevada City.

In its 49th edition, the Nevada City Bike Classic is a small-town event run by the Chamber of Commerce. Despite prior winners including Levi Leipheimer and Greg Lemond, in most years this little race draws local and regional pros and a couple thousand die hard cycling fans. But when seven-time Lance Tweeted that he was coming to this small town to race, some 15,000 fans showed up for the spectacle, lining every foot of the course for a glimpse of history.

Lance gives the kids high fives as he rolls around on his victory lap.

Nevada City? It’s not in Nevada. The town is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about an hour Northeast of Sacramento, California. As one of the original gold rush boom towns in the mid 1800’s it was once the largest city in the state. It’s now a quaint, tourist destination, filled with boutiques, ice cream shoppes, and the occasional seven-time Tour de France winner.

Twisty, curvy, technical, and just plain hard. The Nevada City Classic has it all.

The course is physically demanding. In addition to racking up 120 feet of climbing for each 1.1 mile lap, there’s a screaming downhill plunge to the start/finish line sprint where speeds can easily top 50 MPH. Immediately after the start/finish line, the course dives hard left then makes another left before entering a series of 90 degree step-up corners and climbs. In true, wild west style, these narrow streets and alleys are the perfect spot to spring an attack.

See that hill behind the start? The riders come howling down that.

On the second lap of the race, Levi launched an attack, taking Bissell pro, Ben Jacques-Maynes along for the day. Together, they built a 15-second gap on the field. By lap four, Lance jumped away to bridge up to the duo. And there’s your podium. The three riders stayed away for the duration, eventually lapping the Horner group (fourth place) with seven laps to go.

We often talk about high-powered breaks. I think that is an understatement – Two of the best in the world plus one of the best in America.

With six laps to go, the three riders on the lead lap were being marked by a group of about 10 lapped riders. Among the lapped riders was Nevada City native, Jonathan Baker, Natural Grocers, who spent the day racing past his old elementary school and a contingent of friends and family. Jonathan had the best view of the final selection at the bottom of the climb. “I was third wheel when Lance attacked,” said Baker. “It was pretty impressive.”

Jonathan Baker got a ringside seat for Armstrong’s attack.

In less than half a lap, Lance built a 10-second lead on his stealthy, blacked out frame. One lap later his lead was 15 seconds. That’s when Levi attacked the lone holdout. Unable to shake Ben Jacque-Maynes on the climb, Levi eventually gave Ben responsibility to chase. For one brief lap, Ben brought Lance’s gap down to a manageable 10 seconds. But with two laps to go, and little help from Levi, Lance’s lead was back to 20 seconds.

Armstrong took his first win in nearly 2000 days, BJM took a great second, and Levi was trusty as usual – on the podium.

Being in the break with Levi and Lance was enlightening for domestic pro Ben Jacques-Maynes’ whose 2009 highlights include numerous podium spots at races throughout North America and the Most Courageous Rider honor for his part in the soggy, stage two of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California.

Jacques-Maynes rode a smart, tough race to pull off a great 2nd between Armstrong and Leipheimer.

“Those two guys are amped up to race the Tour,” said Ben, immediately after the race. Despite riding a smart race and leveraging every bit of the Astana slipstream, “It was all I could do to hang on,” he added. But he did hang on for 90 minutes, beating Levi for the second step on the podium.

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