American outfit Toyota-United gathered a few podium spots in California and Colorado last weekend, but the big highlight was further south, where Mexican Jose Manuel "Chepe" Garcia won the Mexican National Time Trial Championship in his home country. The victory will go a long way to assist "Chepe" in making the Mexican Olympic team that will be racing in Beijing this summer.
The rest of the team collected several podium places in races in Northern California and Colorado. Justin England came in second in the Frostbite time trial in Fort Collins, Colorado, where it was sunny, despite the wintry name of the event. England declared that "I got second place in a flat, technical course ... five seconds behind Stefano Barberi. I finished in 19:02 in the first race of the season for me. I felt good for a first race effort and I'm looking forward to the upcoming team's races in Southern California."
Johnny Clark went on to finish third in the Denver City Park criterium, behind Tyler Hamilton and Pete Lopinto. The race was a 60-minute, fast, flat course with very tight turns. Henk Vogels, Jonny Clarke and Chris Baldwin joined Justin England for a strong showing. England said, "We initiated a break early on, which swelled to about ten riders with Jonny, Henk, me, Tyler Hamilton, Stefano Barberi, Pete Lopinto, and three others. We were all very active in the break. Baldwin bridged across with two others with four laps to go. Henk put in a big solo attack at two laps to go but was caught with 500m to go. Jonny Clarke finished third in the sprint, behind Lopinto and Hamilton."
At the same time in California, Heath Blackgrove finished third in the Central Valley Classic in Fresno. Blackgrove and Hilton Clarke were the only ones for Toyota-United to take on the fully equipped teams of Symmetrics, Colavita and the likes. With all the teams marking fast man Clarke, it was up to Blackgrove to come through. And he did, joining a five-man break and getting onto the last podium spot as well as taking home the sprinter's jersey for his efforts during the race.
In the Tour de Murrieta, also in California, Dominique Rollin came in second in the criterium, third in the circuit race and finished the overall classification in second place. Rollin had taken time off to train since his good showing at the Tour of California. For team-mate Caleb Manion it was also the first race since the Tour of California. But he couldn't train much, instead was recovering from the virus that hit the peloton in February.
Rollin said, "I am still feeling the afterglow of the Amgen Tour, and I had good legs, good rhythm and good feelings in general, as we prepare for the remaining California schedule and the Tour de Georgia." Caleb attacked on the last lap and took some heat off Rollin in the Sunday's circuit race. Saturday's final was marred by a big crash with five laps to go, but Rollin was able to avoid goung down. It did leave him having to chase after the leaders, yet he still managed to get second place.
In a non-race event, team owner Sean Tucker kicked off the Solvang Century ride (165km) on Saturday. He was joined by Heath Blackgrove and Hilton Clarke. Some riders remembered that last year Ivan Dominguez and Sean Sullivan rode with fans to reach out to cyclists. At the third rest stop, Blackgrove was asked by a fan "where are Dominguez and Sullivan this year?" Amidst much laughter the Toyota-United rider replied "they didn't make the cut this year."
Next stop for the team is the Tour of Redlands in Southern California, April 3-6.