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The Redlands Bicycle Classic opens up the season of the National Racing Calendar in the USA, and also serves as the start of the Women's Prestige Series. A race steeped in history - the first edition took place in 1985 and was won by Thurlow Rogers - Redlands is one of the most hotly contested non-UCI stage races and the four-day event offers up a sharp test of the riders' early season form. The race this year consists of a time trial at the high elevation of Big Bear Lake, followed by the windy Beaumont circuit race, the Redlands criterium, and the Queen stage, the traditional Sunset circuit ending in downtown Redlands.
While in previous years the time trial has been an uphill test of prologue length, and has been less decisive to the overall classification, this year's race throws a brand new element: a relatively flat, 12.5km test at Big Bear Lake. Situated at nearly 7000ft (2100m), the elevation could bring unexpected results.
The 2012 winner of the men's race, Phil Gaimon (now with Bissell, then with Kenda/5 Hour Energy), was in good form to defend his title but suffered a head injury in a crash at the San Dimas road race in March, and instead the #1 dossard will go to his teammate, the 2012 runner up and final stage winner Patrick Bevin.
Bevin may suffer in the more lengthy time trial, and the lead could fall to the hands of Merco Classic winner Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman). It will also favor the likes of Optum's Tom Zirbel and Chad Haga, and Nate English (Kenda-5 Hour Energy).
The defending champion for the women's field, Megan Guarnier, will also miss this year's race. Guarnier left Team TIBCO in favor of the Rabo-Liv Giant women's team, and will be competing this week in Europe with her team.
Last year's runner-up in the women's race, Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS), will be a prime candidate to take home the overall title, as the Big Bear Lake time trial plays to her strengths.
Powers will have to face former world time trial champion Amber Neben (racing with her charitable foundation, Dare to Be), Claudia Häusler (TIBCO), Olympian Lauren Tamayo, Alison Tetrick (Exergy-TWENTY16), Optum's Jade Wilcoxson and Brianna Walle, Vanderkitten's Rhae Shaw, and Specialized-lululemon's new stand-out Tayler Wiles.
The time trial will be the main selection in this race, but there are plenty of other challenges to be met: from the wind-swept roads of the Beaumont Circuit, to the high-speed downtown criterium, and on to the arduous final Sunset Road circuit, there are ample opportunities for the opportunists to make up lost ground from the opening day.