The Redlands Bicycle Classic will celebrate its 30th anniversary Wednesday by rolling out a fifth stage for the opening event on USA Cycling's National Race Calendar. Race organizers and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the presenting sponsors, are bringing back the Highland Circuit Race this year to start off five days of racing in and around the Southern California town that lies about 60 miles due-east of Los Angeles.
The race marks the annual pilgrimage from far-flung team camps and foreign warm-up races to the official start of the domestic road season. The men's field will feature 26 teams from the UCI Continental and USA Cycling Domestic Elite levels. The 10 Continental teams represented in the race include 5-hour Energy/Kenda, Astellas Pro Cycling, Bissell Development Team, Garneau-Quebecor, Hincapie Sportswear, Incycle-Predator Components, Jamis-Hagens Berman, Jelly Belly-Maxxis, Optum Pro Cycling and Team SmartStop.
Last year's winner, Francisco Mancebo, is riding for SkyDive Dubai this year and will not return to defend his title, nor will last year's runner-up, Chad Haga, who signed with Giant-Shimano in the off-season.
Haga's former teammate, Tom Zirbel, was third overall last year and will return with a typically well-rounded Optum Pro Cycling team, while Mancebo's former 5-hour Energy team will be hoping to mix it up in the breakaways and sprint finishes. Jamis-Hagens Berman, which took stages last year with Juan Jose Haedo and Luis Amaran, will be gunning to repeat that success and climb onto the final podium as well.
Redlands will be the first official US appearance for the newly restructured Bissell Development Team [formerly Bontrager], although three of the team's riders, Clement Chevrier, James Oram and Tao Geoghegan Hart, fared well during last weekend's San Dimas Stage Race – Oram took a stage win and Chevrier the overall. Many of the team's US riders are currently competing in Europe with USA Cycling's U23 program, however, so the Bissell roster for Redlands will have a decidedly international flavor.
Women's UCI teams meet for first time this season
The four US-based women's UCI teams will finally get their chance to face off this season in earnest, with Optum Pro Cycling, Specialized-lululemon, Team Tibco and the new UnitedHealthcare squad competing against 13 Elite teams.
UnitedHealthcare, racing as a women's team for the first time in the US, will bring a roster to Redlands that includes both the 2013 overall winner and the only other rider to win a stage there last year. Alison Powers, who won the NRC overall last season while riding for NOW & Novartis for MS, took three stages at Redlands in 2013 on her way to a dominant overall win. Her 2014 UnitedHealthcare teammate Mara Abbott took the final stage last year while riding for Twenty16. Both have already won races this year, with Powers taking a stage and the overall at the Tour Femenino de San Luis and Abbott matching that feat at the Vuelta El Salvador.
The always-aggressive Optum Pro Cycling team will be testing the NRC waters at Redlands with first-year director Kevin Field. The team double-dipped last weekend with Leah Kirchmann's win at the San Dimas criterium and Lauren Hall's Gent-Wevelgem victory in Belgium while riding with the US national team. Specialized-lululemon will likely field a Redlands roster similar to the one the team brought to San Dimas, where Karol Ann Canuel won the overall.
Former UCI team Twenty16 will be in the women's bunch with a full roster, as will Vanderkitten and FCS/Zngine, led by two-time Olympian and former world time trial champion Amber Neben as she continues her comeback from a crash last year. Neben won the opening time trial last weekend in San Dimas and finished third overall there.
Time bonuses and a hilly start
The racing starts in the city of Highland, where the first stage offers a challenging 4.5 km loop that features several sharp climbs and a corresponding descents each lap. It could provide the climbers a chance to stake their claim for the overall before the time trialists get their chance the next day in Big Bear. The women race 14 laps for 66.5 km, followed by the men's 20-lap, 93.5 km race.
The tour travels into the high mountains on Thursday for an undulating 12.5 km time trial along Big Bear Lake's north shore, followed Friday by the Beaumont Road Race. Saturday's stage 4 criterium takes place on a nearly figure-eight course in downtown Redlands, while riders tackle the iconic Sunset Loop Road Race during Sunday's final stage.
The general classification at Redlands is often decided by seconds – Powers lost the overall in 2012 by a single second – so the pursuit of time bonuses can have a big effect on both tactics and the final outcome, especially on the Sunset Loop. Bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds will go to the top three finishers on all stages except the time trial. Additional time bonuses of 3, 2 and 1 second will be awarded at select spots along the stage routes. The intermediate time bonuses are distributed equally among climbing and sprinting opportunities.
Men's Teams for Redlands
Astellas Cycling Team
Bissell Development Team
Hincapie Sportswear Development Team
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies
Team Smartstop-Mountain Khakis
Athlete Octane Cycling
BMW Development Team
Hagens Berman U23 Team
Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros.
Jet Fuel Coffee-Norco Bicycles Cycling Team
Sea Sucker-Guttenplan Coaching
Team H & R Block
Team Mike’s Bike-Equator Coffees
Team Rio Grande Cycling
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies
Team Tibco-To the Top
United Healthcare Pro Cycling Team
Cloud Racing-Ride 2 Recovery
FCS-Zngine powered by Mr. Restore
Guru Cycles-Haute Wheels Racing
JETCycling Women’s Elite Team
Pinnacle Reactor-JL Velo Women’s Racing
Sisterhood of Cycling
SPY Giant Ride-MRI
Trek-Red Truck-Mosaic Homes