Bryan Gomez (Best Buddies Racing) won the final men’s criterium stage of the Joe Martin Stage Race on Sunday, taking out a close-run sprint from the lead group ahead of Tyler Williams (L39ION of Los Angeles). Jonathan Clarke (Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling Team) finished safely in the peloton to hold onto the overall lead from the start to finish of the four-stage competition.
Clarke’s teammate Noah Granigan also shifted up to second overall in the 30 lap criterium at the Joe Martin Stage Race. He did this by accumulating bonus seconds, which he was also going for against Tyler Stites (Project Echelon Racing) to protect Clarke's overall lead. As a result of his efforts, Granigan shifted ahead of Stites, who started the day 12 seconds behind Clarke but just one ahead of Granigan.
During the final stage Stites not only had to try and contend with the two-pronged attack of Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling Team, but also a lap 11 crash. In second wheel on a fast corner, Stites wheel slipped out, leaving him skidding into the barrier. He rejoined the race on the next lap and went on to finish in the main group, which, once the in race bonus seconds were tallied, left him 11 seconds back from the 37-year-old GC leader and 4 seconds behind Granigan.
“I had a really strong team, these 6 young guys…especially Scott McGill and Noah Granigan in the bonus sprints," Clarke, who is usually found mentoring his teammates toward race opportunities, said. "Stites kept going for them and I can’t sprint well in those, and they just kept taking the seconds off him."
"Without them there was no way, and they are young, they’ve got their careers ahead of them and they are laying themselves on the line for an old man like me. It’s pretty cool to see.”
The attacks kept coming throughout the race on the technical course in Fayetteville but – particularly with the tight GC battle driving an intense competition for the bonus seconds – it wasn’t until past the halfway mark that a move came that would stick. Alexander Cowan (L39ION of Los Angeles) was hanging out the front alone with a slim gap at 13 laps to go but then after his solo stint a lead group formed around him, and this time there was no reeling it back in.
That meant it was a sprint from among a group of 9 on the final uphill approach to the finish line, with Cowan who had spent so much time working out the front leading out his teammate, Williams. Williams launched the sprint early and for a while it looked like he would be able to hold off all his rivals.
However, Gomez quickly made up ground and then with a bike throw on the line made up the last few centimetres. It was close enough that no one was sure enough to call the winner until the photo finish had been inspected, with the Colombian waiting for confirmation before he could celebrate a race salvaging win for Best Buddies Racing.
“We had a pretty rough week as we came here trying to fight for GC and it didn’t happen the way that we wanted. But we knew that the crit was going to suit the type of rider that we have," said Gomez. "We went full gas on it, because we didn’t have anything to lose."
Hugo Scala Jr (Project Echelon Racing) came over the line in third while the peloton was 13 seconds back. The top three GC contenders were among it but, given the tight gaps at the start, the bonus seconds taken during the stage were enough to reshuffle the order and give Wildlife Generation the top two spots overall, with Clarke and Granigan.
“We had a whole season last year of him [Clarke] doing everything for the younger guys, trying to get us opportunities and results and finally we have an opportunity to just go out for him, to get him a win – its cool to be able to help be a part of that and get him on the podium in yellow," said Granigan.
"When you are second to one of your best friends and your teammate, and you get two stages [one each for Clarke and Granigan], team classification and GC 1-2 overall ... it’s just as good if not better than being in yellow myself."
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