Clear skies, an all-new cross-country course, temperatures in the 80s and a record 680+ racers were the elements of a perfect script for Bonelli Park, which hosted the opening round of the US Kenda Cup West.
The elite cross-country race was nothing short of a barn burner as a field of 40 pro men lined up. In the end, Sid Tablerlay (Sho-Air/Specialized) rode solo to a win after breaking away with help from teammate Sam Jurekovic and Andy Schultz (Kenda/Tomac/Hayes).
Speed Television's Jason Britton of the show Super Bikes led out the neutral start while riding a stand-up wheelie on his custom Kawasaki 600 stunt bike.
After Britton peeled off the front, the race was on for the next four laps. Immediately KHS/Cytomax rider Chuck Jenkins put the power down at the front as he began the first climb. Jenkins held the tempo just until the top when Jurekovic took over. That lead was short-lived as national series regular Schultz went to the front before the first major downhill and applied the pressure. Schultz's aggressive riding quickly separated the men from the boys and the field was down to four with Schultz, Jurekovic, Taberlay and Mexico's Emmanuel Valencia in tow.
The group of four remained intact into the second lap until the first climb, where Taberlay tested the field for the first time. Only Team Turbo's Valencia was able to respond, and Schultz and Jurekovic slipped behind. Taberlay, knowing he had the numbers, decided to sit up and wait for teammate Jurekovic to bridge up. However, that didn't last long as Schultz again turned the screws as soon as he made contact with Taberlay and Valencia and then proceeded off the front.
"After I settled in, I made an initial attack to test the guys because Valencia was climbing really well today," said Taberlay.
Schultz drove the pace at the front with Jurekovic, Taberlay and Valencia in tow. Taberlay and Jurekovic responded, however Valencia's first effort to match Taberlay's acceleration put him in difficulty. Now on the back section of the 7.5-mile loop, it was down to three riders. With an obvious mismatch – with two Sho-Air/Specialized riders in the group – five-time Australian national champion Taberlay decided he had had enough and made a go off the front.
"Once Andy and Sammy J got back on, Andy punched it again. But once we brought that back and got rid of Valencia, I thought I should take another go," said Taberlay.
Taberlay absconded off the front leaving Schultz as the odd man out. He had to drag around former U23 national champion Jurekovic, who was playing perfect team tactics. Going through the feed zone climb starting lap three, Taberlay had opened up a 1:15 lead ahead of Schultz and Jurekovic. Off the back of that duo came Valencia, dangling 35 seconds further back.
Behind them, Sho-Air/Specialized's Manny Prado and KHS/Cytomax rider Sean Donovan scrapped over fifth and sixth position. The rest of the men's elite field was shattered, with groups coming through intermittently several minutes back.
Once out front, Taberlay cooled the afterburners as he came through the feed zone with heavy traffic on the fourth and final lap. A minute later, Jurekovic appeared all alone as he had dislodged Schultz and was all alone in second. Forty five seconds later, Schultz appeared alone in third.
"From there on out, my manager was giving me time checks so I could manage my effort," said Taberlay. Taberlay won, beating Jurekovic by 16 seconds. Schultz was one minute back.
"I've really been logging the base miles in these last few weeks, so I was more than happy to assist Sid or Manny in anyway I could," said Jurekovic. "We talked with our team manager Ty Kady prior to the race, and it was agreed we would work as a team and see how the chips fell. To come across in second feeling like I did was just icing on the cake."
"This course was definitely fast, so team tactics really came into play," said Schultz. "Unfortunately my other teammates weren't here, so I ended up on the short end of the stick once it was down to the three of us, but hey, that's racing. That said, I feel like my training is coming along nicely and I should have some more horsepower at the Pro XCT race in Fontana when my teammates arrive."
Another nine minutes passed before Donovan and Prado emerged after catching Valencia on the last lap. Into the tight hairpin finish it was Donovan and Prado side by side, with Donovan just edging out Prado for fourth, making it three of five for the powerhouse Sho-Air/Specialized factory domestic team.
In the women's race, American Krista Park won with a time of 1:40:41. She defeated Canadian Melanie McQuaid (Sho-Air/Specialized) by 1:31. Natasha Hernday (Amgen) was third.
McQuaid led for more than the first half of the race. Behind her, Park bided her time, gradually bringing her back and then keeping her in sight before launching her attack.
"After a while I saw her up ahead. I sped up just a bit to keep her in sight," said Park. "On the third lap, Todd told me to go, and I started closing the gap.
"I made contact before I meant to and just hung back for a while as I wasn't sure how hard we would have to go once I tried to pass her. Once I decided to go, I was surprised with how good my legs felt, I was able to pedal away."
For complete results with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.