Fresh off a cobbled campaign in Belgium, the American BMC Racing Team arrived in Cambridge, New York with high expectations for success at the Tour of the Battenkill, a challenging event with endless sections of dirt or gravel roads and constant undulations.
Fulfilling all hopes, BMC's Chad Beyer walked away with the Pro/Amateur race on Saturday while Scott Nydam soloed his way to victory in the Pro Invitational on Sunday. It was the boost Nydam needed after recovering from his broken collar bone at the Tour of California in February.
"We had about as good of a weekend as we could have hoped," BMC director Mike Sayers reported. "This race really played to our strengths and a lot of the guys who were a little slow getting into form are now finding their legs."
Saturday's race combined the professionals and the elite amateurs, taking one 100km loop around the environs of Cambridge with an added section making the route a 129km thrash-fest over the gravelled, hilly roads of upstate New York. A 12-man breakaway midway through the race was stacked with three BMC riders.
"It was an awesome race for us," Saturday's victor Beyer said. "An early break went off with Jackson Stewart, Jonathan Garcia and me."
Taking turns in attacking the group, first Stewart got a gap, and then Garcia gained nearly a minute and a half on the group.
"I thought Jonathan may have had a gap big enough to take the win," Beyer explained.
However, some powerful riding by Tom Zirbel put paid to Garcia's chances.
"Everyone on the team rode really well, but since we had three guys in the break and then Jonathan Garcia off the front soloing for 40km, the pressure was really off the guys," Sayers explained. "They just had to follow wheels and keep alert about how the race was unfolding."
Once Garcia's escape was reeled in, Beyer took the reins, following an attack by Zirbel.
"Zirbel took some seriously strong pulls on the dirt roads to bring Jonathan back," Beyer explained. "After that, I attacked, then Zirbel countered and in the end it was just the two of us and I out-sprinted him for the win."
Garcia finished the day in 5th while Stewart took 7th and Nydam was 14th.
More playing in the dirt
Having maintained a solo attack for most of the race Sunday, Nydam enjoyed a satisfying victory. After spending nearly 175km off the front, Nydam muscled his way to the finish line more than two minutes ahead of second-placed Karl Menzies (OUCH) and third-placed Francois Parisien (Team Planet Energy).
"I'm stoked," Nydam told Cyclingnews. "It was a very satisfying win. I went into this race hoping to win and was envisioning going to the line alone. This win felt like it was a long time coming and everything came together today.
"I knew where to use my efforts on the course and how to maintain my speed on the climbs, descents and in the dirt," he added.
The main group was reduced to just 25 riders by the end of the race. Menzies bridged across to Nydam's lone chaser, Parisien, and used his speed to win the two-up sprint for second place.
"Obviously winning was our number one goal but we rode the race as best we could," said OUCH directeur sportif Mike Tamayo. "We raced hard and BMC raced hard too. Hats go off to them for a great race. My guys really left it all out there today and they should be proud of that."
The men's 160-rider peloton anxiously lined up to start one of the longest and toughest events held on American soil, literally. Nearly 40km of the total 200km road race was held on New York State dirt roads. Blue skies made the otherwise epic race tolerable because the dirt roads, combined with undulating terrain and strong winds, caused the large field to dwindle to 62 by the finish.
Since Sunday's race was intended only for the invited professional teams, the length was nearly doubled and would see the riders taking two loops around the 100km course from the day before.
"It rained a little bit Saturday, so the dirt sections were a little more packed down," Sayers said. "But it was still pretty dry, dusty and tough; the cars did a lot to turn over the dirt so it was by no means an easy task."
Knowing that the difficulty of the course would play to their advantage, BMC went out with an attacking game plan.
"Though I didn't necessarily mean to be solo for so long, the main plan of the day certainly was to get into the breaks," Nydam said. "Though we only had five guys in the race, we had a lot of cards to play and whenever one of us gets in the break, it gives the other guys a free ride to follow wheels."
Early in the first lap, Nydam broke away from the group with Team Ouch's Bobby Lea, quickly gaining a three-minute gap.
"The dirt roads were tough and there was mayhem back in the main peloton," Sayers said. "At one point there must have been 30 guys at the side of the road with flats, but our guys came out basically unscathed which is a testament to the Continental tyres we were using."
Pack your podium hat
"Today was a crazy race," Sayers said. "Scott and Bobby broke away early on the first lap and then Scott was on his own early in the second lap."
A strong chase eventually formed and managed to get to within one minute of Nydam.
"I knew there was a chase group behind us, so I put in an effort to drop Bobby and be off alone," Nydam explained. "The main point of my being in a break was to take off the pressure from my teammates, but I did pack my podium cap this morning, so I was hoping to go well today."
Believing in his chances to take the overall victory, Nydam rode a steady race and managed to keep the chasers at bay.
"I learned a few lessons at a similar race in California last weekend," Nydam explained. "I like this course too and find that I can recover well after the punchy climbs so I knew that even if I didn't win, I would certainly make it hard on the other teams trying to catch me."
Confidence breeds confidence
After several recent team successes in Europe and America, there is a pervasive good mood which also engenders enormous confidence in the BMC riders.
"A happy group of guys is a good thing and I can't say enough about having a team with a positive attitude," Sayers said. "The reason we're racing so well now is that they have been doing a lot of hard-knocks races in Europe; the advantage of running a double program are that you are doing intense races weekend after weekend and we are just beginning to reap the benefits."
"We feel like we are finally getting ahead of the game," Nydam added. "We really believe that we can achieve great things and there is no doubt that the body responds positively to that sort of attitude."
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