Monday, April 7, 2008

Botero Rocks Redlands With Decisive Victory

Redlands, Calif. — Rock Racing used a simple strategy on the way to sealing Santiago Botero’s overall victory at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

Like they have been for every road stage, Rock Racing rode at the front throughout Sunday’s 91-mile (138 km) Beaver Medical Group Sunset Road Race. The demonstration of flawless teamwork successfully protected the 54-second lead Botero had gained while soloing to victory on Stage 1 on Friday in Beaumont.

By reeling in a number of breakaways during 12 laps of the challenging 6.2-mile (10 km) Sunset Loop circuit, Rock Racing guaranteed the race would end in a field sprint and preserve Botero’s lead.

The result was Botero’s first-ever win in the United States and the first overall victory for Rock Racing at a stage race in the team’s one-year history. Botero also took home the red jersey of best climber in the four-day race.

“Our victory here is undeniably positive for cycling,” Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said. “What we did this weekend and what we have tried to do as a brand and as a team is good for the sport and even better for the fans.”

Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team) finished second overall and Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell Pro Cycling) was third, 1:06 behind Botero.

Botero said he never felt his lead was in jeopardy – even when Jeff Louder (BMC Pro Cycling Team) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) were building more than a minute’s lead halfway through the race. Louder later joined with Peter Stetina (Slipstream-Chipotle) to keep the pressure on Rock. But gradually, the boys in venom-green-and-black brought it back.

“We have a very strong team,” Botero said. “They worked hard for me and for that I am very thankful. I knew we could pull back any breakaway that tried to get away.”

Rock Racing’s Tyler Hamilton, who fought off the effects of the flu on the final two stages, said the team didn’t come into the first event on the National Race Calendar thinking it was going to be an easy race.

“This was an incredibly strong group of talented teams that would have made an impression on any European field,” Hamilton said. “Hats off to them. I’m proud to be racing in America.”

After Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Victor Hugo Peña helped Rock Racing pull back a number of small breakaways on the Sunset Loop, the 30-strong field came onto the streets of Downtown Redlands together. Following five laps of Saturdays’ criterium course, Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home) won the field sprint ahead of Tony Cruz (BMC) and Rory Sutherland (Health Net presented by Maxxis).

Not everything went according to form on the day, though. Rock Racing’s Fred Rodriguez saw his chances to go for the stage win end when he lost control on a downhill, off-camber right-hand turn where a stream of water trickled across the course and slickened the pavement.

“Unfortunately, it was a situation that could have been avoided,” Rodriguez said while looking over his nearly head-to-toe road rash on his right side. “They should have figured out a way to keep that water off the course in what was already a dangerous turn.”

Pena said the ability to control the race at pivotal moments reminded him of his days of riding for another powerful team, the U.S. Postal Service squad. That squad won the Tour de France and several other major races.

“We are a strong team and as the season goes on, we’ll be teaching some of our younger guys how to do the things that made that team so good,” he said. “We’ll be very good this year.”

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