5-hour ENERGY® presented by Kenda Racing Team
Starts Strong at Tour of California
May 15, 2013
On the lower slopes of Mount Palomar during Stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California, the day’s 100-degree heat began to take its toll. Riding in his first ATOC, 5-Hour Energy’s Taylor Shelden, 26, struggled to keep pace with the group.
“This’ll be his toughest day,” said Frankie Andreu, 5-Hour Energy’s team director, following Shelden in a team car with me as his passenger. “At some point, I’ve got to leave him to take care of the other riders at the front.”
Each team starts the day with two cars in the caravan of support vehicles that follows the race. 5-Hour Energy’s assistant director was driving Car 2 and supporting Jim Stemper, 27, the team’s representative in the day’s long breakaway, more than 10 minutes ahead. This left Andreu to look after the rest of team’s riders on a day when fresh water bottles were a precious commodity. Sheldon’s battle to stay in contention was important, but it was far from his director’s only concern.
Luckily for Andreu, Shelden wasn’t the only rider suffering on Palomar’s long, sun-bleached slopes. Champion System’s Bobbie Traksel was off the back as well. Since his team had no rider off the front and two cars available to follow riders in the peloton, Champion’s assistant director could look after both Traksel and Shelden. Andreu was free to rejoin the group and tend to the rest of his riders.
For a small American squad like 5-Hour Energy, saying that the Amgen Tour of California is an important race is a bit of an understatement. Last year, despite being one of the most successful teams in North America, the squad was not invited to the eight-day event. And this year, the team’s goals are simple: represent its sponsors in breakaways, fight for a leader’s jersey or stage victory, and position team captain Francisco Mancebo for a high overall finish.
Stemper was certainly doing his part by hanging on as the breakaway dwindled from four to three to just two by the end of the day’s final climb. With less than 15 miles left to race, the 27-year-old Wisconsinite clung to a three-minute lead with Bissell Pro Cycling’s Carter Jones. But the writing was on the wall: The pack was closing in, led by Cannondale Pro Cycling and Omega Pharma–Quick-Step as they prepared to launch their respective sprinters Peter Sagan and Gianni Meersman toward the finish.
But there was good news: At mile 93, cheers filled the car as the race radio announced that Stemper had been named the day’s Most Courageous Rider. Whether the break survived or not, the team would be represented on the Stage 1 podium in Escondido and Stemper would wear the white, yellow, and blue Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider jersey during Stage 2. A day in the break and a leader’s jersey—things were going well. But more was yet to come.
With 3 miles left to race, as Stemper and Jones shook hands to mark the end of their long ride, Vacansoleil-DCM rider Lieuwe Westra shot from the front of the chasing peloton. With both Cannondale and Quick-Step depleted from the chase and Peter Sagan cramping, the group lacked initiative. Westra timed his move perfectly knowing that there would be few teams concerned enough to work hard in bringing him back.
But 5-Hour’s Francisco Mancebo was quick to counter the Dutchman’s move. The Spaniard accelerated up to Westra’s wheel, and the duo quickly established a 10-second advantage. Watching the final kilometers on an iPhone in the team car, Andreu, his mechanic, and a team sponsor craned their necks to see the action on the tiny screen. Suddenly, the race radio interrupted the delayed feed.
“In second place, Rider #151.”
Shoulders sagged as news of Mancebo’s second-place finish sank in. But despite Mancebo’s loss, spirits were high around the team’s rented motor home as the riders came in.
“I’m totally pleased with how it went today,” Andreu said after the stage. “It was a fantastic effort in extreme circumstances. It was a great start and now we need to follow up on it.”
And Shelden? He finished the stage almost 37 minutes behind Westra, well beyond the 9 percent time limit. His Tour of California is over. But for Francisco Mancebo, Jim Stemper, and the rest of the 5-Hour Energy Team, it’s only just getting started.
ARTICLE SOURCE: www.Bicycling.com
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