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
“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
“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.”
Once racing hit the circuits of the Sunset
Loop, Rock Racing went to the front and set a steady, hard pace that dissuaded most from attacking. The most significant breakaway of the day started 4 laps into the 12 lap race. Jeff Louder (BMC), yesterday's stage winner, attacked with Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) and stayed away
for 2 laps. Their largest advantage was 45 seconds before a persistent Rock Racing
brought them back. "Rock did a good job bringing those two back," said Toyota
- United sports director Len Pettyjohn.
Rock Racing's Victor Hugo 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.”
After Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Victor Hugo Peña helped Rock Racing pull back some more 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.”
Behind Rodriguez and with nowhere to go,
Toyota-United's Heath Blackgrove and Chris Baldwin were part of the tumble. Baldwin commented, "I got
right up and my teammates Chris Wherry and Dominique Rollin were right there and got me back to the group no problem." Baldwin had some bike troubles as a result of the
crash, but was able to make it to the pit area where he changed to a spare bike. Toyota-United
mechanic Eric Greene repaired Baldwin's race bike in the time it took the race to complete
a lap and another bike change was made. Back on his race bike Baldwin
finished the race with the remaining 25 racers. "It was a smooth operation,"
said Baldwin of the whole situation. His teammate Blackgrove
wasn't so lucky. Suffering from bad road rash to his entire right side, he later
retired from the race to obtain medical attention to his wounds.
Baldwin happily commented, "The whole team is on a slow upward trajectory.
Guys are getting better and better. I feel a little bit better all the
time." Looking back on the week's racing Baldwin added, "we made the most out
of what we were given.”
Toyota - United sports director Len Pettyjohn was happy as well. "The racing level has definitely stepped up in the US. This was a very international field and a tough week of racing for everyone."