Both teams commenced stage racing for the first time in 2013 yesterday, taking on the Merco Cycling Classic in Merced, CA. Merco, the traditional Southern California early season opener, is a classic American cycling event celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a new four-day format.For the women, it will be the first official race of ’13 – a five-women team will tackle the four-stage affair, which commenced yesterday with the Merced Irrigation District Road Race. Men’s Performance Manager Eric Wohlberg and Women’s Performance Director Rachel Heal accompanied their respective teams.”After a great training camp in Oxnard, the team is excited to get the racing started and Merced is a great race to kick things off,” said Heal. “As the first in a block of early season California races, Merco always attracts a high quality women’s field, and we are taking a small but solid team of 5 to tackle the new stage race format, a team I know is well suited to handle the variety of challenging stages we see here.”Chad Haga and new recruit Lauren Hall both delivered top-five finishes in the rolling hills of stage one, putting both riders within striking distance heading into today’s critical 12-mile time trial.
The new 2013 format sees racers tackling two road races, a criterium, and today’s TT, which will hold considerable weight in determining the overall winner. Haga, fresh off of wind tunnel testing in San Diego, sitting 1:01 back on GC, will look to jump places on the 12-mile course.
“It will be interesting to see what Chad can do in the time trial today, especially after working with HED’s Dino Edin in the wind tunnel a few weeks ago,” said Wohlberg. “For our team, Merco is a good way to blow out the cobwebs in a competitive, stage based environment. The first race of the season is normally a pretty low key event for us, and this isn’t our official ‘first race’ – that would be Redlands later this month. Regardless, our guys will be fired up and gunning for the win.”
Ken Hanson and Tom Soladay, getting a jump on ’13 racing last week, took home wins two and three for Optum p/b KBS in Southern California, following up Courteney Lowe’s national championship victory in New Zealand a few months prior. Soloday claimed victory at the inaugural Valley of Fire stage race in Overton, and US Criterium Champion Ken Hanson shed what little rust he had on his potent sprinting legs to raise his arms at the 27th Annual Original Merced Criterium.