Fake bike racing doesn’t get any more exciting than this. Sam Holmes survives a night of deep sand and tough chasing for the Vuelta lead.
Just like the real Vuelta, nothing ever goes to script in the woods of the Pere Marquette. It was obvious it would be a special stage early, when the first of four Vuelta stages was graced by Ryan Kushman and the be-jamma’d 3T Q+M rider Jay Ellis, plus the triumphant return of Lauri Brockmiller. Of course, things only got wilder from there.
After a somewhat sedate start, things finally exploded on the base of Wood Chip. After some forcing from Jeff Koch and others, the leaders piled onto the climb, but a slowing of the pace and a six inch deep sand pit saw Cody Sovis, defending Vuelta champ, down hard. Koch, O’Hearn, and Holmes were away, while behind, Sovis remounted and slowly gathered a strong chase group of riders dropped previously, Chris Kushman and Dan Ellis, and riders gapped over the top of Wood Chip, which included Garrett Jenema and Bryan Warner.
The leading trio had the horsepower to make it, and as Sovis and Ellis tried to inject some momentum behind, the white jerseys of O’Hearn and Koch disappeared up the trail. It wasn’t until they saw Sam Holmes readjusting his handlebars after a crash on Kennedy Korner that there was any proof the riders ahead still existed. Somehow, Holmes was able to hop on the back of the chase as the effort received a huge boost from Chris Kushman and Garrett Jenema.
Holmes himself was able to come to the front before the Saarlock Pit before handing the reigns over to Sovis for the approach and ascent of the Boonenberg. Holmes picked up full double points on the climb and now leads Bryan Warner and Dan Ellis in that competition.
Over the climb, O’Hearn had unhitched from a hard-charging Koch and politely filed into line with the chase as Dan Ellis looked to nail back the lone rider up the trail. Ellis was able to shuffle Sovis to the front and help to keep him in a good position up Anita’s Hill, which was as sandy, dusty and loose as you’ve ever seen it. Over the top, Sovis stormed onto Holmes’ wheel and immediately went to the front, pausing only to make sure Bryan Warner had latched on. He faded later, but Sovis and Holmes made contact with Koch and did enough to get Sovis full points on GO.
Holmes was simply unstoppable in the finale, cruising in ahead of Koch and then Sovis with a sizable time gap of 8 seconds. The rest of the top 9 riders are still within 65 seconds, however, and Holmes will have to mark nearly every move from here until mid-September. It will be a matter of riders balancing the overall win with protecting their places.
Rob Frank put down a 40 minute time with Hunter to go well into the lead of Best Old Rider, and put RBS in a good spot in the Team Competition, too. It was, of course, a delight to see Jeff Galsterer back after a one-week hiatus and right into the mix of Best Old Rider.
Lauri Brockmiller immediately confirmed she hasn’t lost a step after missing a few SOLs, coming home with a big lead after the first stage ahead of Susan Vigland and Bridgett Widrig. These ladies have a chance to be the first women to finish the Vuelta in like 3 years, we think.
And in the Team Competition, kolo t.c. is three minutes clear of Hagerty after one stage, with RBS and Norte the other squads scoring for the week.
Stage Two is the ONLY night for the sprinters at the Vuelta, with double points on GO. That’s followed by the final two stages of the year, both of which offer double points on the Boonenberg. The last SOL of 2018 is September 13.
A reminder that the SOL start time switches to 6:15 in SEPTEMBER, so we’ll have the next two at 6:30, then Stage Four and the World Championships at the earlier time.
The full Vuelta standings are right here.
All the 2018 SOL results are right here.