And so it begins. After two weeks of tense anticipation and holiday indulgence, the second Tour of the season is finally underway. Without the normal pomp and circumstance of a rider presentation, and without any weather issues because it’s always warm, dry, and breezy in the basement, there was little to slow the strongest field yet to tackle a Zwift Stage Race.
That field has swelled to nearly 50 riders this month, though there were a few notable riders engaged in action Saturday, including Melissa Ryba and Tara Hochstetler. There were just a few technical issues as well, though the race organization is working to provide fair solutions for those riders affected.
Stage One saw the field take on Out and Back Again, a relatively flat course punctuated first by the Volcano Climb, then with the Reverse KOM as a second shot to the legs, and ego. Those ascents served as the KOM points for the stage, while two Sprint points were also contested, including the Fuego sprint in the final few miles of the brutal opener.
One such flat terrain, the great and the good were all present and correct after a neutral roll out. At the dropping of the flag, however, the bunch was quickly lined out, and despite a push over the gravel by Cody Sovis and the Trek-Segafredo squad, it was essentially a set-piece battle going onto the volcano. A small gap appeared between a lead group of around a dozen and a second chase group going into the volcano, and while the chasers did make contact, it was just as the road pitched up.
As was expected, the climbers made the most of the gradients, with the likes of Drew Cummins, Kyan Olshove, Ryan Zamzow-Masters, Al McWilliams, and others drilling things through early. Last Tour’s winner, John Burmeister, was present and correct, as was heavy favorite Mike Anderson and newcomer Lucas Van Drunen. Andy Weir, too, was in contention at the top, and as the pace eased on the descent, there was a brief, faint flicker of light for a six-man chase to come back. That group contained the likes of Brad Pauly, Chris Johnston, Wes Sovis, Doug Mastroianni, Brent Wiersema, and both Sovises, but when Wiresema and Pauly pulled clear, the group shattered.
It was a small bunch gallop for the stage win and the overall race lead, with five-star race favorite Braiden Voss seizing control early. He won’t have much of a lead to sit on, however, with nearly the entire top five within just a few seconds. He sits on the same time as Zamzow and Van Druren, with Mike Anderson and Al McWilliams easily within touching distance.
The Sprint, KOM, and Team Competitions will undoubtedly be close, though riders in the top five have a useful headstart with six stages still to go.
Game Ball: Kent McNeil. The 2019 NMMBA Taco Competition Champion finished over eight minutes down in the first stage he completed as a mercenary in the last Tour, but has worked himself into strong shape with just a few hard rides. He ended up in the top 25, just over five minutes down on a course that doesn’t suit his characteristics.
Dynamic Duo: Listing to Mark Strikwerda and Ted Schneider on the Trek-Segafredo comms was akin to listening to Maverick and Goose in “Top Gun”. If the squad was disappointed in only having a flying Andy Weir in the lead group, then they have to be impressed with the top-notch sprinting, and entertainment, coming out of the Velo City Cycles riders.
We’ve Seen This One Before: After the opening stage, Team Jumbo-Visma is sitting pretty with three riders in the top ten. Zamzow, Cummins, and Olshove have survived their first test, and the entire peloton has to be worried about the trio with a trip up Mount Ventoux looming in the third week. Ineos and EF both have a pair of riders in the top ten, while AG2R and Trek-Segafredo have just one rider still in the mix.
Stage Two is an individual time trial, a short effort which should suit some of the rouleurs like Mike Anderson and John Burmeister. It was Burmeister who really established his Tour lead on a similar effort, though the slightly hillier course this time around may give the lighter riders a chance to limit their losses. Expect to see a resurgence from Wes Sovis, too, who suffered on the Volcano Climb, only to bury himself to keep two teammates in the hunt for a top ten finish. Going on his form of the last Tour, he should find himself a few places higher before the peloton meets again next Sunday.
In this climber-friendly tour, the KOM standings are likely to mirror the GC and Stage 1 bore that out. Braiden nabbed the fastest KOM times on both climbs . Al put all 138 lbs of himself on the rivet to nab 3rd then 2nd over the KOM banners. Al sits as the polka-dot Jersey leader (since in fake tours a rider cannot wear two jerseys). No doubt he will be hounded all tour by the Teen Titans Go on the slopes, as Zamzow, Drew and Kyan are just behind.
In addition to riders in the top 10, Team Jumbo bagged huge Sprint points from Spencer Nemecek. He stomped to 1st and 3rd in the intermediate Sprints and found himself in the Green Jersey after Stage 1. Just behind him, Carl, Dan Korienek, Spencer Mendel (suggesting that in the future teams should simply draft Sprinters named Spencer), Ted, and Andy Schloech are in a position to make the Green Jersey a HOT competition.
Those points from Nemecek proved decisive in launching JV to the team win for this stage. The point totals were satisfyingly close among all the teams – with less than 100 points separating JV from an underperforming Trek Segafredo squad. Remember, Team Tour points (10,8,6,4,2) are assigned each stage and are the only points that carry forward – so the slate is clean starting Stage 2.