It all came down to one last stage. Separated by just a single second on the general classification and 54 kilometers to the end of the Winter Is Here Tour, Stage Seven’s assault on the Epic KOM laid bare the very souls of each and every rider. At least, like, the ones that could make it this morning.
Riders were treated to ideal conditions this morning, largely because everyone can control their own thermostat. After plenty of strategery-talk in the aftermath of the team time trial, the time pedal came at the crack of 8:45am. Aside from a few non-starters, including EF’s Al McWilliams, relinquishing third on GC, the biggest names and up-and-comers were joined by Alex Tenelshof (he REALLY like Zwift) and Nolan Vandezwaag, who scored for EF but was particularly important in the service of his Velo City Cycles buddies from Trek-Segafredo…the Dutch Mafia is real.
Things turned on like a switch. After an especially slow neutral start due to some technical issues for a pair of riders, the opening sprint came just a few hundred meters into the stage. The sudden acceleration suited green jersey wearer Spencer Nemecek just fine; he took the full points and wrapped up his target for the day mere minutes into the action.
Trek-Segafredo found itself on the front with six riders and decided to force the pace, rotating with Sovis, Sovis, Weir, and Ohio Doug to keep the peloton stretched out through the desert and knock more than a few riders out of contention early, A few small gaps broke, but the front of the race slammed into the foot of the Epic KOM like one big wave and broke to pieces almost immediately.
For the GC riders, that early pace had implications. While Braiden Voss was present and correct, Kyan Olshove and much of his Team Jumbo Visma squad was caught a long ways down the line. While he was able to make up ground, the effort took its toll, and as the pace lifted, Olshove was caught chasing. The gap was too much over the top, and Braiden survived a lap of the Jungle loop and an agonizing five mile dash to the line to claim a yellow jersey and a second place finish on the stage behind Tenelshof.
Behind, Mike Anderson rode an absolutely heroic race to keep Olshove in touch and fend off a sizable chase group that included half the Trek-Segafredo squad, plus Drew Martin and Lucas Van Drunen. That group was together the whole way up the Epic KOM, but splintered in the Jungle. It was the Jungle that turned the race on its head, with a slew of riders pulling off the bike swap and crossing twenty, thirty, even sixty second gaps by making the move to mountain bikes.
That put more than a few finishing spots in doubt and, as a result, the team competition up for grabs. John Burmeister nearly closed what was a two-minute deficit to catch a flagging Cody Sovis being towed to the line by his younger brother, more tattooed brother. With Trek putting Ohio Doug, Andy Weir, both Soviseseses and the talismanic Ted Schneider into the top fifteen, and with Ineos missing the always-strong Brad Pauly and Jim Jackovatz, that heads-up decision to wait might just make the difference.
The move vaulted Trek-Segafredo from third place in the Team Competition to a tie for the win with incumbent leaders Team Ineos. Since the bylaws of the TC Zwift Stage Racing Association, which we just made up, say quite clearly that we can’t end in a tie, the Race Director himself is brainstorming an appropriate tie breaker.
Things didn’t end up so tight on GC, with Braiden moving well clear of Olshove. Stil, the second-place finish Kyan confirms him as a top contender assures him another first round selection in February. Al McWilliams’ DNS opened up third place John Burmeister, giving him a second podium in a row after winning the Winter Is Coming Tour. Ryan Zamzow-Masters and Lucan Van Drunen round out the top five, with both simply rock solid in every stage. Neither rider was ever out of the top ten on stages with classification implications, and both showed improvement in time trials that make them big favorites in the months ahead.
Behind, Trek-Segafredo nearly filled out the rest of the top ten with Andy Weir, Ohio Doug, Cody Sovis, and Wes Sovis, showing just how well Wes picked his team for this Tour. his squad included the only second, third, and fourth round picks to make the top ten!
Spencer Nemecek saved the Team Jumbo-Visma tour by taking the green jersey and even slipped into the top ten overall thanks to a brilliant bike swap on the final stage. His green jersey win was close, but the demonstrative way he won the only sprint on stage seven proved he really was the best sprinter, too. Ted Schneider finished second on points, but his effort had big implications for the team’s overall success, too. Spencer Mendel and Dan Korienek scored high, while Carl Copenhaver edged out Brad Hochstetler to slip into the top five by a single point.
Thanks in large part to his showings on Mount Ven Top and the Epic KOM, Braiden Voss added the polka dot jersey to his haul in this tour, finishing over thirty points clear of Lucas van Drunen. Ryan Zamzow-Masters and Kyan Olshove gave Team Jumbo-Visma riders top five finishes in the Mountains classification, while Al McWilliams can at least write home about his fifth-place finish in that competition before bowing out on GC before the finale.
You can see the full results from Stage 7, plus the final GC and competition standings, here.
A huge thanks to Brad and Carl for putting so much time and effort into making this the best thing going this winter. Thanks, guys!
Stay tuned for details and registration for the February Tour soon!