By Kirsten Robbins in Merced, California
Iggy Silva benefited from the experience of Rock Racing captain Freddy Rodriguez, who guided the young rider to his first bunch sprint victory as a professional. The young track specialist defied the odds and not only completed the lengthy road race but used his points race smarts to manoeuvre a win ahead of Taylor Tolleson (BMC) and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell).
"This is my first season as a category one rider and my first win at this level too," Silva told Cyclingnews with an ear-to-ear grin, pleased to be a part of Rock Racing's weekend-winning performances. His team-mates Rashaan Bahati and Justin Williams placed first and second in the previous day's criterium. "This is definitely the biggest win for me. It was pretty cool because all the big teams were here and I got to show my stuff."
The 192km Foothills Road Race might have been a typical distance for most of the professional men's peloton but for 18-year-old Silva it was 150 kilometres longer than the standard junior level 40-kilometre points race that he has been accustomed to competing in.
"I haven't ever done a race this long so I was trying to pace myself towards the end, hoping I was able to make it," said Silva. "It was definitely on for most of the race, with a lot of attacking. Plus there were a lot a faster sprinters here and riders who have already done some big races."
The speed of the peloton picked up near the end of the race to reel in a seven-man breakaway. The only obstacle preventing a straight and easy shot to the finish line was a small hill placed in the last kilometre. It may have been unassuming but it was enough to disorganise team lead outs and force every man to fight for himself.
"At the finish, Freddy [Rodriguez] went and I stayed and sat third wheel," Silva continued. "The BMC guy [Taylor Tolleson] went and I sat on him and countered when he caught up to Freddy. There was no one behind me so it was all good. It was perfect to have Freddy there because that forced another team to jump and I was in the perfect position to counter."
The peloton set off in the early morning to complete five laps of a nearly 40km circuit through the notorious orange and almond groves of California's Central Valley. Cooler temperatures and little rain were optimal in keeping the pollinating bees in their bee-hives and not in the riders jerseys and helmets.
Team Bissell rode offensively and forced several of the day's significant breakaways. Each lap a large leading group reshuffled with some riders dropping off the back and others bridging the small margin across. Along with Bissell other teams included in the splits were BMC, Colavita-Sutter Home, California Giant Berry Farms and La Grange.
"There were a lot of early breakaways but the group seemed to be glued together the whole race," said Tolleson. "A break would go but nothing ever got more than a minute before a big chase would start. I don't think there was one group that went that everyone was happy with and not enough big teams to control it. It was on the gas pretty much all day.
Strength from the chasing peloton came from local level teams that included Bike Religion, Webcor, Lombardi Sports and the Z-team that kept the time margin between the field and any front group from gaining more than a minute-and-a-half.
"We were all over the front and off the front," Jacques-Maynes said. "We wanted to be hyper-aggressive because we we aren't a great field sprinting team. All of the bigger teams would populate the break and then solo operators or smaller teams with less riders would just sell out to bridge the gap. There were just different tactics going on. But those teams ended up using up a lot of their guys because as the race went on the field was getting smaller and smaller."