You couldn’t ask for a more exciting start to the men’s World Cup cross-country season. Spectators at the Domaine Chandon winery in Yountville, California, were treated to a thrilling opener Sunday that featured seesaw battles for the lead, a touch of weather drama and a first-time winner in Spanish sensation Jose Antonio Hermida.
The 22-year-old Hermida, riding for Bianchi Motorex, experienced a career high last year in Spain when he won the world title in the under-23 category. But even that, said an emotional Hermida after completing the 25.2-mile course in 2:02:06, doesn’t compare to the feeling of beating such stars as Cadel Evans, Miguel Martinez and the rest of the men’s World Cup field of 121 riders.
“For me, it is more important here because I was fighting for a period to [win] one World Cup,” Hermida said.
Ranked 12th in the World Cup last year, Hermida has hinted at this sort of potential. An even bigger surprise might have been the man he barely beat, Marc Hanisch (Orbea). The 26-year-old had onlookers double-checking their start sheets to see if this relatively unknown could really be riding with the leaders. He was.
In fact, Hanisch held on until the end and finished second to Hermida, just eight seconds back. “I wanted to surprise some people, that was my goal here,” said the blond crewcut German in near perfect English.
Putting an exclamation point on the message that a new generation of talent has arrived was another former under-23 world champion, Marco Bui. The Italian AS Marin-Helly Hansen rider finished third.
Bui, who posted the fastest time in Saturday’s time trial, could earn the title for the day’s most aggressive rider — and under rainy skies that made the track slick, there were plenty of aggressive riders.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) was the first up-and-comer to take charge. The lanky blond went to the front on the pavement of the first of two promenade loops, and stayed out front for the first five miles of the race. Hesjedal was eventually caught by a trio containing two Frenchmen — 1998 world champion Christophe Dupouey (Giant) and Ludovic Dubau (Orbea) — as well as Bui, who was leading the chase. By the end of the second of six laps, German Lado Fumic — wearing the pink colors of Telekom — had charged to the front. Then, at the midway point, Hermida bridged up to the leaders and went right through to solo off the front. He gained a 24-second advantage over Hanisch and Bui, but that duo chipped away at his lead over the next couple of laps and caught the Spaniard with two laps — or eight miles — to go.
Behind Bui’s technical savvy in the slick stuff, that lead trio held off charges while major shakeups happened behind them. The key questions, of course, involved some riders who weren’t there. Cadel Evans (Volvo-Cannondale) was struggling about 20 riders back. Last year’s winner at Napa, Bas Van Dooren (Specialized), was even further back. Olympic champion Miguel Martinez was starting to get his groove, working his way up from 15th or so, before he punctured his rear tire.
In other words, there was lots of room for new faces. In the end, Bui took the third-place points, just four seconds behind Hanisch, while Dupouey, representing the old guard, was fourth. Fumic was fifth, followed by Frenchman Gregory Vollet, wearing the new colors of the Creuse Oxygene team.
Hesjedal hung on to nab the top North American placing, 10th, followed closely by fellow Canadian Roland Green, who, after a rough start that saw him buried with a mid-race placing around the high 20s, climbed up to 11th.
RACE NOTE:Once again, no U.S. men made it to page one of the results sheet. Olympians Travis Brown (Trek-Volkswagen) and Tinker Juarez (Volvo-Cannondale) were both DNF’s, as was U.S. national champion Steve Larsen. The highest placing American was Kirk Molday (Sunrace-Santa Cruz), in 32nd.