Thursday’s second road stage of the Indie Hops Mt. Hood Cycling Classic provided a rollercoaster of surprises and upsets, resulting in a dramatic solo stage win ahead of a hard-charging peloton for one rider and the loss of the race lead due to a time penalty for another.
The 106-mile Mt. Adams road race, which featured two 53-mile loops largely on freshly snowplowed forest service roads, will go down as the stuff dreams are made of for amateur racer Nic Hamilton.
After spending the day in a four-man breakaway, the Trek Red Truck rider just held off a 24-rider lead chase group for the stage win, while breakaway companions Nathaniel English (Echelon Gran Fondo-Z Team) and Jesse Moore (Cal Giant) were swarmed by the bunch in the final 100 meters. Hamilton’s margin of victory at the finish line was so close that all 27 riders were awarded the same finishing time.
In that group was the yellow jersey of UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis race leader Morgan Schmitt. However Schmitt, who had flatted earlier in the stage on a rough gravel section, was penalized 20 seconds for drafting back to the lead chase group. The time penalty dropped him out of the race lead, landing the jersey instead on the shoulders of UHC teammate Marc de Maar, who was tied on classification with 2009 winner Paul Mach (Bissell) heading into Friday’s 18.5-mile time trial.
Schmitt’s time penalty was the result of a series of unfortunate mishaps for the UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis team.
Prior to his puncture, the UHC team car flatted a tire while passing another vehicle over snowy banks on a road that, until a week ago, had been closed since last fall. While UHC director Gord Fraser and team mechanic Eric Sperling replaced their front tire, Schmitt punctured on a gravel section, along with several other riders.
Because his team car was indisposed, Schmitt took a rear wheel from the race’s neutral support service. And because so many riders had already punctured on the debris-strewn road all that was left for Schmitt, a SRAM-sponsored rider, was a Campagnolo 11-speed wheel. The difference in cassette width and cog spacing created a situation where Schmitt was unable to freewheel for the remainder of the race.
“It was as if he was riding a fixed-gear bike the rest of the day,” Fraser said. “He couldn’t coast. But he made due.”
Up ahead the peloton had slowed, adhering to the unwritten rule not to take advantage of the race leader’s misfortune. With his team car unavailable, Schmitt paced back to the peloton on the bumper of the neutral service vehicle.
“Meanwhile we’re still back fixing our flat tire and we’re not seeing any of this,” Fraser said. “The neutral car offered the bumper, and of course a rider, any time they are offered a bumper, they are going to take it. What an official is going to rule on what amount of time is appropriate to draft a car just depends.”
The peloton’s willingness to wait for the race leader slowed the chase, breathing life into the breakaway. On the final climb, de Maar went to the front and rode a hard tempo that shattered the peloton, leaving groups of riders strewn about behind the front group of 24 riders. The effort also served to bring the gap to the four leaders down significantly.
On the final 10-mile downhill run to the line, UHC brought back significant time on the break, eventually catching all but Hamilton. Hagens-Berman rider Sam Johnson took the bunch kick for second, while de Maar finished third on the stage.
Though de Maar was listed on the official results as the new race leader, Fraser said Schmitt took the stage at the podium celebration because the UHC team director believed the results to be in error, as Schmitt had finished in the lead group.
Also penalized 20 seconds on the stage was Sid Taberlay (Cal Giant), Christopher Parrish (Hagens Berman), Jamie Sparling (Total Restoration) and Aaron Schooler (H&R Block).
Fraser filed a protest with chief referee Dot Abbott, however in the end, the ruling stuck. That the peloton was willing to honor an age-old unwritten rule protecting race leaders from misfortune became the major point of contention between Abbott and Fraser. Abbott told VeloNews that the race jury is compelled to judge — and penalize — all riders using the same criteria.
“This is about treating everyone the same,” she said. “Nowhere does it say that the yellow jersey has carte blanche to do what they want to do. When (Schmitt) flatted I did make a point to say (over caravan radio) that the yellow jersey has a flat tire, so everyone knew. I also made a point to say that the UnitedHealthcare car was not in the caravan, so neutral support knew they had to get up there to fix his flat. It was a mix of unfortunate circumstances, but at the end of the day we felt it was appropriate and fair. We had another guy (Taberlay) pacing behind his team car at the same time, and we can’t treat them separately. Officials have to be impartial.”
Fraser contended that in a unique situation where the yellow jersey punctures, the bunch eases up and a neutral support vehicle paces race leader back to the front, an exception should be made.
“The whole group was sitting up,” Fraser said. “The riders were going by the old adage that you don’t take advantage of the race leader when he’s in trouble. So if the people who are immediately affected abide by the code, then why can’t the officials respect that? He’s going to get back on. They are going to go as slow as possible until he gets back. So if he gets back in five minutes drafting the bumper, or 10 minutes on his own, he’s still going to get back. So it’s moot.”
Fraser also wasn’t willing to accept the comparison between Schmitt’s case and Taberlay’s.
“Here are the main differences between the two situations — I’m not there; (Schmitt) is getting a neutral car. The race isn’t going on, everyone is waiting for him. The difference with Taberlay is that his teammate was attacking to get the KOM points when he flatted. The race was on when he flatted. He didn’t wait for his car, he stopped on the left (incorrect) side of the road, and they paced him back in. I don’t care about that, but it was their botch up, it was their mechanic and car doing the change, it was at a point that the race was on, and it was not the race leader. The race wasn’t waiting for him. So this is where it’s gray. It’s not black and white. You can’t treat everything the same. And that’s what (commissaries) are abiding by.”
Abbott added that Schmitt’s pacing back on a vehicle could well have cost Hamilton the race lead. Hamilton started the stage 28 seconds behind Schmitt. His time bonus at the line earned him 10 seconds, and the difference Schmitt made up by pacing could have cost Hamilton the additional 18 seconds.
“The amount of time (the chase group) had to ease up was much less because (Schmitt) was pacing for so long, rather than if he had to have his teammates drop back and work to bring him back,” Abbott said. “It was the rider’s decision to pace back on the vehicle. We understand it’s a calculated risk, that if they pace back they know they are subject to penalties. They have to weigh out if it is significant enough to take that risk. We feel he did what he had to do to stay close on GC. We understand why he did it, but we felt a 20-second penalty was appropriate for the amount of time — and the speed — he was pacing, and for how it affected the guys off the front and for the amount of energy he would have expended on his own effort.”
Fraser also took exception with a voicemail message Abbott left him stating that Schmitt’s penalty wouldn’t likely affect the overall outcome of the race.
“How flippant is that? How dismissive? They might be part-time officials, but this kid is a professional, and this is his first time in a yellow jersey. This is actually a big deal. He’s a young rider, and this is a defining moment in his young and promising career.”
Abbott told VeloNews the race jury realized the decision would take Schmitt out of the yellow jersey, and discussed whether or not it was appropriate. “With the penalty he’s 12 seconds back,” she said. “We felt it doesn’t affect his overall race that much. He still has the opportunity to get his yellow jersey back.”
Schmitt was philosophical about the penalty and losing the yellow jersey, saying only, “I motorpaced a bit, that’s what usually happens after a flat tire. It happened pretty far out, I didn’t think there would be any problems. It’s unfortunate how it played out. Luckily Marc took the jersey, so that was good. It was a little disappointing. It would have been nice to hold on to the jersey for another day.”
Based upon a quick straw poll, the consensus was that the rest of the peloton felt the ruling was unnecessary.
“I don’t agree with it,” said Team Type 1’s Mike Creed. “I think the group as a whole slowed down for him to catch up anyway. So how he caught up, I don’t think the pack cared. We stopped racing for him. It wasn’t with 5km to go, or 4km to go… it wasn’t necessarily a decisive point of the race. There’s always an unspoken rule that as long as it isn’t your own team car, it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s unfortunate. But I’m not the official, I’m not going to tell them how to do their job.”
Mach, who rode with Schmitt at Bissell last year, also disagreed with the ruling.
“I think it’s dumb,” Mach said. “They put gravel on the course and then they penalize you for getting a flat and trying to get back on. They kind of script it to make it that way. In the worst-case scenario, he would have been at the very back, and had to work really hard on that climb to move up.”
De Maar, who gained the jersey but took it from his teamamte’s shoulders, described the situation as “sad.”
“Everybody knew he flatted and we were riding on the front to control the race, trying to catch those guys back, and he flatted, so we stopped riding to wait for him,” he said. “After a couple of minutes he came back and we started to pull up on the climb, so we were the guys that made the front group. Then suddenly after the race, we heard they gave him a penalty and it didn’t make sense. It didn’t influence the race. He would have been with us anyway without a flat tire or with a flat tire. The same thing happened to (Levi) Leipheimer at the Tour of California. He flatted before the last climb and they brought him back by car. It’s a bit sad. If you want to be a professional race, please stop (imposing penalties) like that.”
In the end, however, the ruling wasn’t a reflection on the race so much as the officiating. Race director Chad Sperry felt the penalty was unfortunate, particularly because Schmitt is a Northwest native, and went so far as to shoulder some of the blame for not grooming the gravel sections on the course.
‘The snow pack and challenging conditions to get the course plowed in time meant crews didn’t have a chance to look at the back 20-mile stretch of the course before the race, “he said. “There must have been 25 massive trees blown across the course after we got the two miles of snow removed. We were trying to remove large trees and boulders from the course and did not spend a lot of time sweeping.”
Sperry added that as a race organizer he has no influence on the decisions of the commissaries, saying, “in the end it is up to the discretion of the chief official to decide the situation and levy the penalty. In the end I’m confident that it won’t be the deciding factor for the overall results of the race — we have one of the toughest time trial courses in the country, followed by one of the toughest mountain stages in the country.”
- 1. Nic Hamilton (CAN) Trek Red Truck 4:20:19
- 2. Sam Johnson (USA) Hagens Berman Cycling s.t.
- 3. Marc Demaar (USA) Unitedhealthcare Presented By Maxxis, s.t.
- 4. Sid Taberlary (AUS) California Giant Berry Farms/specialized, s.t.
- 5. Cyrus Kangarloo (CAN) Total Restoration Cycling Teams.t.
- 1. Marc Demaar (USA) Unitedhealthcare Presented By Maxxis, 5:59:08
- 2. Paul Mach (USA) Bissell Pro Cycling, s.t.
- 3. Sam Johnson (USA) Hagens Berman Cycling at 0:03
- 4. Chris Baldwin (USA) Unitedhealthcare Presented By Maxxis at 0:07
- 5. Michael Creed (USA) Team Type 1 at 0:08