With a 13-second deficit going into the final stage, the Queen Stage, at the Mt Hood Cycling Classic there was really only one thing to do for the California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized team to do. And that was attack. That’s exactly what the team did, sending riders up the road until Nate Wilson broke away to finish second on the stage and win the overall. Stephen Leece jumped on the final climb to take third on the stage and second overall.
“It was a super hard stage just based on the terrain. The main way that we were going to beat Nate English was just using our numbers and we have a really deep team.” 21-year old Wilson commented. “It’s a good result for me and for the team especially, we went one, two, five and ten in the GC. It was maybe a little bit disappointing we didn’t win a stage but I think with what we did we can’t really complain without being greedy. I’m really pleased with it.”
Leece agreed completely with his teammate. “It’s definitely satisfying to get the GC win.” he said. “I’m happy with how well I rode, my fitness is good, it’s just a really good indicator going into Nationals.”
The plan on the 91-mile Three Summits road race with its four categorized climbs was to put pressure on yellow jersey Nate English (Kenda/5-Hr energy) and his teammate Roman Kilun.
“It all started from the beginning with Jesse [Moore] getting into the early break and then Robin [Eckmann] bridging across. Robin was top 10 on GC so Nate and Roman had to ride on those first two climbs and that put pressure on them.” Wilson explained.
By the third climb, eventual stage winner Coulton Hartrich (GlobalBike) and another rider bridged up to Robin Eckmann who had caught and passed the original break.
“Going into the third climb, Nate [English] started hitting it pretty hard immediately from the bottom and it reduced the group and eventually the break was pretty much brought back so me, Evan (Huffman) and Stephen were riding a little just to keep it together, and keep it close for us.” Wilson said.
With two kilometers from the top of the the third climb, Leece attacked and Wilson counter-attacked a kilometer later. His goal was to get more KOM points. “There was one guy still up the road and I wanted to try and get him before the line, but Nate was under a lot of pressure at that point I think, having to ride against all of us all day and it seemed like he cracked a little.” Wilson said.
Wilson made contact with Hartrich after the crest and the two were off with 25 miles to go in the stage.
“That put some pressure on Nate English and he had to work to keep the gap down. He got a little help form one of the Juwi Solar riders that was still in the group.” Leece said.
The main group had thinned down to only five riders which included Leece, Evan Huffman and English. The gap went up to one minute and twenty seconds on the ridge section which included some descent before the final climb.
“Nate English had to do a lot of work to keep the gap steady on that descent. Unfortunately at the bottom of the descent Evan flatted out of the group, that was a bummer.” Leece continued. “A few riders bridged to the group on the descent. It was pretty simple for the rest of the race actually. Nate English just had to pull the rest of the way and he brought the gap down steadily to around 45 seconds on the final climb.”
“Over the top, I just kept riding and I had to shoulder the workload a little bit at first but it was okay because I was riding for the GC and we got into the valley running in to the last climb, the other rider Coulton was working with me. I might have done a little bit too much work but the gap was starting to come down so I was a little bit nervous.” Wilson commented.
With 19 miles to go, the gap was back up to one minute. Wilson continued, “And then we hit the last two kilometers or so of the final climb and Coulton attacked really strong and from there to the finish I was pretty much having to limit my losses. He took a well-earned stage win because he was out there most of the day.”
It became a matter of watching the clock for Wilson as he pushed to stay close to Hartrich with only one minute and two seconds separating the two on GC and time bonus seconds for the top three on the stage. “When Coulton attacked, I was kind of worried because I was really hurting. I knew I had enough time on Nate.”
Leece waited and pounced. “With two kilometers to go, I attacked and at that point we had already dropped most of the other guys that were in the group and it was down to me and Nate [English], Kirk and the Juwi Solar rider again. I attacked and none of them came quickly and went full gas to the line. It was pretty straightforward.”
Leece crossed the line 19 seconds after his teammate, and 41 seconds ahead of English. Evan Huffman and Torey Philipp finished 7th and 10th on the stage respectively.
Wilson won the overall with a 36-second lead on Leece and 40 seconds on English. Huffman was 5th overall, Philipp, 10th, James Mattis, 19th, Robin Eckmann, 20th, Yannick Eckmmann, 46th and Sam Bassetti, 48th. Wilson also won the KOM competition.