Merco Cycling Classic: Bissell's back

Defending champs off to fast start with Evans' win

slynch@mercedsunstar.comMarch 2, 2012 

LAKE McCLURE -- So much for ending Bissell Pro Cycling's recent dominance at the Merco Cycling Classic.

Bissell sent a number of their top cyclists to participate in Merco's inaugural transition to a four-day stage race last year, and ran away with the competition.

The Stage 1 MID Road Race set the tone with Bissell placing four of the top seven riders.

Merco founder Doug Fluetsch said the 2012 race was loaded with the countries top riders as the rest of the field attempted to bring Bissell back into the pack.

While the uptick in talent certainly made for a more competitive outing on Thursday morning, the end result proved the same.

Bissell's Patrick Bevin and Eric Young finished 1-2 in a little under three hours, giving Bissell the race leader's gold jersey heading into today's Merced Boosters Time Trial.

"The weather held out. It was spitting in our faces a little bit on the last lap, but for the most part it was a really nice race," Bevin said. "The course was really great, it's a neat course and the climb is a real challenge.

"It was a good day for Bissell."

While Bissell came out on top, the rest of the field made it much more difficult for them.

Bissell completely dictated the 82-mile, 6 1/2-lap race a year ago, pushing the bulk of its team to the front and breaking away when it was time.

There'd be no breaks in this year's version, or at least none that lasted.

No one ever built up more than a 45-second lead over the course of the race, and any group that pulled away was quickly swallowed back up by the peloton.

That forced Bissell and Bevin to be patient and wait to make their move.

The pack of about 130 riders was still clumped together when they hit the final kilometer of the race.

Fluetsch eliminated the 600-foot climb to Exchequer Dam for the finish last year, creating more of a sprint scenario that Bevin came out on top of.

Chris Phipps captured the Men's Masters title.

The Merco Cycling Classic continues today with the Stage 2 Merced Boosters Time Trial.

Bissell will look to extend out its lead and the pro women will start the first stage of their three-day omnium.

"Our time trial course is very similar to what they'll have in London for the Olympics with the length and the little rolling hills, so we have a lot of the best riders in the world participating," Fluetsch said. "It should make for some excellent competition."

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