MERCED — Ben Jacques-Maynes isn't going to yield his crown without a fight.
The reigning Merco Cycling Classic champion knows his title defense is an uphill battle, but it hasn't shown in the first two legs of the 2013 race. The former Bissell star opted to ride in Merco even after his new team, Jamis-Hagen Berman, chose not to.
Despite having no team backup, Jacques-Maynes turned in an impressive third-place showing in Thursday's Merced Irrigation District Road Race. He was even better on Friday afternoon, capturing the Merced Boosters Time Trial with a time of 24:36.
That moves Jacques-Maynes into second place overall, 50 seconds behind race leader Phil Gaimon, who retained his yellow jersey with a fifth-place finish Friday.
"The Merco Cycling Classic is an important race to me personally," Jacques-Maynes said. "This is a great race, and I've always enjoyed coming out here. It's nice weather. It's great racing.
"It's a great way to start the season in California, so I'm really happy to be out here and getting some good results."
With the strength of the Bissell team assembled, Jacques-Maynes doesn't anticipate himself cutting much further into Gaimon's lead with two days of racing to go. That didn't stop him from taking advantage of another picturesque afternoon for racing.
The temperatures crept up a few degrees from Thursday's action, but remained comfortable, with almost no wind to affect the riders on the 12-mile rolling course.
Only six riders finished in less than 25 minutes, with the team of Optum p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies turning in the second- and third-best rides of the day. Tom Zirbel set the bar early at 24:41. His teammate, Chad Haga, beat that mark by six-tenths of a second.
Dan Bryant won the masters race in 25:56.
Heading into today
Evelyn Stevens showed why she's one of the top women cyclists in the United States, blowing away the rest of the field by 14 seconds to grab the yellow jersey. Sporting her red, white and blue USA uniform, the Specialized-lululemon rider crossed the finish line in 26:21. Her time was the 38th fastest of all riders on the day.
She'll take a 31-second advantage into today's McDonald's Grand Prix.
"For me, this is probably one of the best things to have early in the season," Stevens said, "to be able to work on your position. We have all the best equipment that Specialized has, so to be able to test all of that out early in the year is really nice.
"We're really happy to have this race. It's been really competitive so far, and I think (today's) criterium is anyone's for the taking."
The Downtown Grand Prix is the most spectator-friendly of the four days of racing.
In addition to the 40-mile sprint around downtown Merced, spectators can enjoy the Community Fun Fair, the Pee Wee Classic for children ages 3 to 9, live music, food and a beer garden.
The action begins at 7:30 a.m. around Courthouse Park and will conclude at about 3:30 p.m. The pro men will get under way at 11:30 a.m. The Pee Wee Classic will take place at 1 p.m. with registration beginning at 11 a.m. The pro women will follow immediately after the kids finish up.
Reporter Sean Lynch can be reached at (209) 385-2476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a list of the 2013 Merco Cycling Classic activities:
TODAY -- The McDonald's Downtown Grand Prix takes place in downtown Merced at 7:30 a.m. and continues into the afternoon. The race starts and ends at Courthouse Park.
TODAY -- The United Way Community Fun Fair takes place at Courthouse Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
TODAY -- The United Way and Merced Irrigation District Cycling for Community Tricycle Race takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event takes place in the parking lot at 19th and N streets in Merced. The team entry fee is $150, with all proceeds supporting United Way of Merced County. The first 36 teams will be admitted.
TODAY -- Registration for the Merced Mall Pee Wee Classic in downtown Merced begins at 11 a.m. The race starts at 1 p.m. at 21st and N streets and is open to riders
3 to 9 years old. There is no fee to enter.
SUNDAY -- The Hilltop Ranch Road Race takes place in Snelling at 8 a.m. and continues into the afternoon. The course starts at Keyes and Olsen roads, and includes a 24-mile loop through the hills.