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Bike race still packs a punch, even though turnout was down from last year

Cycling is considered an individual sport. It's almost always solo cyclists -- as teams put every bit as much time into race preparation and group tactics as their counterparts in other sports. And just like in the more-publicized team sports -- despite the best-laid plans -- some of the most exciting moments are improvised on the fly.

Team High Road's Kim Anderson proved that during the women's Elite I race at the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic's Downtown Grand Prix on Saturday.

In order to keep the 40-lap, 32-mile race a little more interesting, race officials hand out cash prizes called prims -- usually $50 to $100 -- to various lap leaders.

So with $100 on the line early in the race, Anderson chose to make a run.

"I just wanted to win the prim and then was going to fade back into the pack," Anderson said. "Then they were telling me over the radio the I had a hole and to go for it. It was a lot of fun."

Anderson opened up an 18-second lead on the rest of the field and sustained it for the better part of 20 laps.

Then reality set in.

With 16 laps to go, the toll of battling the gusts of wind all by herself seemed to take its toll on Anderson, and she was drawn back into the rest of the field.

But Anderson had a few surprises left in her legs.

"That was so unexpected," Anderson said. "It's hard being up in the front by yourself.

"I got a couple of laps where I could sit and just ride with the group. I kind of caught a second wind."

So along with teammate Emilia Fahlin and a pair of other riders, Anderson surged to the front once more.

She didn't falter again, hanging with the leading group and finishing fourth overall.

Fahlin -- a 19-year-old from Sweden -- won the race with a powerful sprint down the home stretch, but Anderson's hard work wasn't lost on her.

"(Anderson) rode so hard today," Fahlin said. "It's so cool having someone like her on the team.

"We ran a perfect race. We couldn't have done it without the team."

The men's Elite I race came down to three individual efforts.

Astana's Chris Horner, Bissell's Ben Jacques-Maynes and Colavita Suter Home's Alejandro Borrajo broke away from the pack with 37 laps remaining in the 40-mile main event.

The rest of the field didn't see the trio again until Horner pushed hard to catch the main group from behind with a couple laps to go.

"I wanted to lap the field because I like the chaos and thought I could recover from it to win the race," Horner said.

Horner got his wish in regards to the chaos.

Jacques-Maynes was taken out in a crash on the final lap.

Horner survived the mass of riders, but Borrajo fought through it the most effectively to win.

Saturday's two winners will wear the leaders' jerseys at the start of the of this weekend's Fresno Cycling Classic. The FCC is the second leg of the inaugural 99 Series.

Sunday's Foothills Road Race concluded another successful weekend of racing in Merced, but overall attendance was down considerably from a year ago.

Still, event director Flip Hassett believes the race has a bright future.

"We may have lost some people because it was cold early on Saturday, but it was still great," Hassett said. "We had so many positive comments about our community and all the agricultural lands around us.

"I think as we do a better job of selling it, we'll be able to expand the event to more and more groups in the community."