Ask any rider that I’ve directed over the years what I think of a KOM jersey and you’ll likely get the same answer: not much. It’s not because I can’t remember ever securing a KOM jersey for myself; or even registering a single point in a KOM battle. If I did, surely it was by accident or circumstance. I prefer green over polka dots any day! Honestly, I’ve never highly valued this competition within a race for a variety of reasons. I feel that expending energy on the KOM competition can take from a rider’s or team’s big picture goals of winning individual stages or GCs. If the KOM jersey happens to come along with the aforementioned successes then of course I’ll gladly embrace the dots–but not before. Riders will jokingly ask in our Silber team meetings where the KOM sprints are located. They know they’ll get a smirk and we’ll likely leave the subject undiscussed.
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Most of the year, Silber will compete in domestic pro races and entry-level yet competitive UCI races. In these races my team has demonstrated consistent ability to compete for the win(s). To compete and try to beat teams like Optum, Hincapie or other fantastic squads we have to narrow down our focus. In 2015, sometimes we had to defend a yellow jersey like at Redlands and Saguenay. Other times we were stage hunting, like at the Tour de Beauce. I felt that the distraction of a KOM jersey would cloud our focus. In fact I honestly think that a KOM jersey in races such as San Dimas or Joe Martin will yield little value and hinder chances at results that could help team goals or even a rider’s palmares.
Silber Pro Cycling’s goals and expectations were a little different heading into the ATB Financial Tour of Alberta. This would be our team’s first exposure to a race in which half the peloton was either Pro Conti or World Tour level, so our tactics would have to change. Yes, we had hopes of winning but realistically we’d need to take an aggressive attitude and make something happen. I’ve noticed that breaks have increased their winning percentage the past couple of years in the Big 3 tours down south: California, Utah and Colorado. I was excited to turn our entire team loose and give a green flag to attack to their hearts content.
After a solid start for Silber in the stage 1 Team Time Trial, it didn’t take long on stage 2 for Ben Perry to represent up front in a four-man group. Trek Factory Racing would give a short leash, defending their lead from the previous day’s TTT victory. I was hoping for a stronger group with more numbers to help increase the odds of a stage victory. Four men all sitting within a minute of the yellow jersey would never succeed and it was time to look for consolation prizes. Much to my chagrin, I discussed the KOM situation with team owner Scott McFarlane who followed Ben up front in Silber car 2. A potential trip to the podium was worth the gamble and Ben followed through winning both hill sprints on the day over Bora-Argon18’s Benedetti. Ben was rewarded with a trip for flowers and kisses on his boyish cheeks. In the big picture, Ben’s break was absorbed on the last non-categorized climb but Ryan would infiltrate the immediate counter attack to go close, only to be swept up with 3km to go. In the end, sprinter’s teams would succeed in controlling the stage.
Our mission remained clear for the rest of the tour: keep attacking and stacking the break with as many riders as possible to increase our odds of a stage win; but it would be even better if Ben could sneak up the road without Benedetti. Yes, the guys were as surprised as I was that a KOM jersey was entering the discussion. It still wasn’t the primary goal but its inclusion in the meeting was noteworthy. Ben’s bike was even festooned with impromptu graphics. Both Alex and Ben made the six-man break on stage 3 but the aforementioned Benedetti did as well. We had a fight on our hands! In the first KOM sprint, the little Italian would benefit from Ben starting his effort too early, mistaking the line for the 200m to go sign. Ben retained the polka dot jersey by a single point and once again the break was foiled this time by GC teams setting up their men for the mountain top finish.
Silber would miss the break on Stage 4 but not with a lack of trying. There was consolation of sorts as the three riders allowed freedom would never make it–not with the second straight mountain top finish at spectacular Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park. We felt confident the very best riders would scoop up the only KOM points at the finish of the stage and the jersey safe. I was relieved that Ben had a virtual rest day after 2 straight days in the break. Back in the caravan, Doug and I enjoyed playing tourist for a change, often stopping to take some great roadside pics.
Stage 5 will be long remembered for two factors: the rain-soaked mud roads and an unfortunate marshalling snafu in Spruce Grove. No KOM points on offer meant our race plan had a single-minded focus on the guys taking their opportunities. I was thrilled to hear over race radio that both Mike and Derrick made the six-man break, but with horrendous conditions I knew the field would ride hard to keep the leaders in check but also to be at the front of the 18 km of soupy mud roads and out of trouble–relatively speaking.
Hansen of Cannondale Garmin would be the last man standing from the break as the race entered the rain-soaked streets of Spruce Grove for laps of a finishing circuit. Then all hell would break loose. The leader would take the correct turn to enter the circuit, while a solo chaser had his head down and missed it. It’s debatable if there were enough visual cues from marshalls directing racers on course, but after mud being slung all day at the racers’ faces, it’s understandable that something was missed in the finale. Most of my riders still had swollen and blood shot eyes that night at dinner. The chasing pack saw the loan chaser up ahead and followed until everyone understood that they had missed a right hand turn. With only 10km remaining and an already difficult minute to close on Hansen, the officials correctly called the stage and gave the win to the strong and fortunate Dane. A break gets another win, albeit in strange circumstances.
After terrible weather last year in Alberta, one would be forgiven if thoughts of the race being cursed were true. However unlike the final stage in Edmonton last year, the boys were treated to perfect race conditions. The tricky circuit had a little of everything including two leg sapping short steep climbs and technical descents. Our mission was clear: the KOM jersey was our top priority. Alex would chaperone Ben into the first unsuccessful move. Undaunted, Ben made the decisive break but Benedetti was in the fight for the long haul and marked the move. With only 1 car allowed on this circuit I had a chance to witness the battle first hand. Ben took care of business professionally and took the two KOM sprints with ease to win the jersey. Unfolding during all of this was the incredible ride by the Hincapie team. Placing 3 riders up front with Ben’s move, they’d drive the pace with virtual yellow in their grasp. It was great to see this domestic team throwing down with such strength and tactical savvy. It took the combined efforts of Trek, Orica and Drapac to bring back the move and the field sprint went to Giant Alpecin. Trek’s Mollema defended yellow and we’d have our moment with Ben’s final trip to the podium. Silber completed its 2015 calendar with a great showing.
After Alberta, however, many of the teams, vehicles and equipment that make up the traveling circus of professional cycling would move on to the prestigious Grand Prix Cyclistes de Quebec and Montreal World Tour events. Silber had three riders competing with the Canadian National Team. Ben, Alex and Ryan would pack their bikes for la belle provence where once again I was to do on-screen race commentary.
The Silber spirit seemed to take hold of the National Team with Ben in the first break of the day, while Ryan and Adam DeVos (H&R Block in trade team affiliation) would fly the maple leaf in the break with two Drapac riders, Quemeneur of Europcar and the ever-present Benedetti. DeVos would pick up single point laps on the KOM while Ryan would out-pull everyone else in the break to help with the cause. Surprisingly, the Italian would resist the urge to compete for the points and DeVos would go about padding his lead. The KOM points, however, were weighted heavily in the final three laps. So with 12 points to his tally, DeVos’ lead was good but not ensured.
Benedetti surely was holding back and his attack with five laps to go was timely. Adam struggled and it was Ryan himself who dug deep to get back to the Italian’s rear wheel. Ryan would take the next 3-point lap and when Bak (Lotto) and Kuznetsov (Katusha) bridged at the bottom of the KOM the following lap, the jersey was still very much up for grabs. Miraculously, it was Ryan who was able to stay with the fresh duo up front and a surprised Bak professionally allowed Ryan to take the all important ten points on the next KOM sprint all but ensuring the jersey would be worn by a Canadian.
Ryan’s efforts saw him step onto the ceremonial stage of a World Tour event with the race’s top three finishers: Uran, Mathews and Kristoff–celebrated company indeed. Although Ryan was wearing the Global Relay sponsored National Team kit, I felt the Silber team was onto something. Maybe the KOM jersey wasn’t so bad after all? The boys put in memorable performances rewarded with podiums and more importantly exposure for themselves and the team. At the end of the day it left us with a sense of accomplishment and pride. I’ll always adore the green jersey but the dots are growing on me.