Toyota-United's Hilton Clarke Wins Stage 1, Secures 2nd Place Overall at Tour of Elk Grove
With this past weekend’s three wins in US races, The Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team broke their previous record of 55 wins for a season set in 2006, the team’s first year. To date, the team has 56 wins with two months remaining of the 2008 season. “I am so proud of the team this year. I can’t even believe we are on the verge of breaking 60 wins in one season. I know it’s a point of pride to win as many races as we can this year to say thank you to Toyota since they have been such a great sponsor these past three years,” said team owner, Sean Tucker.
The Tour of Elk Grove boasts the largest prize purse of the year at US$170,000. The boys from Toyota-United went into the race weekend with hopes of snatching up as much of that prize purse as possible as did the tough-looking guys from Team Rock Racing.
Friday’s 4.5 mile Prologue didn’t exactly start out how the team had planned with the team’s top GC hopeful, Ben Day breaking a piece of equipment on his bike at the start line, switching to a spare bike, and finishing dead last. The team’s best place riders on the day were Dominique Rollin in 7th place and Hilton Clarke in 21st place, 23 seconds back from race winner, Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling Team). Team Rock Racing's Fred Rodriguez finished 15th in the prologue.
However, Stage 1, which consisted of a 150 kilometer dead flat, windy race, showed just how much a team’s fortune can change in a day. After a split in the peloton early in the race, Hilton Clarke found himself over three minutes off the leaders pace in the last group with overall leader, Tom Zirbel, and second place overall Chris Horner (Team Astana). “The race was so bloody hard with guys attacking left and right and the next thing I know, I find myself in a small group of riders that included the first and second place overall riders. We were three minutes back. I felt totally dejected and was about to quit the race, when all of a sudden, Chris Horner went to the front of the group and rode like a madman and single handedly brought us back to the front of the race. Next thing I know, my entire Toyota-United teammates are leading me out in the final kilometer and I win the race…unbelievable!” said Clarke. Team Rock Racing's Fred Rodriguez narrowly avoided a massive pile-up in the final turn of the road race and finished ninth.
The roller coaster ride continued in stage 2 which was the final race on Sunday consisting of a 110 kilometer Gullo Pro criterium. Clarke was nursing a two second lead over 2nd place David Veilleux (Kelly Benefits Strategies/Medifast). With multiple time bonuses on offer during the race and hefty time bonuses for the top three finishers, Toyota-United had their work cut out for them. The team rode at the front of the race to control it, attempting to set Hilton up for