Bend, Ore. — Rock Racing’s Santiago Botero may have his sights set on next month’s Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, but his focus Wednesday was on winning in Bend, Ore.
Botero averaged more than 29 miles per hour (46.6 kph) as he soloed to victory in the 83-mile (133.5 km) Prineville Road Race that finished with a challenging ascent to Pilot Butte State Park.
“I’m feeling good, but I’m not 100 percent on form right now,” Botero said. “But we executed good team tactics today and I’m very happy.”
Botero was the driving force of a 12-man breakaway that enjoyed up to a two-minute lead before it disintegrated when the former world time trial champion accelerated up the final climb. Botero finished six seconds ahead of Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United Pro Cycling) and 20 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Jeff Louder (BMC).
Levi Leipheimer (Astana), the reigning U.S. national road race champion, finished fifth, 25 seconds behind, while Botero’s teammate, Cesar Grajales, placed seventh on the day to help Rock Racing to second place on the team classification.
Botero has a penchant for starting stage races with strong showings this year. He won Stage 1 of the Redlands Bicycle Classic in April and the prologue of the Vuelta a Colombia in his home country in May before using the month of June to focus on the upcoming Olympic road race, which takes place on the second day of the Games, Aug. 9.
Despite past successes, it will be difficult to defend the leader’s yellow jersey from start to finish of the five-day, six-stage race, Botero said.
“Obviously I would like to hold onto the lead, but there are a lot of strong teams here,” Botero said. “Our team has a lot of young riders so it’s going to be difficult. But Rock Racing will be trying to cover all the breakaways and just take it day by day.”
Thursday’s Stage 2 is the 78-mile (125.5 km) Three Creeks Road Race that includes another summit finish, this time at Three Creeks Snow Park.
— RRC —
All photos “Copyright, Kurt Jambretz, Action Images”