Crashes in bicycle racing usually happen in two ways.
There’s the logjam in which dozens of riders tumble like human dominos. The most fortunate victims fall on other competitors, landing softer, fracturing fewer bones and suffering less road rash.
Then there’s the Ben Jacques-Maynes kind of crash. It’s instantaneous; a competitor impedes your line, and you’re down fast and hard on asphalt.
“It was a nothing crash,” said Jacques-Maynes, who will begin his 10th Amgen Tour of California on Sunday in downtown Sacramento. “One guy was drinking water, hit a bump and fell straight on his face. His bike reached out and grabbed me, and I fell on my shoulder. I knew it was broken straight away.”
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Jacques-Maynes, 36, a Berkeley native who lives in Corralitos in Santa Cruz County with his wife and two children, is retiring this season. He has won more than 50 races in his 14-year career, but his third place in the 2007 prologue in San Francisco was his top finish in the Tour of California.
The former cycle cross champion has competed against Tour de France winners, Olympic medalists and world champions in the race’s nine editions, and he’s about to do it again.
The eight-day men’s race begins in Sacramento for the second consecutive year, but Sunday’s departure will have a twist.
The 126.2-mile opening stage will start at the State Capitol at 10:50 a.m. The 18-team field will cross the Tower Bridge, ride into West Sacramento and continue along the west side of the Sacramento River through Clarksburg, Courtland and Walnut Grove before crossing the river into Isleton.
A few miles later, riders will cross the river again into Rio Vista and head north into Solano County, passing through Davis and Woodland, before turning east to return to West Sacramento, crossing the Tower Bridge and arriving at the start-finish line for two circuits and an estimated 3:45 p.m. finish.
Plenty of riders fracture bones, but Jacques-Maynes’ tumble in Stage 5 of the 2011 race in Salinas Valley outside of King City took him out the event for the only time. He’ll be the lone rider in the field of 143 who has competed every year.
That might not have happened. After Jacques-Maynes returned from the injury too quickly, his fracture got worse, leading to a staph infection. A second surgery was followed by months of recovery, antibiotics and home nursing. He describes his long second recovery as “life-altering medical intervention.”
Jacques-Maynes returned to a full season of racing in 2012 and began winning smaller races and top mountain competitions in national-caliber events.
“You have to stop at some point,” Jacques-Maynes said of his impending retirement. “I am racing against guys who were born the year I graduated from high school. For the past several years, I’ve reached a point when I am not progressing. I am fighting tooth and nail to hold onto to what I have.
“It’s the ability to perform at the highest level when the opportunity presents itself. I can still put out top performances. But it’s a matter of, do I get to do anything new or stimulating?”
Jacques-Maynes, who rides for Jamis Hagens Berman, will compete against a field heavy with sprinters in this year’s Tour of California, including Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who has won 11 Tour of California stages, and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) of Great Britain. Cavendish has five stage wins, including Stage 1 last year in Sacramento.
The Tour of California was expected to feature the longstanding rivalry between Cavendish, who has 25 Tour de France stage wins, and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) of Germany. But Kittel, who won four Tour de France stages last year, was scratched from the race Thursday with a lingering shoulder ailment. His team now will have seven riders.
The Netherlands’ Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), a superior climber who won the 2012 event, will be the only returning titlist. Elk Grove’s Evan Huffman, a time trial specialist, will be part of the SmartStop squad.
Monday’s second stage, which starts at 11 a.m. in Nevada City, will take riders 120.4 miles to Lodi.
Women’s race – The women’s competition, featuring 84 riders on 14 teams, begins Friday in South Lake Tahoe, with a 74.5-mile counterclockwise loop around the lake starting and ending at Heavenly Mountain Resort. Saturday’s 49.7-mile second stage also starts and ends at Heavenly.
Sunday’s 34-mile third stage, set to begin at 11:15 a.m., finishes with a 17-lap circuit around Capitol Park. It will start and finish at 11th and L Streets.
Germany’s Lisa Brennauer (Velocio-SRAM), the world time trial titlist, and Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), a Mesquite, Texas, resident who won the national racing calendar title last year, are the top contenders.
“I am really excited about the Tahoe course,” Stephens said. “All the climbing. They definitely look like difficult stages. The Sacramento stage will be a day for the fans. It will be such a short circuit, the fans can watch the whole race.”
AMGEN TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Men: Sunday-May 17; first stage starts and ends at the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento; the final stage finishes in Pasadena.
Women: Friday-Sunday, May 15; first two stages start and end in South Lake Tahoe; third stage is in Sacramento; final stage is at Big Bear Lake.
TV: NBCSN: Sunday-May 15, 2-4 p.m.; May 16, 1:30-3:30 p.m.; May 17, 10 a.m.-noon