As Matt Wilson grinded his way up the exhausting, sun-scorched climb of Three Creeks Road, his fallen teammate never left his thoughts.
Wilson, of Team Type 1, outsprinted Tom Peterson of Garmin/Chipotle to the finish line Thursday during the 80-mile Stage 2 of the Bend Memorial Clinic Cascade Cycling Classic pro men’s race. Wilson’s victory, which put him in the leader’s jersey, came just one day after fellow TT1 rider Ben Brooks suffered serious injuries in a crash during Wednesday’s first stage.
“He was on my mind the whole day,” Wilson said of Brooks. “I had a funny feeling as soon as I got out there. I almost said on the (team) radio, ‘I’m gonna win this today for Ben.’ I had a good feeling in my legs. I felt like he was behind me.”
Brooks remained in critical condition Thursday in the intensive care unit at St. Charles Bend. Wilson said at the finish of Thursday’s stage, about 10 miles south of Sisters, that he was going directly to the hospital to check on his racing roommate, friend of 15 years and fellow Australian.
“His wife and my girlfriend are really good friends,” Wilson said. “It just really leaves a sick feeling in pit of your stomach. We’re pretty close. As a bike rider in Australia, it’s not that big of a group of people.”
Ed Beamon, team director of Team Type 1, said Wilson on Thursday morning before the race was raring to go compete for his friend.
“The guys were really thinking about him all day,” Beamon said. “It gave Matty a lot of inspiration in the final 5K.”
Wilson’s winning time was 3 hours, 1 minute, 17 seconds. Peterson was second with the same time. Corey Collier of Health Net finished third, 31 seconds back.
In the overall standings, Wilson (5:50:58) leads second-place Levi Leipheimer of Astana by 37 seconds. Santiago Botero of Rock Racing is in third, 45 seconds back.
Thursday’s stage started at Summit High School in west Bend and took cyclists northeast past Redmond and Terrebonne, and then into Sisters along Lower Bridge Way. The race finished with a tough climb up Three Creeks Road to Three Creeks Sno-park.
About 15 miles into the race, a group of 11 cyclists broke away and steadily built a lead on the peloton. The time gap between the leaders and the pack swelled to four minutes by mile 70, near the beginning of the climb up Three Creeks.
In the group of 11 were Wilson and teammate Valeriy Kobzarenko, Peterson and teammate Steven Cozza, Kyle Gritters and Collier of Health Net, Chris Wherry of Toyota-United, Tom Zirbel of Bissell, Brian Jensen of Successful Living, Allen Krughoff of Team Rio Grande, and Stefano Barberi of THF Racing.
The group began to splinter as the riders climbed up Three Creeks, with snow-covered North Sister dominating the horizon. Cozza attacked and had a lead of about 20 seconds before being caught. That was when Wilson and Peterson made their moves with about 5 kilometers to the finish.
“My teammate (Cozza) got away and they chased him down,” Peterson said. “When they brought him back, I went. Wilson was right on my wheel and he was pretty strong.”
Wilson said he was being patient and waiting for a steep section to attack before he and Peterson took off.
“When it’s not so steep, it gives guys a chance to get on your wheel,” Wilson explained. “We had a few attacks at the bottom and broke it up. Myself and Peterson got away and we didn’t leave anything on the road. We did our share of work all the way to the line. I let him take the lead and then I came behind him and got my nose in front (at the finish).”
Meanwhile, the rest of the field was closing in fast on the leaders. Cozza finished fourth, 56 seconds back, and Zirbel took fifth, 57 seconds behind.
Leipheimer finished seventh in the stage, 1:22 back.
Now in the leader’s jersey, Wilson knows he has stiff competition waiting today in the Skyliners Time Trial, particularly from Leipheimer, who was third overall in the Tour de France last year.
“I’ve been in this situation before, and I’ve won the race,” Wilson said. “I’ve surprised myself sometimes, and I feel like I’ve got really good form at the moment. Who knows what could happen? Guys like Leipheimer are in a different category altogether.”
The pro men compete today starting at 12:50 p.m. in the time trial, which starts and finishes near Summit High School. The Downtown Criterium for the pro men is scheduled for 7 p.m. today and runs for 90 minutes. The start/finish line is on Wall Street in downtown Bend.