Heading into stage 1 of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, Navigators Insurance rider Phil Zajicek had never heard of Devon Vigus. Neither had defending champion Nathan O’Neill of Health Net-Maxxis, nor Toyota-United veteran Burke Swindlehurst. But Vigus, who races for the amateur team California Giant Strawberries-Specialized, was the surprise winner of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic’s 3-mile stage 1 time trial — the only rider to finish in under six minutes, with a time of 5:50.
O’Neill finished second, 12 seconds back, with Priority Health-Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes in third at 20 seconds down. Zajicek and Toyota-United’s Chris Baldwin rounded out the top five, both at 23 seconds behind Vigus.
Because of Vigus’s relative anonymity, and the fact that he raced with a standard helmet and road bike, albeit with time-trial bars, his results were immediately brought into question. Chief referee Bill Wykoff stood by the official results, however, and unless another team protests the result and can prove them faulty, it will stand.
Whether the result would be protested remained to be seen as Tuesday came to a close in Hood River, Oregon. O’Neill, the red-hot race favorite, was surprised but not overly concerned.
“No way, really?” O”Neill said from his hotel room on first hearing of the result. “Wow. I just downloaded my SRM [power meter], and I averaged 520 watts over six minutes. [Vigus] must have nailed it. Good for him, I suppose. Even if the result stands, I’m happy not to have to ride the front tomorrow.”
And should the result stand, it would clearly be to the disadvantage of riders such as Jacques-Maynes, Baldwin and Zajicek, who hope to open chinks in Health Net’s armor and beat O’Neill by weakening his team throughout the week.
“Our goal is going to be to make Health Net use as much energy as possible before Saturday’s climbing stage,” Zajicek said. “If they don’t have the jersey, they won’t have to defend it, which will make tiring them out a lot harder.”
Riders were sent off in 30-second intervals during the twilight time trial. Even at 6 p.m. temperatures were in the upper 80s, with a mild wind swirling over a course that traveled on a gradual downhill slope among scenic apple and pear orchards before taking a sharp left turn to an uphill finish atop Hood River’s scenic Panorama Point. In the background, views of the lush Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood were on display.
Though it is named the Panorama Point Prologue, race officials refer to Tuesday’s 3-mile effort as stage 1, the first of six stages. Saturday’s queen stage, the Wy’East Road Race, is a 92-mile road race that dishes up nearly 10,000 feet of climbing before finishing at the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area. The race ends Sunday with the Downtown Hood River Criterium.
And though it’s unlikely that Vigus, a sprinter, will be wearing the leader’s jersey come Sunday, he will be awarded the leader’s jersey prior to stage 2 on Wednesday morning.
There was no official timing clock at the finish line Tuesday, and most riders immediately turned around and rode back to the start line or straight to their hotels. Because Vigus did not know his time and there was no post-stage podium presentation, he was not immediately available for comment.
When VeloNews caught up with him and noted that the other riders in the top five were surprised at his victory, he replied: “Yeah, them and me both.”
“The only thing I can say is that I’m not a time trialist, but in the shorter stuff I can do pretty well. I’m more of a sprinter, but anything under 10 minutes I can do all right.
Asked whether he thought there might have been a timing error, Vigus conceded: “The thought had crossed my mind. I can’t say either way, because I didn’t have a watch on me.”
Jacques-Maynes, who lives in San Jose, California, near the headquarters of the California Giant Strawberries team, says he knows Vigus and expects the result was a timing error.
“He’s not a time trialist. I would say that sounds like a mistake,” said Jacques-Maynes. “He’s a sprinter, not a time trialist. I don’t think he’s quite got the ability to do something like that.”
Should the result be amended to reflect a potential 30- or 60-second timing error, O’Neill would be the stage winner, with Jacques-Maynes second and Baldwin third. Baldwin’s time of 6:13.010 was four-tenths of a second faster than Zajicek, who recorded a 6:13.470.
Glen Chadwick (Navigators Insurance), the New Zealand national time-trial champion, set what was believed to be the fastest early time with a 6:19. Other notable riders tried to crack the 6:20 barrier, including Jeff Louder (Health Net-Maxxis) and professional triathlete Chris Lieto (California Giant Strawberries), but all fell short until Jacques-Maynes blasted through the finish with a 6:10.
“I’ve had a good last few weeks at home, training and racing on the Hellyer Velodrome,” Jacques-Maynes said. “After racing at the Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin the team skipped Tri-Peaks, which I think was a good idea. I feel good. It’s important to take good form into Philly. I can perform here, but I’m looking to come out of this race better than I came in.”
Baldwin came through immediately following Jacques-Maynes, three seconds slower. Also unable to unseat the Priority Health rider was national cross-country and cyclo-cross champion Ryan Trebon (Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada). Trebon, who finished second behind O’Neill at last year’s Panorama Point Prologue on the way to a fifth-place overall finish, could only muster a 6:24, good enough for 13th.
Once Zajicek, second-place overall last year, came through with a 6:13, all eyes were on O’Neill’s yellow-and-green Australian national time trial champion’s jersey. The big Aussie barreled through the line with a 6:02, which all believed was the day’s winning time.
“I felt pretty good, but I’ve actually been a little sick,” O’Neill said. “It’s just a head cold, and it’s getting better. I took some time off after the Tour of the Gila, and I’ve ramping it back up while enjoying spending some time with my family. My daughter Lydia is just figuring out how to crawl, and that’s been amazing.”
While O’Neill, an eight-time Australian national time-trial champion, is the odds-on favorite for Friday’s 18.5-mile time trial, he showed at this year’s Tour de Georgia and Tour of the Gila that he can also climb with the best riders in America. For that reason, O’Neill said he doesn’t have any reason to worry about Saturday’s grueling Wy’East Road Race.
“I’m not too worried about it,” O’Neill said. “I’m climbing well. I’m not scared of anybody here, and our team is strong. When I won last year I had a skeleton crew. I basically had two guys who could ride the front for me, with Scott [Moninger] working for me when I needed him to. This year I have five guys. We want to win the overall, but we’d like to stack the podium too.”
Still, O’Neill wasn’t discounting the teams of Jacques-Maynes, Baldwin and Zajicek. Navigators Insurance, in particular, was the team O’Neill said he would be watching most closely.
“Navigators has a deep team here,” he said. “They are going to be a solid threat.”
And California Giant Strawberries? Asked whether his team would be defending his overall lead, Vigus replied: “We haven’t had our team meeting yet but I imagine we’ll be defending the jersey. That’s the professional thing to do.”
Mactier returns to road with win
If O’Neill does dominate the race, he might not be the only Australian to do so. Guest riding with ValueAct Capital, 2005 world pursuit champion Katie Mactier kick-started her road season with a win, covering the 3-mile course in 7:16. Her time beat out regional honch Suz Weldon (Wines of Washington), who finished in 7:20, and recent Joe Martin stage race winner Katherine Carroll (Aaron’s), who also finished in 7:20. Two-time overall Mt. Hood winner Leah Goldstein (Symmetrics), finished fourth in 7:24.
It was the first race of the season for Mactier, who lives in Girona, Spain, with her boyfriend, T-Mobile rider Greg Henderson. After her strenuous track season ended in March, Mactier took a break and has returned with a four-week block of road racing in the States. Mactier rode the time-trial course on a road bike with clip-on aero bars.
“[ValueAct team director] Lisa Hunt contacted me last fall about racing with the team, and it fit in perfectly with my race program,” Mactier said. “The team is developing, and it sounded like a fun group of girls.”
Though Mactier’s goal is Olympic gold in Beijing — her Web site’s home page even counts down the days to the Olympics — she explained that road racing is vital for building an endurance base.
“I don’t ride the track for 12 months of the year,” Mactier said. “I need to get in some long kilometers. I have never done Mt. Hood, and I thought it would be pretty breathtaking and a fun peloton. I planned my program a year in advance, and everything is structured right through August of next year.”
Asked if she was concerned with trying to win the overall, Mactier said she doesn’t put a lot of pressure on herself this time of year.
“Having said that, whenever you pin a number on my back I’m always competitive,” she added. “We’ll do our best to keep the [leader’s] jersey. There are a lot of strong riders in the team. We’ll take it day by day.”
If Mactier is to try to defend the leader’s jersey, she will likely face her greatest opposition from the Aarons’ team, which placed three riders in the top 10 — Carroll, in third, Kristin Sanders in fifth, and Felicia Gomez in ninth. Mactier laughed when asked if she was concerned about the 10,000 feet of climbing on Saturday’s queen stage.
“Yes, I’m well aware of how much climbing there is,” she said. “But I am coming from some pretty big hills in Girona. I don’t want to be too scared. If nothing else, there will be some good scenery.”
Mt. Hood Cycling Classic
Stage 1 — Panorama Point Prologue
1. Devon Vigus, California Giant Strawberries-Specialized, 3mi in 5:50
2. Nathan O’ Neill (Aus), Health Net-Maxxis, at 0:12
3. Ben Jacques-Maynes, Priority Health-Bissell, at 0:20
4. Chris Baldwin, Toyota-United, at 0:23
5. Phil Zajicek, Navigators Insurance, same time
6. Ian McKissick, BMC Racing, at 0:26
7. Dan Harm, Rubicon, at 0:27
8. Michael Olheiser, Memphis Motor Works, at 0:28
9. Glen Chadwick (NZ), Navigators Insurance, at 0:29
10. Aaron Tuckerman (NZ), Rubicon, at 0:30
1. Katie Mactier (Aus), ValueAct Capital Cycling Team, 3mi in 7:16
2. Suz Weldon, Wines of Washington, at 0:04
3. Katharine Carroll Aaron’s Pro Cycling Team, s.t.
4. Leah Goldstein, Symmetrics, at 0:08
5. Kristin Sanders, Aaron’s Pro Cycling Team, at 0:09
6. Nicole Evans, Lipton, at 0:12
7. Laura Brown, Team Integrale, at 0:15
8. Tricia Bailey, Wines of Washington, at 0:19
9. Felicia Gomez, Aaron’s Pro Cycling Team, s.t.
10. Allison Beall, Ti Cycles-Avanti Racing, at 0:20