European riders dominated the first day of racing at the 2006 Sea Otter Classic as Frenchman Jean-Christoph Peraud (Orbea) and Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja easily won Thursday’s super cross-country event.
Held on the Laguna Seca speedway’s tarmac and on soggy double-track on the surrounding hillsides, the super-XC proved to be a sloppy kickoff to the four-stage cross-country competition.
Heavy rain helped transform the course’s off-road sections into impassable quagmires midway through the women’s event. Large holes and hub-deep mud stopped racers dead in their tracks, forcing men and women alike to dismount and carry their bikes.
Still, the slop didn’t slow Dahle-Flesja. Sporting the rainbow stripes of the world champion, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist quickly made her presence felt with a hard effort up the day’s first climb. Canadian Kiara Bisaro (Gearsracing.com) hung with Dahle-Flesja through the first lap, but a bobble on the second reduced the Canadian to playing catch-up.
While Dahle-Flesja ticked out a smooth tempo through the mud, a who’s-who of domestic cross-country racers amassed behind, trying to bring her back. Present were Bisaro, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain), Luna teammates Georgia Gould, Katerina Nash and Jimena Florit, Susan Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen), Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven) and Dara Marks-Marino (Titus). Despite their efforts, Dahle-Flesja crossed the line with minutes to spare. Sydor won the bunch kick for second place with Gould in third.
“I am happy because I was not feeling so good coming into today,” said Dahle-Flesja. “I had told myself that I would try for better fitness training today, but when the gun goes off I have to race.”
The course’s muddy, technical sections appeared virtually unrideable for the men’s race. Leading the way through the first lap was a determined Peraud, followed closely by 2005 Sea Otter champ Geoff Kabush (Jittery Joe’s-Kalahari) and Swiss Ralph Naef (Multivan-Merida), with Thomas Frischknecht (Swisspower), Bart Brentjens (Giant) and Christoph Sauser (Specialized) nipping close behind.
Absent from the front group were Americans Adam Craig (Giant) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher). Craig’s decision to race on a cyclo-cross bike proved costly in the deep mud and technical climbs. Horgan-Kobelski opted out of the event due to a head and chest cold.
Still feeling the effects of an inner-ear virus he caught before March’s Commonwealth Games, Kabush lost contact with Peraud and Naef on the second lap. Replacing him was American Todd Wells (GT Bicycles), whose cyclo-cross skills proved an advantage in the deep mud. But after a head-over-heels fall, Wells, too, fell off the pace.
Having crashed out of last year’s Sea Otter, Peraud said he was extremely motivated for a good result here. The Frenchman put in a surge at the midway point, gapping Näf and Wells, and built a minute lead on the ensuing chase group. It was all he needed. He shot through the finish line with a lead of nearly a minute — and then kept on going, having miscounted the laps.
“I feel very good on the rough terrain like that,” Peraud said after being flagged down and spared an extra go-round. “Now I have my eye on everybody. There are very good riders here and it will be difficult to keep the jersey.”
Brentjens won the sprint for second ahead of Chris Jangewoard (Australian National Team). The Dutchman, who won the World Cup opener in Curaçao last weekend, was also confused — he thought he had won the race.
“I had no idea [Peraud] was still out there. I thought I had won the race,” he said.
2006 Sea Otter Classic cross-country stage race
Stage 1: Super Cross-country
1. Christoph Peraud (F), Orbea, 1:11:13
2. Bart Brentjens (Ned), Giant, at 1:02
3. Chris Jangewoard (Aus), Australian National Team, at 1:03
4. Ralph Naef (Swi), Multivan Merida, same time
5. Liam Killeen (GB), Specialized, s.t.
6. Todd Wells (GT Bicycles, at 1:08
7. José Antonio Hermida (Sp), Multivan Merida, at 1:09
8. Sid Taberlay (Australia), Dolphin, at 1:39
9. Karl Platt (G) Rocky Mountain Business Objects, at 1:53
10. Matt Kelly 3(USA), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 1:54
1. Gunn-Rita Dahle (Nor), Multivan Merida, 1:04:00
2. Alison Sydor (Can), Rocky Mountain/Business Objects, 2:44
3. Georgia Gould (USA), Luna, same time
4. Irmiger Heather (USA), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 2:45
5. Kiara Bisaro (Can) Team RACE.com, s.t.
6. Dara Marks Marino (USA), Titus-Kenda, s.t.
7. Katerina Nash (USA), Luna, s.t.
8. Jimena Florit (USA), Luna, s.t.
9. Mary McConneloug (USA) Seven Cycles-Kenda, s.t.
10. Sue Hayward (USA), Trek-VW, s.t.