By Neal Rogers
Saturn’s Judith Arndt won a second stage at the H.P. Women’s Challenge Thursday, breaking the course record by more than twenty-one minutes, and more importantly, reclaiming the overall lead for her powerful team.
If there was one defining image from Thursday’s 60-mile road race – or the entire H.P. Women’s Challenge, to this point – it was that of the Saturn women united, driving an unreachable team time trial through strong crosswinds, while former teammate Lyne Bessette (Canadian National) and Rona’s Genevieve Jeanson struggled in vain to hang on.
Opening with 40 miles of windy flats from Burley, Idaho to the gradual 20-mile, 2500-foot ascent of the Magic Mountain ski area, stage six was the final big mountain stage of the tour, and for many, a last chance to put time on Team Saturn.
Jeanson, the overall race leader Thursday morning, had the most to gain or lose going into stage six. Her performance Wednesday – in which she won the stage and took a one-minute overall lead on Arndt – offered hope for a repeat performance over Thursday’s similarly profiled course. Another strong performance in the mountains could add another minute or more to her lead; any other outcome would surely end her chances of winning the tour, as Saturn had three of the top seven in general classification.
As the peloton rolled out, the cross wind became a factor, and riders were immediately shelled out the back. An early nine-rider break formed containing Saturn’s former race leader Anna Millward, but without any representatives, Rona was forced to take up the chase, pulling them in at mile 25.
As the break was pulled back, the Saturn women assembled at the front of the bunch and not only upped the ante, but slid their collective stack of chips across the table and called out the entire peloton. They attacked with one common goal: to completely shatter the field. And shatter they did, with a tenacity rarely seen in women’s racing.
The team (minus Catherine Marsal, who was back with the chase) executed a perfect time trial formation, led by Ina Yoko-Teutenberg, Petra Rossner and Millward, with Arndt and Bruckner protected for the climb. Canadians Bessette and Jeanson tried to keep contact, but were given no quarter as the Saturn team hugged the left side of the road and forced the pair to follow to the right, in the crosswind, or to the left, in the gutter. Jeanson was the first to go, with Bessette off the back shortly after.
“There were five of them,” Bessette told VeloNews, “and I was the only one with them at the end, and I wanted to help pull, but they pushed me out. I did good…I was there when they went, but I just couldn’t… I was in the gravel.”
“Lyne wanted to go into our pace line,” Arndt explained, regarding her former teammate. “And I told her ‘Sorry, but you are wearing the wrong jersey.’”
Once off, Bessette rejoined Jeanson, and the pair worked together to try to regain contact. A noble, but questionable, effort, as there may not exist a pair of women that could have closed the gap, which widened over the peloton to 40 seconds, then 53, then 1:01 with 20 kilometers to go.
Although helped by the Lithuanian National team and Itera, it was the responsibility of Rona to defend the leader’s jersey, and with her teammates falling off, Jeanson was forced to lead the chase.
By mile 50, Millward and Rossner had had enough, and once dropped from Bruckner and Arndt, the fatigued pair pulled off to the side of the road to recover, so great was their effort. Leading the race with only 10 miles to go, they would finish nearly 28 minutes behind their teammates.
“They were incredible,” Bruckner told VeloNews. “They absolutely buried themselves for us. At 15 kilometers to go – that was their finish line.”
Following two minutes behind was a motivated chase group, consisting of Jeanson, Bessette, Itera’s Valentina Polkhanova, Lithuania’s Rasa Polikeviciute, and T Mobile’s Amber Neben, winner of the stage last year.
But there would be no change in the top two, as Arndt continued to open the gap, shedding Bruckner by a full minute and winning by 2:06 over Jeanson. Polkhanova rolled in next, three seconds behind Jeanson, with a tiring Bessette across 2:58 down on the stage.
After the race, the subdued Arndt attributed the victory to her teammates.
“Today the effort was much harder before the climb [than yesterday],” Arndt said, “but I was so motivated because of all the teamwork.”
Bruckner now sits in third overall, 14 seconds behind Jeanson. If not for a 20-second penalty assessed for feeding in the last 10 kilometers of the stage, the Saturn rider would be second overall, six seconds ahead of the Canadian.
Goldy’s Kristin Armstrong, the former triathlete who started the morning 8th in the overall, seven minutes back, had her toughest day yet. In the opening miles, a flat tire forced her to battle through the wind to rejoin the peloton, and soon after Saturn’s attack, she ran into trouble in the windy conditions, riding off the course and into a ditch. She finished the stage 17 minutes back, and now sits 17th in the GC, 23 minutes behind Arndt.
Stage Six Results, Burley to Magic Mountain, 59.3 miles;
1 Judith Arndt (G) Saturn, 2:25:34 (24.44 mph);
2 Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 1:00;
3 Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona, at 2:06;
4 Valentina Polkhanova (Rus) Itera, at 2:09;
5 Lyne Bessette (Can) Canadian National, at 2:58;
6 Modesta Vzisnauskaite (Lit) Lithuanian National, at 3:03;
7 Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit) Lithuanian National, at s.t.;
8 Amber Neben, T Mobile, at 3:12;
9 Leah Goldstein (Can) Boise, at 4:42;
10 Sue Palmer-Komar (Can) Canadian National, at s.t.;
11 Caroline Alexander (GB) British National, at s.t.;
12 Diana Ziliute (Lit) Lithuanian National, at 8:44;
13 Rachel Heal (GB) British National, at 8:49;
14 Zita Urbonaite (Lit) Lithuanian National, at 9:46;
15 Sandy Espeseth (Can) Canadian National, at s.t.;
16 Sarah Ulmer (NZ) New Zealand, at s.t.;
17 Priska Doppmann (Swi) Goldy’s, at 10:39;
18 Pia Sundstedt (Fin) Sponsor Services, at 10:54;
19 Cybil Diguistini (Can) Canadian National, at 11:26;
20 Lara Ruthven, T Mobile, at 11:32;
General classification, after six stages;
1 Judith Arndt (G) Saturn, 14:53:55;
2 Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona, at 1:20;
3 Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 1:34;
4 Valentina Polkhanova (Rus) Itera, at 3:52;
5 Lyne Bessette (Can) Canadian National, at 4:18;
6 Amber Neben, T Mobile, at 5:06;
7 Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit) Lithuanian National, at 10:08;
8 Sue Palmer-Komar (Can) Canadian National, at 11:40;
9 Leah Goldstein (Can) Boise, at 12:04;
10 Caroline Alexander (GB) British National, at 14:48;