By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
On day two of the Fitchburg-Longsjo classic, three-time defending champion Lyne Bessette (Quebec Selection Team) moved a little closer to her fourth consecutive win, beating out Kimberly Bruckner (Saturn) in a head-to-head battle in the 40-mile women’s circuit race. In the men’s race, Prime Alliance’s Chris Horner edged out former teammate Mike Sayers (Mercury) for the stage win while Navigators Chris Baldwin grabbed the orange race leader’s jersey.
After Thursday’s time trial, Bessette led Bruckner by one second in the general classification, so she was content to keep an eye on Bruckner early on. Meanwhile, Clara Hughes (Quebec Selection Team), Jessica Phillips (Saturn) and Laura Van Gilder (Trek Plus) took off on the second of 13 circuits on the 3.1-mile course punctuated with a half-mile climb to the start-finish line.
Those three were caught after two laps, but midway in the race, Saturn’s Catherine Marsal made a move that would stick. The Frenchwoman opened up a gap, and on the sixth time up the climb, she began to pick her way through the Cat. 4 women’s field that was on the course at the same time.
One lap later, as a brief thunderstorm passed over the course around Fitchburg State College, Bruckner and Bessette had crossed the gap, while the chase, now 40 seconds behind, was led by Genevieve Jeanson (Rona) and Tina Mayolo-Pic (Diet Rite).
However, with Jeanson not enjoying a good day (she would drop out before the finish), and with Saturn and Hughes patrolling the front, the rest of the pack lost interest in the chase, and the gap grew out of reach over the next few laps.
As climbs up the hill added up, Marsal began to fade, leaving Bruckner and Bessette to battle in the finish. But even on the second-to-last lap, the Canadian was gapping Bruckner on the climb, and when it came down to the finish, Bessette broke clear to win by six seconds.
With Bessette taking a 10-second time bonus, and Bruckner a five-second bonus, Bessette’s lead in the overall now stands at 12 seconds, with Marsal a distant third at 1:28, Hughes at 4:01 and Diet Rite’s Mina Pizzini at 4:17.
Bruckner is still in striking distance, but after the race, Bessette was feeling on top of her game. “After HP, I knew I would have pretty good form, and I felt really good,” she said. “Yesterday in the time trial, and then today on the hill, it was really good.”
While the women’s race saw a one-on-one battle between Bessette and Bruckner, the men saw what Horner described as “good hard bike racing from the gun.”
“Thing were never pretty out there,” he said. “It was ugly all day. That was good bike racing.”
Things were at there ugliest on the first lap of the 25-lap race, though, when a huge crash at the base of the hill left many riders struggling to get back into contention, among them 7UP-Nutra Fig’s Doug Ziewacz and half the Navigators team.
Up front, the early animators were Ivan Dominguez (Saturn), Jon Hamblen (Wheelworks-Cannondale) and Kirk Albers (Jelly Belly), who were off the front for eight laps, but never with more than a 45-50 second lead over the field. Behind, Mercury had its men up front for the chase and to protect Phil Zajicek’s race lead.
Once the leaders were caught, a flurry of attacks began, with big groups splitting off the front and then getting re-absorbed just as quickly.
“It was just bam, bam, bam,” said Horner, “and Mercury was making mistakes, just not using the team to its full advantage.”
With eight laps to go, the winning move finally took hold, and although Mercury had Sayers and Jesus Zarate in the 10-man group, their big mistake was letting the move get away without either Zajicek or third-placed Chris Wherry in it.
Saturn, too, was represented with Tim Johnson, but second-placed Eric Wohlberg was back in the pack with Zajicek and Wherry.
But with six highly motivated riders – Horner, Danny Pate (Prime Alliance), Navigators Baldwin and Tom Leaper, and 7UP-Nutra Figs John Lieswyn and Oscar Pineda – the breakaway stayed away, despite a late chase by the full Saturn team.
“As soon as the breakaway went,” said Baldwin, “I just had a really good feeling that it was a winning move, because any time you have more than one Prime Alliance rider, you know they’re gonna drive it.
“And with my teammate Tom Leaper there, he was unbelievable. Superman. Absolutely driving it,” Baldwin added.
With the race lead for Baldwin within reach, Leaper drove for the last lap, setting up the uphill sprint that came down to Horner, Sayers and Johnson, after a scare at the bottom of the hill caused by a traffic barrier having been inadvertently moved onto the course in the final turn.
“From there it was no momentum, start from scratch,” said Johnson. “But Horner’s so friggin powerful, it’s amazing.”
Sayers came close in second, but at the end, Horner took the win and Baldwin, fourth, took over the race lead.
“I’m just thrilled at the way it turned out,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin and Navigators will now set out to defend his slim lead over Horner in Saturday’s 104-mile road race, finishing at the summit of Wachusett Mountain.
1. Lyne Bessette (Can), Quebec Selection Team; 2. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 0:06; 3. Catherine Marsal (F), Saturn, at 0:29; 4. Laura Van Gilder, Trek Plus, at 3:04; 5. Nicole Freedman; 6. Naomi Gollogly, Bike Gallery-Trek-VW; 7. Larsynn Staley, Saturn Development; 8. Tina Mayolo-Pic, Diet Rite; 9. Clara Hughes (Can), Quebec Selection Team; 10. Kim Davidge, Saturn, all s.t.;
1. Bessette; 2. Bruckner, at 0:12; 3. Marsal, at 1:28; 4. Hughes, at 4:01; 5. Mina Pizzini, Diet Rite, at 4:17; 6. Melissa Holt (NZ), Rona, at 4:18; 7. Mayolo-Pic, at 4:21; 8. Manon Jutras (Can), at 4:25; 9. Davidge, at 4:29; 10. Iona Wynter, Genesis Scuba-FFCC, at 4:44.;
1. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance; 2. Mike Sayers, Mercury; 3. Tim Johnson, Saturn, all s.t.; 4. Chris Baldwin, Navigators, at 0:04; 5. John Lieswyn, 7UP-Nutra Fig.;
1. Baldwin; 2. Horner, at 0:11; 3. Pate, at 0:23.