By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
The U.S. Postal Service squad drew first blood at the First Union Cycling week on Tuesday night, as David Clinger rode away from breakaway partner Chris Wherry (Mercury) on the final lap of the First Union Invitational in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Clinger and Wherry were the two survivors of a typical Lancaster race -– fast, difficult and hard-fought.
Coming off his spring European campaign, including a strong support ride for Lance Armstrong at the Midi Libre, Clinger took his first win of the season in the streets of Lancaster.
“Everybody wants to win, and everybody’s here to win,” he said. “I came here with some confidence that I was going good, and the team let me ride my own race.”
Postal looked to have a handle on the race from the get-go, putting Antonio Cruz and David Zabriskie into a strong early break, along with Chris Horner (Prime Alliance), Trent Klasna (Saturn), Eric Wohlberg (Saturn) and David O’Laughlin (Ofoto-Lombardi Sports) three laps into the 13-lap, 91-mile race.
But once a mechanical problem dropped Cruz from the break, things started to come unglued for Postal. Team leader George Hincapie had to change bikes twice, Robbie Ventura broke a chain and Christian Vande Velde went down in a crash.
“The middle five laps was the most stressful time, it was just crazy,” said team director Frankie Andreu.
During those middle laps, the breakaway, now down to five, hovered at around 30-45 seconds ahead of the main field, but with Mercury and Navigators heading up the chase, it never amounted to a major threat. Finally, when Klasna sat up on lap 8, it was clear that the move was doomed.
“We were left with three guys [working], and it just wasn’t happening,” said Horner, who had initiated the break with a solo move on the very first lap of the race.
After holding on for one last climb of the big hill through the grass and trees of Rockford Park, the group finally sat up as the race headed back toward downtown Lancaster to begin the final four laps of the race.
It wasn’t long, though, before the decisive splits came. A lead group of 10 formed on lap 10, containing Wherry, Clinger, Hincapie, Tim Johnson (Saturn), Mark Walters (Navigators), Matt DeCanio (Prime Alliance), Doug Ziewacz (7UP-Nutra Fig), Tomas Gronqvist (Amore & Vita) and Zbigniew Piatek (Mroz), and just behind two more groups took shape off the front of the main peloton.
The three groups would come together, but during the reshuffling, Clinger and Wherry opened up the gap. “We instantly knew that was it,” said Wherry, “and we were gonna drive it.”
By the end of lap 11 they had 1:20 on a group of 27 chasers, and knew they would fight it out between themselves. Behind, Navigators Tom Leaper gave chase, but the Australian would have to settle for third.
On the final lap, Clinger finally made his move in the final three miles of the race. “I was thinking more sprint,” said Clinger of his tactics, “but [team director Andreu] saw that he was struggling. I couldn’t tell, but I gave it a go.”
Wherry, who began the day relaxed and supremely confident in his form, came up short. “He stepped on it hard once, and I just couldn’t respond,” said the Mercury rider.
For Clinger, who spent the past two seasons with Festina, it was a happy return to racing in America with an American team. “I’m really happy to be here and on Postal,” he said. “The team let me sit on for a while, and I was fresh in the end.”
And for Postal, which has eight Americans, one Canadian and one Belgian on its First Union roster, it was a welcome show of force at home.
“Some of these other [U.S.] races, we haven’t exactly had the highest-caliber [team],” said Andreu. “We’re here to change that.”
There were some last-minute changes to the roster at Lancaster, including the inclusion of Chann McRae on the Postal squad. Luxembourg’s Benoit Joachim was scheduled to make the trip, but with McRae already in the States recovering from a crash at the Four Days of Dunkirk, Joachim, also recovering from a crash, stayed home to race the Tour of Luxembourg.
Navigators kept the red-hot Vassili Davidenko out of the Lancaster race, replacing him with Ryan Guay. Team director Ed Beamon said Davidenko was “focusing on other goals,” clearly referring to Sunday’s USPRO Championships.
Horner, who started the early breakaway with his attack on lap 1, was also prominent at the finish, making his way into the 26-rider group behind Clinger, Wherry and Leaper and finishing 12th. With his strong race-long performance, the Prime Alliance rider looked to be well-recovered from the broken foot he suffered in April. “I’m feeling really good,” he said. “Did a lot of work at the beginning and was still around at the finish for whatever scraps were left.”
1. David Clinger, U.S. Postal Service, 91 mi in 3:18:52; 2. Chris Wherry, Mercury, at 0:16; 3. Tom Leaper (Aus), Navigators, at 1:40; 4. Oleg Grichkine (Rus), Navigators, at 1:59; 5. Zbigniew Piatek (Pl), Mroz; 6. Michael Barry (Can), U.S. Postal Service; 7. Sebastien Mattozza (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago; 8. Henk Vogels (Aus), Mecury; 9. George Hincapie, U.S. Postal Service; 10. Greg Henderson (NZ), 7UP-Nutra Fig; 11. Charles Dionne (Can), 7UP-Nutra Fig; 12. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance; 13. David McKenzie (Aus), iTeamnova.com; 14. Aurelien Clerc (Swi), Mapei-Quick Step; 15. Frank McCormack, Saturn; 16. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), Domo-Farm Frites; 17. John Lieswyn, 7UP-Nutra Fig; 18. Chad Gerlach, Sierra Nevada; 19. Kirk O’Bee, Navigators; 20. Mark Walters (Can), Navigators; 21. Erik Saunders, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports; 22. Kirk Albers, Jelly Belly; 23. Tomas Gronqvist (S), Amore & Vita; 24. Matt DeCanio, Prime Alliance; 25. Tim Johnson, Saturn; 26. Doug Ziewacz, 7UP-Nutra Fig; 27. Mark McCormack, Saturn; 28. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto-Adecco; 29. David O’Loughlin (Irl), Ofoto-Lombardi Sports, all s.t.; 30. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance, at 2:28.