By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
There’s a reason they call them world champions, and Alison Dunlap and Roland Green showed why Sunday, each taking the overall wins in the Sea Otter Classic mountain-bike stage race in Monterey, California.
In his first major mountain bike race since winning gold in Vail, Green (Trek-Volkswagen) earned his GC title by putting 46 seconds into Dutchman Bart Brentjens (Giant) and winning stage 4’s 36-mile cross country. Brentjens, the 2001 Sea Otter champ, would settle for second on the day and in the overall, after surrendering the 7-second advantage he had begun the day with.
The pace of the men’s race was blistering from the opening gun, and less than halfway into the first of two 18-mile laps, a strong group of seven – Green, Brentjens, Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized), Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees), Adrian Bonilla (Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut), and Chris Sheppard (Haro-Lee Dungarees) – had cracked open a gap on the field.
Closest in the chase was the threesome of Geoff Kabush (Kona), Paul Rowney (Yeti-Pearl Izumi) and Rune Hoydahl (Giant), but they were already more than a minute behind by the time they reached the 13-mile mark. By then Bonilla and Sheppard were also losing the battle to hang on, with the Canadian at 0:27 and the Costa Rican at an even minute.
Next to fall off was McGrath, who suffered a puncture, then had his quick-fill fail, ending what had looked like a promising day,
Midway through the second trip around the rolling course, the lead group of four was still together, with Rowney, Kabush and Hoydahl next through at 0:47. But then things really started to break down, and soon Brentjens and Green were alone at the front.
“It was one of the little hills on the backside of the course,” said Hesjedal of when he lost contact with the lead. “They went and I decided I was better off sitting back a little to make sure I kept my place in GC. If I tried to go I might have lost that.”
Hesjedal wound up third in the final standings, the best Sea Otter finish of his young career.
With five miles to go in the race, Brentjens and Green had grown their advantage to 40 seconds over Hesjedal and Meirhaeghe, and the race was now clearly a two-man affair.
Brentjens and Green would stay together until the last major climb of the race, a strength-sapping 3-mile stretch of fire road that precedes the short trip on the Laguna Seca Raceway towards home. After taking turns battling the light headwind, Green made his move, pulling away from the 1996 Olympic champion. Brentjens could not respond, and saw his shot at back-to-back Sea Otter titles slip away.
“I just launched as hard as I could,” explained Green of his winning move.
Minutes later Green came across the line first, a time of 2:12:19 flashing up on the board. Brentjens was next, followed by Meirhaeghe, who won the sprint with Hesjedal for third, at 2:12. Kabush was next, after overtaking Rowney in the finishing straightaway, at 3:26.
Green’s win was his second straight in the Sea Otter cross country, but this one was much sweeter because it included the big prize, too. “This is an important race for everyone here,” he said. “It shows who is ready for the season.”
For the rainbow-stripe wearing Dunlap it was simply a matter of protecting the 25-second lead she carried into Sunday’s race, and by staying on the wheel of race winner Caroline Alexander, the Luna Chix rider did just that.
Like the men’s race, the lead women went hard early, dispatching all but the five fastest riders before the first lap was half done. The members of the selection included all the usual suspects: Dunlap, Alexander (British National), Barbara Blatter (Specialized), Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Alison Sydor (Trek-Volkswagen). Dangling another half minute back was Jimena Florit (RLX-Polo Sport), with Sue Haywood (Trek-Volkswagen) hanging at another minute behind her.
First to fall off of the lead group was Sydor, who couldn’t follow up on her previous day’s short-track win, finishing fifth on Sunday and falling from second to fourth in the overall. Redden was the next to go, and she and Sydor would eventually be caught by Florit, who put in a valiant solo ride on this blustery day, before settling for sixth when she cramped up during the 3-up sprint for fourth.
In front of them Alexander was doing everything she could to shed Dunlap and gain back some of the 31-second deficit she brought into the day. But Dunlap was not to be dropped, and all Alexander could manage was to shell former Specialized teammate Blatter, who ended up third in the race and the GC.
At the finish Dunlap sat up just before the line, conceding the win after spending most of the day riding Alexander’s wheel.
“After she did all that work I didn’t want to flick her and sprint her at the finish,” Dunlap admitted. “That’s bad karma and you never know when something like that will come back around on you.”
SEA OTTER CLASSIC, Monterey, CA; March 21-24; Mountain-Bike Stage Race; Cross Country; Women; 1. Caroline Alexander (GB), British National, 36 miles in 2:37:34; 2. Alison Dunlap, Luna Chix, at 0:02; 3. Barbara Blatter (Swi), Specialized, 0:16; 4. Alison Sydor (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, at 5:38; 5. Chrissy Redden (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, s.t.; 6. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX-Polo Sport, at 5:39; 7. Susan Haywood, Trek-Volkswagen, at 7:45; 8. Sue Thomas (GB) British National, at 9:21; 9. Mary Grigson (Aus), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 10:12; 9. Mary McConneloug, Jamba Juice, s.t.; Final Overall Standings; 1. Dunlap, 4:02:30; 2. Alexander, at 0:29; 3. Blatter, at 1:05; 4. Sydor, at 6:01; 5. Redden, at 6:07; 6. Florit, at 6:31; 7. Haywood, at 9:29; 8. Grigson, at 12:05; 9. Thomas, at 12:26; 10. Lanie Mason, Cane Creek, at 13:06; Men; 1. Roland Green (Can), Trek-Volkswagen, 36 miles, at 2:12:20; 2. Bart Brentjens (Nl), Giant, at 0:46; 3. Filip Meirhaeghe (B), Specialized, at 2:12; 4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 2:13; 5. Geoff Kabush (Can), Kona, at 3:26; 6. Paul Rowney (Aus), Yeti-Pear Izumi, at 3:26; 7. Rune Hoydahl (N), Giant, at 3:49; 8. Mathieu Toulouse (Can), Gears, at 4:26; 9. Chris Sheppard (Can), Haro-Lee Dungarees, at 4:27; 10. Christophe Dupouey (F), Giant, at 4:27; Final Overall Standings; 1. Green, 3:32:32; 2. Brentjens, at 0:38; 3. Hesjedal, at 2:18; 4. Meirhaeghe, at 3:17; 5. Hoydahl, at 5:06; 6. Kabush, at 5:15; 7. Toulouse, at 6:03; 8. Sheppard, at 6:08; 9. Adrian Bonilla (CR), Café de Costa Rica-Pizza Hut, at 7:05; 10. Liam Killeen (GB), Subaru-Gary Fisher, at 7:36