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By Mark Johnson
It was a non-American Fourth of July Saturday at the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, as Canadian Charles Dionne (Fly V Australia) won the tough 110-mile third stage road race with a dramatic uphill attack half a kilometer from the finish.
Australian Rory Sutherland (OUCH-Maxxis) finished second and 19-year old Canadian David Boily (Probikepool/Kuota) capitalized upon his low profile — he is a first-year senior rider, has no teammates at Fitchburg, and lives in Quebec City — to latch onto Sutherland’s wheel and finish third.
In the 64-mile women’s race, Andrea Dvorak (Colavita-Sutter Home) won by attacking from a four-woman break that had been off the front for the race’s closing 15 miles. GC leader Evelyn Stevens (Team Lip Smackers) continued her strong performance with a second place on the stage while Joelle Noumainville (Team Kenda) took third.
With the top four riders within 15 seconds of each other on GC, the women’s race started out aggressively. Riding six 11-mile laps that took riders up a steep 200-foot pitch into the picturesque village of Princeton, Colavita wasted no time and forced the pace.
By the time the field reached the rolling hills and false flats that flank the Wachusett Mountain ski area above Princeton on the first lap, some 30 riders were dropped.
Three laps into the race, the women’s field was in shreds. Forty minutes passed between the lead riders and the last of the demolished field. With two laps to go, a dangerous break formed containing Dvorak, Rachel Heal (Colavita Sutter Home), Nicole Evans (ValueAct Capital), and Toni Bradshaw (Team Lip Smackers) and quickly build a 1:30 lead that threatened Stevens’ 1:22 and 1:40 GC advantage on Dvorak and Bradshaw, respectively.
Back in the field, Stevens said the final go-round was tough. “That last lap, when we realized who was up the road and how big a gap, it was like, oh, we got to put a move on it. I was told it was my race to lose so I better move.”
Working with her Lip Smackers teammates as well as with Jeannie Longo (Vitall Plus), the diminutive rider managed to drag back all the riders in the break save Dvorak, who powered away on the 6-percent grade to take the win in front of a steepled New England church in Princeton’s town center.
Dvorak, who lives outside Charlottesville in Crozet, Virginia, described her experience in the break. “Initially we were all working together and I think as the gap started to grow, Lip Smackers became a little hesitant to work because they had the yellow jersey. And so Rachel my teammate and I were kind of doing the bulk of the work. Rachel was talking me through it. ‘Calm down, calm down.’ And then I hit the climb and just turned it up a bit and by the time I got to the top I was by myself. I just put my head down and went for it.”
“At 2K I had like 45 seconds and I knew it was going to be close,” Dvorak said of the last lap. “When what was left of the group smells the finish line they definitely start ramping it up. The last 500 meters were pretty painful, but fortunately the finish line wasn’t further up the climb because who knows what would have happened.”
After the finishing times shook out, Stevens extended her GC lead over Team Type 1’s Alison Powers from 1 to 20 seconds. Longo moved into third position, and now sits 23 seconds behind Stevens and just one second ahead of Anne Samplonius (Team Lip Smackers), who was in third going into the stage.
Colavita rider Kelly Benjamin kept her hold on the points jersey but confessed she was not feeling her best. She attributed her ability to hang on to the jersey to her team. “Honestly, I have the best team in the world. I did nothing today but get dropped. I owe them tomorrow for sure. They did everything for me today and tomorrow it’s my turn to repay them.”
Both the men’s and women’s races took place on an 11-mile road course that passed through Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, a verdant, hilly area of central Massachusetts and a popular destination for Boston area riders who want to get some mountain training under their belts.
At a post-stage banquet honoring past Longsjo winners, 1996 Fitchburg winner and Massachusetts native Tyler Hamilton noted that he was astounded by the race’s landscape.
“The last time I was out here in Fitchburg was in 1996,” Hamilton recalled at the dinner held at the race hotel. “As I was driving in from Cambridge I was looking around and it’s like, ‘this is so beautiful out here.’ Before I used to always be focused on getting ready for the Longsjo Classic. Now I can look around a bit more and enjoy the scenery.”
Hamilton also spent time in the feed zone today. “It was great cheering on my old team, CCB. They did a lot for me, so it’s nice to sort of come full circle and cheer them on and help feed the young kids.”
Like the women’s race, the men’s event was explosive and undecided until the final climb. The first time up the climb split the field into three large chunks. The riders in the last group would ride in no man’s land for the remaining 100 miles. On lap four, Jackson Stewart (BMC), David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies), William Goodfellow (VW Specialized) and Daniel Vaillancourt (Colavita-Sutter Home) established a one minute break on the field, which was shedding bigger and bigger clumps of riders with each pass over the climb.
Sixty miles into the race, Bissell brought its riders to the front to keep the break in check, and race leader Tom Zirbel was sitting comfortably within their protective fold.
With 40 miles remaining, the break’s lead had increased to 1:45, but after two and a half hours of hard riding, the four riders were looking haggard as they chugged up the Princeton climb the sixth time.
At this point, Vaillancourt was collecting enough sprint points to become a threat to points leader Will Dugan (CCB). If the break finished ahead of the field-containing Dugan, Vaillancourt — also a CCB alumnus — was likely to take the points jersey.
But it wasn’t to be. With two laps remaining the field brought the break back and Matt Wilson (Team Type 1) launched a withering counter. On the bell lap, Wilson came through the finish line with a 20 second lead over chasing Rory Sutherland (OUCH-Maxxis) and the pack not far behind.
On the final seven miles following a perilous descent from the Wachusett Mountain ski area, a group of some 30 riders snapped off from the remains of the shattered peloton.
Approaching the final climb, Charles Dionne (Fly V Australia) launched from the bottom. Dionne, a two-time winner of the San Francisco Grand Prix, held his lead and finished five seconds ahead of Rory Sutherland.
Dionne was delighted with the victory. “That’s what I do best, short and steep. It makes it a good tour for Fly V. I’m really happy. There are only four of us out here, so to win a stage makes it a good tour. I just wish that it could be an American today to celebrate the Fourth of July.”
He added that “I just started with 500 meters to go — just stepped on the pedal and I was clear. It felt pretty good.”
Second place finisher Sutherland was impressed by the day’s intensity. “That was a really hard stage.” He also admitted that he had not been targeting this race. “I only found out I was coming about a week and a half ago. It’s my first time in Massachusetts and it’s a really beautiful race.”
Third place finisher David Bowlie was something of an unknown quantity, until today. Race director Ed Collier said the 19-year old Canadian was a last-minute race addition.
“He called me the night before the race to get in, and we had an open spot so we let him. He was so desperate to get in.”
After getting lost in Fitchburg after driving down from Quebec — and called Collier again for midnight directions — Bowlie flatted in the first day’s time trial.
However, his 10th place finish in the stage 2 circuit race foreshadowed Saturday’s showing.
Bowlie, who is riding without teammates and who spent part of this past winter riding the track in Los Angeles, saw fellow Canadian Dionne go. “I was on his wheel. He kicked hard, very hard off of the first steep hill. After he dropped me I pushed it to the line to make it the best that I can.”
Tom Zirbel holds onto his GC lead, but by a thin six seconds over Zach Bell (Kelly Benefit Strategies). “The wheels came off towards the end on that steep bit,” Zirbel observed after finishing 21st, 27 seconds after Dionne. “I was lucky to be turning over 30 RPM. But it was a great day. That’s real racing out there. From the get-go we had attacks. There hasn’t been an easy second in this race.”
Following the stage Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) kept his third place GC while Dionne’s finish vaulted him up into fourth from 15th.
With the top four men’s and women’s GC positions within 20 seconds of each other and with three teams represented in the top four, Sunday’s final stage criterium promises to deliver ballistic racing in the downtown streets of Fitchburg.
2009 Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic
Stage 3 results:
1) Dionne, Charles – Fly V Australia – 4:24:36
2) Sutherland, Rory – Ouch/Maxxis – 4:24:41
3) Boily, David – Probikepool/Kuota – 4:24:44
1) Zirbel, Tom – Bissell Pro Cycling – 7:17:44
2) Bell, Zach – Kelly Benefit Strategies – 7:17:50
3) Zwizanski, Scott – Kelly Benefit Strategies – 7:17:55
1) Dvorak, Andrea – Colavita Sutter Home p/b Cooki – 2:55:58
2) Stevens, Evelyn – Team Lip Smackers – 2:56:09
3) Noumainville, Joelle – Team Kenda
1) Stevens, Evelyn Team Lip Smackers 4:27:40
2) Powers, Alison Team Type 1 4:28:00
3) Longo, Jeannie Vital Plus 4:28:03