By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
Gord Fraser has had bad luck at the First Union Classic in Trenton, New Jersey before, but on a day when it seemed that anything possible could go wrong, everything went right for the Canadian Mercury rider. Fraser held off a charging pack at the end of a wet, treacherous race on Thursday evening to give his Mercury team its first Trenton win.
The race got off to a rocky start, when, just minutes after the 164 riders rolled off the line in front of the New Jersey State Art Museum, they were called back to the start. A fatal automobile-pedestrian accident had occurred on the downtown end of the course just before the 4:30 p.m. start, and the site had to be cleared, and part of the course re-routed.
Then, as the riders endured a 50-minute rain delay, the skies opened up and a rain began to fall that wouldn’t let up all night.
When things finally got underway, the 13-lap race was cut to eight, and the 7-mile course was shortened by about a half-mile. With the bad conditions in a race that includes a technical downtown portion with bricks and numerous turns, the teams were anticipating things to shatter quickly.
Trying to set the stage for Jonas Carney, Prime Alliance went to the front early. “We had all our guys up there at the front, just drilling it as fast as we can,” said Prime Alliance’s Chris Horner. “Let’s get rid of the guys that don’t want to race, let’s get rid of the guys who put themselves in the wrong position on the first lap, and that’s what happened.”
Predictably, the field split into three main groups of about 30, while carnage and chaos ruled at the back, with crashes and mechanical problems making for a busy day in the race caravan.
By lap 3 a main field of about 50 had settled into its rhythm, but by that time some big names were already out of the race, either forced out or protecting themselves for Sunday, including Henk Vogels (Mercury) who crashed on the first lap, Lancaster winner David Clinger (U.S. Postal Service) and USPRO champion Fred Rodriguez (Domo-Farm Frites).
Fraser, though, was making his presence felt at the front. Not content to just sit back, the Mercury rider was contesting the points sprints every lap and covering moves at the head of the field. With three laps to go, when Horner and Postal’s George Hincapie went off the front, Fraser was right there with them, even if it wasn’t the optimum strategy.
“When a sprinter has to cover the other teams top guys, it’s a disadvantage,” he said. “Meanwhile, Carney could just sit in the bunch.”
And on the last lap, Fraser thought that he would be done in by Prime Alliance’s sprinter. “He went by me and took an amazing risk, actually got about 20 places in one corner, and I thought, ‘Wow, he wants to win.’ I was almost resigned at that point,” said Fraser.
But Carney wasn’t feeling his best, and instead it was teammate Horner attacking heading into the final trip through downtown. “I went hard through the turn and was slipping coming out of the cobblestone section,” said Horner. “I had like 2-300 meters, a good gap huh. The race was won, and I was with one Navigator, I don’t know who it was, but maybe he thought I was stupid and would tow him right to the finish.”
The other rider was Ciaran Power, but despite Horner’s protest, Navigators was setting up for Oleg Grichkine in a sprint, and with Power not pulling, Horner’s chances were doomed.
Behind, Fraser had regrouped, and with the help of teammate Brice Jones, had fought back up to the front. Then, with one corner and about 500 meters to go, he zeroed in on Horner and Power.
Fraser shot past with about 300 meters to go, and held off Grichkine and Lotto’s Wesley Van Speybroeck behind him.
“Trenton’s been eluding us all these years,” said Fraser. “I can’t describe how good it feels to win here.”
1. Gord Fraser (Can), Mercury, in 1:45:48; 2. Oleg Grichkine (Rus), Navigators; 3. Wesley Van Speybroeck (B), Lotto-Adecco; 4. Ciaran Power (Irl), Navigators; 5. Tom Boonen (B), U.S. Postal Service; 6. Robbie Ventura, U.S. Postal Service; 7. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance; 8. Gorik Gardeyn (B), Lotto-Adecco; 9. Marty Nothstein, Navigators; 10. Soren Petersen (Dk), Saturn; 11. Jay Sweet (Aus), Satun; 12. Cristian Pepoli (I), Saeco; 13. Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal Service; 14. Igor Astarloa (Sp), Saeco; 15. Brian Forbes, Jelly Belly; 16. Sven Vanthourenhout (B), Domo-Farm Frites; 17. Oscar Pineda (Gua), 7UP-Nutra Fig; 18. Thomas Gronqvist (S), Amore & Vita; 19. Dave McCook, Prime Alliance; 20. Peter Rogers (Aus), iTeamnova, all s.t.