By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
In a season dominated by the monster Saturn team, the little guys finally had a chance to do some damage on Sunday at the women’s national criterium championship in Downer’s Grove, Illinois. It came down to a battle royale between two of the fastest women in the county, who had a total of one teammate between them. In the end, Nicole Freedman (Credit Suisse First Boston) had one move too many for defending champion Laura Van Gilder (Verizon Wireless), who struggled through a tough race to put herself in a position to fight for the win.
Going into the race, everybody was looking to see what AutoTrader.com would do with the best numbers — six riders entered, more than any other team. And as expected, they took control early, with Pam Schuster going to the front immediately in the 31-lap race to push the tempo. The team then sent out multiple attacks, from the likes of Amber Neben, Kim Smith and Katrina Berger.
Van Gilder, meanwhile, was suffering some bad luck in her title defense, crashing with 19 laps remaining in the race. Although the morning rains had stopped briefly for the noon women’s race, the final turn was still posing some problems for the riders, and Freedman and Berger were also among the group that crashed.
Van Gilder got a bike change, but her new bike was much too big, forcing her to pit a few laps later to switch again. “I then used my bike which wasn’t working properly and I couldn’t shift for a long time. Then it all just started to work again, with a little playing around with the shifters.”
As the race wound down, it saw an attack from a familiar face in an unfamiliar jersey, the semi-retired Dede Demet Barry, who a week earlier had won the Nicole Reinhart criterium in Breckenridge. She was joined by Neben and the duo maintained a gap of about 12 seconds for several laps, until it was finally closed down by Candice Blickem (AXO-Zeal) with three laps to go.
At that point, it looked like AutoTrader would have its way, as they began their leadout train for Tina Mayolo with two laps to go.
But things began to get chaotic from there. First, Saturn’s Suzanne Sonye burst out of the final turn with Freedman on her wheel. Thinking that it was the final lap, Sonye nearly raised her arms in victory. Instead, she had merely disrupted the AutoTrader leadout.
“Suzanne sprinted on the wrong lap, and then I think it was Julie Young (AutoTrader.com) and Cheryl Binney (Procter & Gamble) who attacked, and I sort of got on,” said Freedman. “And then Dede attacked. Dede was sort of a fortunate addition to the race. She started leading it out. Thank you Dede.”
AutoTrader was still setting up Mayolo, but came up a little short. “I think we just ran out of gas. We were hoping to pull something off, and Kim [Smith] was doing a great leadout, and then Julie [Young] took over, and with three corners to go she says, okay, good luck, and I’m like, uh-oh. There was just no one there and it was kind of a swarm and you know, fight for your spot, and hope it comes out right.”
That’s when Freedman began to fight her way to the front. “It got bunched up on turn 7 and Tina was up front and I was behind her. I thought, ‘This is bad this is bad, there’s no leadout. I knew I had to go through that turn first and I was boxed in, and somehow the girl next to me let up an inch and I just went.”
“I started to lead it to the final corner,” said Van Gilder, “but Nicole snuck by on the inside and held it to the line, and it was the move, for sure.”
Behind, Van Gilder took second, Litespeed’s Shannon Hutchison third, and Mayolo fourth.
Score one for the little guys.
Women’s National Criterium Championship;
1. Nicole Freedman, Credit Suisse First Boston; 2. Laura Van Gilder, Verizon Wireless; 3. Shannon Hutchison, Litespeed; 4. Tina Mayolo, AutoTrader.com; 5. Denise Brander, Saturn of Bellevue; 6. Rebecca Conzelman, Talgoamerica.com; 7. Allie Warfel, Credit Suisse First Boston; 8. Emily Gloeckner, VERITAS; 9. Deborah Durand, Helen’s-Trek-VW; 10. Katrina Berger, AutoTrader.com.