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By Bryan Jew , VeloNews Senior Writer
Saturday’s SuperCup cyclo-cross races in Chicago showed that the Bears don’t have a monopoly on down-to-the-wire finishes in the Windy City. Ann Grande (Kona-Voicestream) and Marc Gullickson (Mongoose-Hyundai) both took thrilling victories that weren’t decided until the final lap of the flat, grassy course in Washington Park. The two elite races gave the loud Chicago crowd a treat to go along with the beautiful, fall-like weather in the middle of November.
In the women’s race, the talk going in centered around Lyne Bessette’s (Saturn) undefeated streak in her first season of cyclo-cross, and early on, it looked like the road star was going to run away with yet another win. With a fast start, Bessette seemed to have the field on the ropes even before the first set of hurdles, a right-left chicane that followed up a long stretch of riding on the grass. Only Grande was able to match Bessette’s start, but even she struggled to hold the Canadian’s wheel.
It looked like Bessette’s road speed would outclass cyclo-cross specialist Grande’s superior technical ability, but on the second of the six laps, Grande surprised the crowd by going to the front, and staying there for almost the entire race. Bessette remained glued to Grande’s wheel, while behind the chase group was eventually whittled down to Carmen D’Aluisio (Clif), Gina Hall (Kona-Voicestream) and Rachel Lloyd (Team Spine).
The race was at the front though, and Grande continued to make the pace, although she was waiting for the same thing as everyone else. “When you have someone like Lyne Bessette on your wheel,” she said, “you’re just waiting for the moment when she goes whoosh, right by you.”
However, Bessette explained, “I just didn’t have it today.”
So despite staying with Grande all day, Bessette couldn’t make a move. When Grande emerged from the long, flat, 40-yard “six-pack” of barriers (which consisted of only five barriers) for the final time, she was able to open up the winning gap before the final hairpin turn onto the paved finish. D’Aluisio broke clear for third, ahead of Hall and Lloyd.
The men’s race, which concluded under a setting sun on a hazy afternoon, managed to improve on the excitement of the women’s event.
Early on, it looked like it would develop into a three-man battle, as Gullickson, Tim Johnson (Saturn) and Alex Candelario (Big Shark-Cannondale) separated themselves from a strong field by lap 2 of 9. There was plenty of firepower behind though, in a chase group that included Todd Wells (Mongoose-Hyundai), Dale Knapp (Kona-Voicestream), Justin Robinson (Palo Alto), Travis Brown (Trek-VW) and Jonny Sundt (K2).
Johnson put in a strong effort to stay away, while Gullickson was more selective in his attacks, as he had teammate Wells in the group behind. Candelario, meanwhile, was content to sit on the two established stars, biding his time until later in the race.
With Sundt and Knapp trading attacks, the chase group narrowed to three, including Wells, while Brown and Robinson dropped back. The gap never exceeded 20 seconds, and was at times as little as four or five, but the threesome continued to dangle for lap after lap.
But finally, with two-and-a-half laps to go, Wells was able to make contact, and a half lap later, Sundt and Knapp were on for the ride as well. So with two to go, there was a real “six-pack.”
Not for long. Wells did the job that he was supposed to do, going on the attack on lap 8. The move forced Johnson into a long attack, with Gullickson and Candelario sitting right on, while Sundt and Knapp fell back.
After a long chase at the front, Johnson finally chased down Wells, but the attack had set up Gullickson perfectly. Gullickson countered just as they caught, and then soloed away. Johnson could only chase again, but to no avail. Gullickson took the win, with Johnson second, Candelario third, and Wells hanging on for fourth.
“Everything totally worked out for me,” said Gullickson of the well-executed team tactics. “It feels great to finally win in Chicago.”
CHICAGO SUPERCUP, Chicago, IL. November 17.;;
Men: 1. Marc Gullickson, Mongoose-Hyundai; 2. Tim Johnson, Saturn, at 0:02; 3. Alex Candelario, Big Shark-Cannondale, at 0:07; 4. Todd Wells, Mongoose-Hyundai, at 0:12; 5. Jonny Sundt, K2, at 0:35; 6. Dale Knapp, Kona-Voicestream; 7. Justin Robinson, Palo Alto, at 1:43; 8. Travis Brown, Trek-VW, at 1:45; 9. Johannes Huseby, Independent Fabrication-CCB-VW, at 2:14; 10. Steve Tilford, Extran, at 2:15.;;
Women: 1. Ann Grande, Kona-Voicestream; 2. Lyne Bessette, Saturn, at 0:05; 3. Carmen D’Aluisio, Clif, at 1:17; 4. Gina Hall, Kona-Voicestream, at 1:26; 5. Rachel Lloyd, Team Spine, at 1:30; 6. Melissa Thomas, Rocky Mounts, at 2:41; 7. Mary McConneloug, Jamba Juice, at 2:59; 8. Jen Dial, Independent Fabrication, at 3:08; 9. Christine Vardaros, Jamba Juice, at 3:16; 10. Emily Thorne, CyclocrossWorld.com, at 3:20.