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Health Net train keeps on rolling at Trenton

There’s a saying that’s come en vogue these days that’s applicable across many horizons in life: When it’s on, it’s on. And for the domestic Health Net-Maxxis team, the Wachovia Cycling Series has been on. The team followed up its win by Greg Henderson in Lancaster Tuesday with another sprint win Thursday evening in Trenton, New Jersey, this time coming from cagey veteran Gord Fraser. Add in Ivan Dominguez’s win at the CSC Invitational in Arlington, Virginia, on May 29, and the powerhouse team has taken three sprint wins in three consecutive races with three different riders. Looking at the

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By Neal Rogers

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

There’s a saying that’s come en vogue these days that’s applicable across many horizons in life: When it’s on, it’s on. And for the domestic Health Net-Maxxis team, the Wachovia Cycling Series has been on. The team followed up its win by Greg Henderson in Lancaster Tuesday with another sprint win Thursday evening in Trenton, New Jersey, this time coming from cagey veteran Gord Fraser. Add in Ivan Dominguez’s win at the CSC Invitational in Arlington, Virginia, on May 29, and the powerhouse team has taken three sprint wins in three consecutive races with three different riders.

Looking at the team’s stacked roster in the early season, three-time NRC winner Chris Horner, who now rides for the Spanish Saunier Duvalteam, predicted Health Net would be a force to be reckoned with when it came to fast finishes on North American soil in 2005. “I don’t see how anybody is going to be able to beat them in a sprint this year,” Horner said. “It’s going to be difficult.”

Another near miss for Rodriguez

Another near miss for Rodriguez

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Horner and the rest of the field in Trenton saw exactly how that prediction has proven true as the green-and-black squad took control of a potentially dangerous situation, reeling in breakaways Bobby Julich (CSC) and Mark McCormack (Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home) in the final of 14 laps over a mostly flat 91-mile barbell-shaped course around the state’s capital building. In the end, Fraser out-sprinted defending Trenton champion Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) and Lars Michaelson (CSC) for a partial reshuffling of last year’s podium, which saw Fraser finish second.

“It’s very rewarding for us to win the race after doing that much work,” Fraser said. “It gives the sprinters more motivation when you see your teammates literally laying it on the line to bring back a break.”

And then there were two
Starting and finishing on a long straightaway with a pair of criterium-style loops at each end – one in the slightly hilly Cadwalader Park and the other in the commercial district of the state’s capital – the 6.5-mile course in Trenton is regarded as one of the fastest in North America, and its average speed of 30.7 mph confirmed it. Held under perfect warm, sunny conditions, the day was one for the sprinters. (In fact, the only time the race has finished with a breakaway was in 1995, when Navigators Insurance’s Matthew Koschara held off the peloton to win by three seconds.)

And for a while, it appeared this year’s edition of the race might be won by a breakaway as well. After an initial breakaway by Discovery Channel’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck was diffused in the opening laps, a 14-rider group slipped off the front on the hilly, tree-lined roads of the park. In the group was Olympic bronze medalist Julich and CSC teammate and Andy Schleck; 2003 USPRO national champ McCormack and Colavita teammate Aaron Olsen; John Lieswyn (Health Net); Belgian Leif Hoste (Discovery Channel); Glen Mitchell (Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada); Kirk O’Bee and Shawn Milne (Navigators Insurance); Brice Jones (Jelly Belly-PoolGel); Ivan Ravaioli (Saunier Duval); Daniele Colli (Liquigas-Bianchi); Gerrit Glomser (Lampre-Caffita) and Brent Bookwalter (Advantage Endeavour).

Nearly every major team in the race was represented, save Rodriguez’s travel- and Giro-weary Davitamon-Lotto squad. With Davitamon-Lotto giving chase, the gap quickly grew to two minutes by the end of eight laps. Heading into lap 9, Davitamon finally quit working at the front.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“My team was still suffering from jet lag,” Rodriguez said. “They tried to chase early on and basically blew up, so Henk [Vogels] and I just rode to see what was going to happen.”

Soon after, Julich pedaled away from the breakaway after chasing a $250 prime at the finish line, and only McCormack followed.

“A lot of those primes I was just using as intervals,” Julich said. “I hadn’t raced since the Tour de Georgia, so I was just looking for a good workout today. I knew there is no way I could win. Even if I was in a group of two with Mark McCormack I’d lose the sprint. I wasn’t really thinking about the win, I was just thinking about Sunday and doing some good efforts. The prime motivated me to do an interval, and then I looked back and saw only Mark coming up and decided to drill it because I didn’t like how big the breakaway was. I told Mark, that we had to hit them on the hill and get this group a little smaller because some guys were just happy to be there and other guys thinking tactical. Honestly, I’m too old to worry about dealing with tactics. I just wanted to go full gas and blow out the pipes a little bit.”

Lotto in pursuit

Lotto in pursuit

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Lieswyn made a few efforts to get across, but was shadowed by Hoste and eventually returned to sit on the group of a dozen chasers.

“There were so many attacks in that break, I had to start being selective,” Lieswyn said. “I was trying to watch only Julich, but I missed one. I tried twice to get across to him, and if he had been smart he would have let me across, because as it was we were going to do anything we could to bring it back. We didn’t know if we could bring it back, but we certainly were going to try. McCormack may have been the best sprinter up there, but if I had been sitting on more, you never know… But as it was, their only hope to avoid a Health Net chase was to have a Health Net guy with them.”

It was a point Michaelson would later reiterate. “Had it been a three-man break including Health Net, we wouldn’t have taken it back,” the CSC rider said. “That was the deciding factor about the break today.”

“When I tried to get across [Hoste] just nailed it and I couldn’t get away clean to Julich and McCormack,” Lieswyn said. “When I couldn’t get away clean, I had to sit up, and that pretty much doomed the break. Nobody wanted to pull after I repeatedly attacked.”

Behind, Rodriguez bode his time as Health Net went to work. Heading into lap 12 of 14, Julich and McCormack had a 2:18 lead on the field and a one-minute advantage on the chasers. Minutes later, the chasers had been reeled in, Health Net’s Mike Sayers and Mike Jones dropped off the back exhausted from their efforts, and lap-count confusion by race officials took the wind out of the breakaway’s sails. The leaders had mistakenly been told they had one less lap remaining than there actually was, and the frustrated pair eventually sat up.

“When they started messing around with the lap counts, Mark and I started soft-pedaling for three-quarters of a lap,” Julich said. “We were very upset. They messed up the lap cards, and that let a little air out of the balloon.”

Sensing the catch, Vogels and Rodriguez snapped to life and went to the front, aided by Jittery Joe’s (hoping to set up sprinter Jeff Hopkins), Jelly Belly-PoolGel (looking to set up sprinters Alex Candelario and Dave McCook), Colavita (for Juan Jose Haedo), CSC (for Michaelson) and Saunier Duval (for last year’s USPRO winner Francsico Ventoso).

Jelly Belly puts in an effort for Candelario and McCook

Jelly Belly puts in an effort for Candelario and McCook

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

At the outset of lap 13, the leaders held a one-minute lead over a strung-out field. A half-lap later, it was halved. By that time, however, Health Net had blown its workhorses, with only Lieswyn and Chris Wherry driving the chase, and while, Henderson, Tyler Farrar and Ivan Dominguez freelanced to stay out of the wind.

The final lap
Flying at 33mph the field finally caught McCormack and Julich, who shook hands for their efforts and allowed themselves to be absorbed. As the riders crossed the start/finish line with a half-lap remaining, opposite of the finale, Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) mistakenly jumped clear and threw his arms in the air, only to watch the sprinters’ trains continue toward the far end of the course.

In the Health Net-Maxxis team car, team director Jeff Corbett rallied his troops over race radio. “Bring it home boys,” he said. “You did a lot of work today. Don’t make it for nothing.” And while Dominguez was the team’s original go-to sprinter, plans changed in the final winding half-mile leading into the long finishing straight.

“We were going to set up Ivan Dominguez,” Fraser said, “but he told me he wasn’t feeling well, and we saw with a quarter-lap to go he was actually setting tempo for me on the front quite early, so I knew he wasn’t on a good day, going out so early. It’s a nice luxury to have all these cards to play, because it’s not always the same guy every week. It’s been great for me to have such a great supporting cast. I can depend on those guys when I’m not feeling well, and I’ve got their back when they’re not feeling well.”

Coming into the final turn Vogels was making way for Rodriguez, while the 20-year-old Farrar, in just his first time racing at Trenton, had made his way on to Rodriguez’s wheel.

“Tyler was actually on Fred’s wheel in the last corner, and I actually asked Tyler if I could have it,” Fraser said. “And of course being the youngster that he is, he gave me the best spot, behind Freddy, because Freddy had Henk Vogels in front of him. When you have one of the best lead-out men with one of the best sprinters in the world right behind, that’s the best place to be. It paid off. I was very fortunate to get around Fred, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world.”

At the line, it was Fraser coming across convincingly ahead of Rodriguez to add to his Trenton win in 2002. Michaelson crossed third, while Discovery’s Roger Hammond took fourth, Farrar finished an impressive fifth and a returning-to-form Horner came across sixth.

“Henk is really motivated for this week,” Rodriguez said. “He came on to this team and he had a good Giro helping Robbie McEwen and he really wanted to help me today, and towards the finale he took the majority of the work for me. He basically piloted the last lap, wasting a lot of energy. We were a little bit short in the lead out. We needed one more guy to get Henk up to speed. He got stuck with the majority of the work. When I jumped, Gord had the speed. I saw him come around me on the left. I wasn’t going to get up to speed to get around him. As soon as he came by he had a lot more speed than I did. I didn’t really have time to wind it up. The best man won today.”

Rodriguez went on to add that not only did the best man win, but that the best sprint team on the day had won the fast-paced race.

“When it comes to a sprint team, Health Net has one of the best,” Rodriguez said. “If they could race at the ProTour level at races like this, I would say they would be really competitive. I just came off of Catalonia, sprinting against top teams, and I was always in the top three. Gord would be there too.”

Up next is the USPRO Championships on Sunday, June 5. And while Health Net knows its set itself apart as a race favorite, Fraser knows better than to get cocky after winning a relatively short, flat course like Trenton.

“Philadelphia is a completely different race,” Fraser said. “It’s a lot longer and much more difficult. The longer distances would play more into the hands of the European riders. We domestic riders don’t race distances over 200km very often. That sixth hour of racing is difficult for me. It doesn’t mean we’re favorites for Sunday. If anything, it’s going to motivate these guys even more.”

Photo Gallery


Wachovia Cycling Series, Race Number Two

Trenton, New Jersey
Wachovia Cycling Series, Race Number Two

Trenton, New Jersey

1. Gordon Fraser (Can), Health Net-Maxxis 2:57:59

2. Fred Rodriguez, Davitamon Lotto

3. Lars Michaelsen (Dk), Team CSC

4. Roger Hammond (GB), Discovery

5. Tyler Farrar, Health Net-Maxxis

6. Chris Horner, Saunier Duval

7. Alex Candelario, Jelly Belly-Pool Gel

8. Ivan Stevic (Slv), Aerospace Engineering

9. Rashaan Bahati, McGuire Pro Cycling

10. Marco Zanotti (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

11. Greg Henderson (NZ), Health Net-Maxxis

12. Vassili Davidenko (Rus), Navigators Insurance

13. Emile Abraham (Tri), Team Monex

14. Ciaran Power (Irl), Navigators Insurance

15. Charles Dionne (Can), Webcor

16. Henk Vogels (Aus), Davitamon Lotto

17. Sebastian Alexandre (Arg), Colavita-Sutter Home

18. Jackson Stewart, Kodak Sierra Nevada

19. Kyle Wamsley, Snow Valley-Seal On

20. Manuele Mori (I), Saunier Duval

21. Luciano Pagliarini (Bra), Liquigas-Bianchi

22. Oleg Grichkine (Rus), Navigators Insurance

23. Karl Menzies (Aus), Advantage Endeavour

24. Jeff Hopkins (Aus), Jittery Joe's

25. Russell Hamby, Kodak Sierra Nevada

26. Kyle Gritters, Team Seasilver

27. Evan Oliphant (GB),

28. Sterling Magnell, Team Monex

29. Brian Sheedy,, Advantage Endeavour

30. Kirk Albers, Jelly Belly-Pool Gel

31. Chad Hartley, TIAA CREF

32. Marty Nothstein, Navigators Insurance

33. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg), Colavita-Sutter Home

34. Gustavo Artacho (Arg), Colavita-Sutter Home

35. Carlos Vargas (Col), Team Monex

36. Russell Downing (GB),

37. David O-Loughlin (Irl), Navigators Insurance

38. Jonathan Dewald, Snow Valley-Seal On

39. Curtis Gunn, Team Seasilver

40. Cameron Hughes (Aus), Subway-Express

41. Adam Hodges Myerson, NERAC.COM

42. Marco Righetto (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

43. David Richter, Subway-Express

44. Thomas Bruun Eriksen (Dk), Team CSC

45. Jason Bausch, Team Seasilver

46. Ryan McKenzie (Can), Subway-Express

47. Daniele Colli (I), Liquigas-Bianchi

48. Matti Breschel (Dk), Team CSC

49. Max Vanheeswijk (Ned), Discovery

50. Samuele Marzoli (I), Lampre Caffita

51. Geoff Kabush (Can), Jittery Joe's

52. Nico Mattan (B), Davitamon Lotto

53. Fumyuki Beppu (Jpn), Discovery

54. Gerrit Glomser (A), Lampre Caffita

55. Ben Haldeman, Webcor

56. Marco Marzano (I), Lampre Caffita

57. Clemente Cavaliere (I), Aerospace Engineering

58. Nathan Miller, Team Monex

59. John Lieswyn, Health Net-Maxxis

60. Lars Bak (Dk), Team CSC

61. Matej Mugerli (Slo), Liquigas-Bianchi

62. Kjell Carlstrom (Fin), Liquigas-Bianchi

63. Jake Rytlewski,, Advantage Endeavour

64. Frank Pipp, Advantage Endeavour

65. Wim Devocht (B), Davitamon Lotto

66. Bart Dockx (B), Davitamon Lotto

67. Andy Schleck (Lux), Team CSC

68. Jason Allen (NZl), McGuire Pro Cycling

69. Ben Brooks (Aus), Jelly Belly-Pool Gel

70. Todd Herriott, Colavita-Sutter Home

71. Patrick McCarty, Discovery

72. Richard England (Aus), Advantage Endeavour

73. Jonny Sundt, Jittery Joe's

74. Tim Johnson, Jittery Joe's

75. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre Caffita

76. Glenn Fant, Team Monex

77. Bryan Smith, TIAA CREF

78. Bobby Julich, Team CSC

79. Dan Bowman, TIAA CREF

80. Kirk O'Bee, Navigators Insurance

81. Ryan Dewald, Snow Valley-Seal On

82. Danny Pate, Jelly Belly-Pool Gel

83. Devon Vigus, McGuire Pro Cycling

84. Colin Beardsley, McGuire Pro Cycling

85. Scott Zwizanski, Kodak Sierra Nevada

86. Remi McManus, Subway-Express

87. Marc Collard, Webcor

88. Bernard Van Ulden, Webcor

89. Gert Steegmans (B), Davitamon Lotto

90. James Mattis, Webcor

91. Brice Jones, Jelly Belly-Pool Gel

92. Tim Duggan, TIAA CREF

93. Mike Norton, NERAC.COM

94. Todd Cornelius, Subway-Express

95. Josh Carter, Subway-Express

96. Allen Johansen (Dk), Team CSC

97. Chris Wherry, Health Net-Maxxis

98. Ivan Dominguez (Cub), Health Net-Maxxis

99. Eddy Hilger, Advantage Endeavour

100. Tim Larkin, Kodak Sierra Nevada

101. Francisco Ventoso (Spa), Saunier Duval

102. Erik Saunders, McGuire Pro Cycling

103. Siro Camponogara (I), Navigators Insurance

104. Adam Livingston, Team Seasilver

105. Lucas Euser, Webcor, at 0:37

106. John Kelly, Webcor

107. Peter Baker, Snow Valley-Seal On

108. Trent Lowe (Aus), Jittery Joe's

109. Craig Lewis, TIAA CREF

110. Chris Frederick, Aerospace Engineering

111. John Delong, Snow Valley-Seal On

112. Lief Hoste (B), Discovery

113. Josh Goodwin, Team Monex, at 0:46

114. Jonathan Page, Colavita-Sutter Home

115. Ivan Ravaioli (I), Saunier Duval

116. Ruben Lobato (Spa), Saunier Duval

117. Mark McCormack, Colavita-Sutter Home, at 0:56

118. David McCook, Jelly Belly-Pool Gel, at 1:08

119. Glen Mitchell (NZl), Kodak Sierra Nevada

120. Paul Manning (GB),, at 1:18

121. Aaron Olsen, Colavita-Sutter Home

122. Andy Jacques-Maynes, Webcor, at 1:53

123. Shawn Milne, Navigators Insurance, at 1:56

124. Matt Dubberley, McGuire Pro Cycling

125. Zach Walker, McGuire Pro Cycling

126. Hayden Godfrey (NZl), Kodak Sierra Nevada, at 2:06

127. Michael Creed, Discovery

128. Matty Rice (Aus), Jelly Belly-Pool Gel, at 2:19

129. Rob Hayles (GB),

130. Caleb Mannion (Aus), Jelly Belly-Pool Gel, at 2:34

131. Davide Frattini (I), Colavita-Sutter Home, at 2:44

132. Brent Brookwalter,, Advantage Endeavour, at 2:47

133. Ben Greenwood (GB),

Did Not Finish

Michael Beers, Snow Valley-Seal On

Aaron Brown, NERAC.COM

Nathaniel Cornelius, Subway-Express

Ari De Wilde, NERAC.COM

Christopher Deluise, Aerospace Engineering

Thad Dulin, Jittery Joe's

Evan Elken, Jittery Joe's

Peter Femal, Subway-Express

Roberto Gaggioli (I), Team Monex

Angel Gomez (Spa), Saunier Duval

Zachary Grabowski, TIAA CREF

John Hanson, NERAC.COM

Ben Jacques-Maynes, Kodak Sierra Nevada

Mike Jones, Health Net-Maxxis

Roman Kilun, McGuire Pro Cycling

Michael Lange, TIAA CREF

Russell Langley, Snow Valley-Seal On

Jesse Lawler, Jittery Joe's

Victor Laza (Scg), Aerospace Engineering

Andreas Matzbacher (A), Lampre Caffita

Gennady Mikhaylov (Rus), Discovery

Hugh Moran, Aerospace Engineering

Eric Murphy, Aerospace Engineering

Garret Peltonen, Advantage Endeavour

Dario Pieri (I), Lampre Caffita

Oscar Pineda (Gua), NERAC.COM

Marco Pinotti (I), Saunier Duval

Cody Powell, NERAC.COM

Daniel Ramsey, Team Seasilver

Mike Sayers, Health Net-Maxxis

Neil Shirley, Team Seasilver

Shaun Snodden (GB),

Burke Swindlehurst, Team Seasilver

Zachary Taylor, TIAA CREF

Jurgen Vandenbroeck (B), Discovery

David Werling, NERAC.COM

Ryan Yee, Team Seasilver