By Neal Rogers
The 2002 Solano Bicycle Classic ended with a criterium stage Saturday, and once again, Prime Alliance celebrated as Chris Horner took the overall winner’s spot on the podium, as his teammate Jonas Carney took the stage.
“I did the California triple,” a pleased Horner declared, referring to his March victories at Redlands, Sea Otter, and now Solano. Also celebrating a California triple were the Saturn women, who, with Judith Arndt and Lyne Bessette, collectively monopolized the women’s overall. While Saturn’s Ina Teutenberg took the day by winning the final stage.
From the go, Horner was up at the front Saturday, marking every attack, including multiple attempts by Saturn’s Trent Klasna.
“With the mess up with the TT bike yesterday…had that not happened I would’ve sealed the deal and I could have raced today full throttle,” Horner said. “Instead I had to be a little careful. The gaps were too close with the time bonuses.”
The time bonuses of eight, five, and three seconds at both the halfway mark and the finish line offered the real theater of the day, as the top five placements coming into the crit were separated by only 49 seconds. Mercury’s Chris Wherry sat 10 seconds down on Horner, while time trial winner Eric Wohlberg (Saturn), Prime Alliance threat Danny Pate, and 7UP-Nutra Fig’s veteran John Lieswyn sat further down, all separated by a mere six seconds.
The first time bonus sprint was taken by Prime Alliance’s ace sprinter Carney, who was sent up with the directive to keep the time out of the hands of Wohlberg or Lieswyn. He succeeded in his attempt, but showed character, expressing mixed emotions about the consequences.
“We were told to try to make sure that Wherry or Lieswyn couldn’t get it, because Wherry could possibly catch Chris [Horner] and Lieswyn could catch Danny Pate,” Carney said. “So I just went up there to try to make sure that those guys didn’t win it, and the next thing I know, I’m sprinting against Lieswyn [as well as Wohlberg], and I didn’t want to be doing that. I wanted to have a few sprinters up there, so nobody got any.
“Lieswyn was only one second behind Danny, so all he needed to get in was top three in that sprint. Even if I beat him, he’s going to beat Danny, so there was no point in me sprinting him. I feel bad, because John’s a friend of mine. I should have just let him have it, but the whole time I was sprinting, I thought maybe guys were going to come from behind. I was just doing my job, and I’m not that good at doing math when I’m sprinting.”
However, Carney’s oversight was immaterial compared to the error Wherry made by pulling into the race pit early on to change what he believed to be a slow leaking rear wheel. Unfortunately, upon inspection, race officials found the tire to be holding air and didn’t allow Wherry a free lap, thereby removing his chances for an overall podium spot.
“The course was bumpy,” Wherry explained. “I thought I was getting a slow leak. It was an honest mistake. The tire looked soft and felt spongy. There had already been four or five crashes, and I didn’t want to find myself on the deck. When I went into the pit and felt the tire, I just thought ‘Oh, no, it’s not that soft.’”
Mercury’s Team Director Thurlow Rogers kept a positive outlook over the episode.
“It was just a racing mistake,” he said. “One of these corners had a dip in on it, and a little bit of crap on the road, and he was sliding a bit. He checked with the guys, and the guys weren’t sure or couldn’t give him a definitive answer, so he went into the pit, and they disallowed it. It’s not like he tried to cheat or anything like that — it wasn’t a malicious effort. It was just a mistake. What can you do?
“The officials made a call on what they saw, and I can’t disagree with it. The air didn’t go down. They held judgment to give the wheel time to go down, and I asked the officials to make a call before the halfway [time] bonus sprint, because if we were going for the bonus sprint, we were going for the win. And if he’d lost it and we were going to be disallowed the lap, then what’s the point in risking our team for the bonus sprint? As it turned out, the tire didn’t go any further down.”
As the field entered the final lap, Mercury struggled to get their ace sprinter Gord Fraser to the front to salvage a stage win for the day. Yet Prime Alliance had their own agenda, ambushing Mercury on the last lap to bring Carney to the line first, for his fifth win on the season. Fraser would have to settle for third
“We got together there, with two and a half laps to go, maybe a little early,” a frustrated Fraser recounted. “We kind of messed it up when Prime Alliance surged us right on the line with one lap to go. We got boxed in on the exit of the first turn, and we all came apart and we lost it there. The speed was too high to come back at them.
“I was fifth wheel on the last turn, and fought back for third. It was about the best I could have done.”
In front of Fraser but behind Carney, was 7UP’s Greg Henderson, who has found his early season form, as evidenced by his eighth place in Friday’s time trial while working for Lieswyn. His team rode an impressive race, taking second in the team overall, and landing three riders in the top eleven. As for their highest placed rider Lieswyn, he would have liked to see a few things end differently this weekend.
“There were some nasty crashes today, and I was sad to see lose my teammate Doug [Ziewacz] suffer a broken collarbone. It’s the last race of the California swing and you just wish everybody could stay upright for it.
“We’ve got a battle going on with Gord [Fraser], man. He took out Charles’ [Dionne] wheel quite forcefully on the last sprint. Gord would say that’s just sprinting, but, you know, it’s turning into a bit of a battle. I hope it’s a straight up battle of strength, but it’s unfortunate if it turns into something more dangerous than that. “I feel kind of ambivalent about being in the top three overall, because of what happened to Wherry. I’m not sure what happened, but that guy’s a straight shooter — he doesn’t cheat. So whatever happened to him in the pit, I feel really bad that he’s not top three.”
Wohlberg, finding himself buped up to second overall, shared Lieswyn’s sentiments.
“We had some bad luck Thursday, but we had some good luck today with Wherry being regulated,” Wohlberg said. “I don’t like to see a guy lose his G.C. position on a technical call like that, but maybe that was a bit of good luck to compensate for the bad luck we’d had.
“I feel bad for Chris. I mean, that’s not the way I want to move my way up the G.C., but I was happy about how I moved in to third, because that was a good time trial that got me there.”
Losing Wherry’s hard-earned podium position was a hard blow, but Rogers finds reassurance in the promise of his talented squad.
“Hey, we won team, we won points,” he said. “Luck is going to turn for us. We’ve had so much bad luck, it’s going to turn. It has to turn.”
Wherry took comfort in the fact that he rode as strong as anyone there.
“It’s not like coming into the pit gave me any advantage,” he said. “I think I showed I was one of the strongest riders out there. I mean, I stayed with Horner on the climb [Thursday].”
As for Horner, the former Mercury rider who is, in March alone, already enjoying the best season of his career — he’s all smiles.
“As soon as Wohlberg went off the front, my team was off the front — 10 seconds later, not three laps later,” Horner said. “This team is gelling so well already, it’s just amazing. It’s such a new team, there are so many young riders, and we’re already coming together. It’s unbelievable.”
Carney, a bike racer for over 12 years, feels the same.
“It’s been a great month for us,” he said. “We’ve pretty much gone undefeated. I don’t think anybody on our team, or the management, could’ve imagined dominating this much. I’ve got to hand it to Chris Horner. He’s by far the best rider in the peloton, in terms of strength, but he’s also got seven guys at every stage race ready to die for him. I’m so happy to be with this group of riders.”
In the women’s criterium the most remarkable happening came courtesy of a pair of rabbit ears. Not antennae, but actual fuzzy Easter Bunny ears that emerged from the race helmet of Saturn’s star sprinter Teutenberg.
As noteworthy as the ears were when Teutenberg was called out at the start line to a welcoming crowd, they were even more so as she sailed across the finish line solo, half a lap ahead of the field, arms (and ears) reaching toward the sky.
Also notable was Judith Arndt’s unexplained bike change, behind Teutenberg but far ahead of the otherwise uneventful field, with one lap to go. Saturn team mechanics, as well as officials, seemed equally puzzled by the bike change.
“I just had to change my bike,” Arndt offered simply. “It didn’t work.”
While starting the day nine seconds down on teammate Lyne Bessette, Arndt’s second place on the stage combined with her time bonuses edged Bessette out of the top G.C. by a mere five seconds. Bessette didn’t seem to be overly concerned about it.
“Saturn is on the podium, first, second, and third,” Bessette said. “That’s the only thing we wanted, and that’s what we got. It’s been a perfect day— a perfect three days.”
Perfect for Saturn, however, in their total dominance over the domestic scene, the Saturn women are making it tough for the competition to challenge. In fact, Joanne Kiesanowski‘s criterium third-place finish was the first and only non-Saturn showing on the podium over the three-day event.
Susan Palmer-Komar [Talgo America] seemed somewhat indifferent about the dubious honor of being the top overall non-Saturn woman.
“I was the top non-Saturn,” she joked. “The first loser.”
“We tried in the road race on Thursday. After Lyne and Judith got away, Susy [Pryde, Talgo America] and I and two other girls were pulling, and we weren’t sitting up. The hardest thing for us was that we were pulling really hard from that second climb to the third climb and Kim Bruckner sat on, obviously, with her two teammates up the road. Nobody had any problems with that, but when she attacked us on the last hill, that kind of bothered us, because now they’re going to take 1-2-3, and she sat on.
“What can we say? We’ve just got to ride stronger.”
SOLANO BICYCLE CLASSIC;
Fairfield, CA, March 28-30; Criterium, 12.2 miles; Men:; 1. Jonas Carney, Prime Alliance, 1:30:15; 2. Greg Henderson, 7UP/Nutra Fig; 3. Gord Fraser, Mercury; 4. Charles Dionne, 7UP/Nutra Fig; 5. Chad Gerlach, Sierra Nevada, all same time; Final Overall;1. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance, 5:28:37; 2. Eric Wohlberg, Saturn, at 0:40; 3. John Lieswyn, 7UP/Nutra Fig, at 0:44; 4. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance, at 0:48; 5. Derek Brouchard-Hall, Mercury, at 1:23; Women:;1. Ina Tuetenberg, Saturn, 1:01:01; 2. Judith Arndt, Saturn, at 0:27; 3. Joanne Kiesanowski, Diet Rite, at 0:38; 4. Tina Mayolo-Pic, Diet Rite; 5. Tania Duff-Miller, Freddie Fu Cycling Team, all same time; Final Overall;1. Judith Arndt, Saturn, 4:08:08; 2. Lyne Bessette, Saturn, at 0:04; 3. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 4:52; 4. Susan Plamer-Komar, Talgo America, at 8:31; 5. Susy Pryde, Talgo America, at 8:55