with Photo Essay by Casey Gibson
By Rob Coppolillo, VeloNews correspondent
Valley of the Sun has grown into the American racing season’s “opening day.” The warm Arizona weather, relatively flat terrain and consistently enjoyable racing has made it a natural for early season race miles in preparation for the California races in March.
This year’s edition, however, won’t be remembered for Chris Wherry’s (Mercury) overall victory, or another dominating ride by Rona’s Genevieve Jeanson. Instead, controversy plagued the event from the start of the professional men’s road race, Saturday afternoon in Casa Grande, south of Phoenix.
Two words: Mercury, Jeanson
The 12-mile women’s time trial was just the latest chapter in what will soon be known as the “Jeanson Era.” Though at 20 years old, it’s easy to talk of Genevieve as the future of the sport, the real story is, she has arrived and is already one of the strongest women in the world. Only her teammate, Manon Jutras (Rona) could keep the gap within a minute, ticking a time 54 seconds slower than Jeanson’s 25:42.41.
“I had a 53×11,” said Jeanson, “but I didn’t use it. I just rode the fastest gears.”
The relatively calm conditions made for a pure test in both the men’s and women’s fields. Jeanson threw down, per usual, and with names like Liz Emery (New Mexico Velos) a full 1:13 in arrears, we can reasonably call the young Quebecois the favorite for Redlands and Sea Otter. Missing, though, were the Saturn powerhouses of Kim Bruckner and Lyne Bessette, so until they arrive, Jeanson should have a cruise.
Mercury annihilated the field, taking first through fourth. Unless you knew Mercury’s Gord Fraser had trained well over 100 hours in January and February, it might’ve been a surprise that he smoked the field, clocking a 23:05.85 ahead of teammates, Henk Vogels, Chris Wherry and Scott Moninger. Only Prime Alliance’s Svein Tuft disrupted Mercury’s plan, arriving fifth, at 19 seconds.
One word: drama
Saturday’s road race on the picturesque, 16.7-mile Casa Grande loop started off under blue skies and warm sunshine. Everything looked set to make a great day.
Jeanson gave the women a hard time from the get-go. Around the flat portion of the loop the field relaxed, but up the gradual (big-ring) hill to the finish, Jeanson pushed the pace, dropping several riders and putting even some stronger ones like Laryssn Staley (Saturn Development) into difficulty. By lap 2, Jeanson had left the field with two teammates—Karen Bockel and Hannos—and the tenacious Rhonda Quick (Giro Sportiva) in tow.
Jeanson took the first Queen of the Mountain, never looked back and with some help made her break stick. Quick would hold on until the last lap and eventually concede 2:53 at the finish. Bockel and Jutras took the top stairs on the day, with Jeanson pumping her fist as they crossed the line as a blue-clad trio.
The men’s race didn’t unfold so smoothly. From the first lap the race degenerated into a fiasco. The category II men started several minutes behind and as is often the case raced faster on the opening laps than the pro-Is. As the IIs closed on the Mercury-led field, a motor marshal arrived at the head of the field and reported the situation to race leader Gord Fraser, then indicated they should “ride faster.” Fraser apparently didn’t like the suggestion and responded.
Accounts of what happened next differ. Fraser, and several riders who were near him at the time of the incident, say he answered sternly, “Oh, you’re going to tell us how to race now?” USCF representative told another story, however, and claim Fraser used vulgar and abusive language. He was subsequently DQ’ed from the race, and under USCF rules could’ve been suspended—which he was not.
The problems didn’t end there. The category 2s did eventually catch the field at one point, and the two fields together made for a nearly 250-rider group on the road. The Casa Grande loop travels over a state highway and through an Indian reservation as well. Factor in that it was an important Native American holiday yesterday for the Sacaton Nation, and in years past there have been multiple DUI’s during the race, and one can understand the officials’ nervousness.
In short, over 30 riders in the pro field were eventually disqualified for center-line violations including Mercury’s Henk Vogels (second on GC), Saturn’s Jay Sweet, and 7-Up/Nutra Fig’s John Lieswyn. Perhaps most controversially, the majority of those riders were not informed during the event and though Fraser arrived first at the end of 100.2 miles, he was not scored and Saturn’s Chris Fisher was awarded the win.
Mercury on the ropes, Jeanson up the road
Mercury’s hold on the race had weakened considerably. Wherry now led on GC and he reluctantly donned the leader’s jersey heading into the criterium. Fisher had gained a valuable time bonus from his “stage win” the day prior and now occupied second overall, ahead of Moninger. Mercury played defensively, while Prime Alliance and Navigators looked for a stage win.
A few minor breaks gained small advantages, most notably Peter Mazur’s late-race move with three laps to go. Navigators, however, had started their leadout train for Todd Littlehales two laps prior. Mazur quickly came back and with one to go Prime Alliance bum-rushed the front. Alex Candelario, Dave McCook and Jonas Carney hoped to thwart the Navigators’ superior numbers and ironically, both squads petered out on the back side.
“McCook died at about the figure-eight,” Carney reported. “then I realized I’d have to do it myself. The Navigators were going good. Danny Pate was on Littlehales’ wheel, so he let me in.”
Littlehales led Carney through the last corner, but Carney jumped over the outside and won by a bike. Mercury’s strong man, Bulgarian Plamen Stoianov, plucked second ahead of Littlehales.
Wherry kept the leader’s jersey for Mercury, remarking, “I feel like an Australian short track skater.”
Teammate Gord Fraser stood nearby and quipped, “I feel like a Canadian ice dancer!”
Whatever the situation, Mercury had tallied another win for its 2002 season and no matter the disqualifications looked to be “the” team for the California races over the next month.
The women’s criterium, just over 30 minutes long, proved to be another Jeanson exercise. She hung out through the race, making a few preliminary moves, but waited until three laps to go to escape with teammate Hannos, and Jennifer Franklin (Velo Allegro).
Franklin faltered the next lap and that left the two Rona riders to claim 1-2. Jeanson took the overall and looks forward to the upcoming NRC races.
Time trial, 12 miles, Feb. 15
Men: 1. Fraser, 23:05.85; 2. Vogels, at 0:09; 3. Wherry, at :15; 4. Moninger, at 0:16; 5. Tuft, at :19; 6. Zaijcek, Phil, at 0:25, Mercury; 7. Ziewacz, Doug, at 0:27, 7-Up/Nutra Fig; 8. Pate, Danny, at 0:34, Prime Alliance; 9. Mazur, Peter, at 0:43, Kissena; 10. Fisher, Chris, at 0:43, Saturn.
Women: 1. Jeanson, 25:42.41; 2. Jutras, at 0:54; 3. Emery, at 1:13, New Mexico Velo; 4. Choo, Patricia, at 1:26, Swami’s Cycling; 5. Staley, Laryssn, at 1:29, Saturn Development; 6. Hammos, Andrea, at 1:31, Rona; 7. Armstrong, Kristin, at 1:38, Goldy’s; 8. Bergeson, Alison, at 1:43, RMCC; 9. Jarvis, Amy, at 1:46, Rona; 10. Hammer, Sarah, at 2:01, Diet Rite.
Casa Grande Road Race, Feb. 16.
Men: 1. Fisher, 100.2 miles in 4:22.40; 2. Petersen, Soren, (Saturn) same time; 3. Walters, Mark (Navigators), s.t.; 4. Wherry, s.t.; 5. Hartley, Chad (cbike.com), s.t.; 6. Mazur, Peter (Kissena), s.t.; 7. Erker, Jacob (Pharmacia), s.t.; 8. Knudsen, Pete (Schroeder Iron), s.t.; 9. Price, Scott (Landis/Trek/VW), s.t.; 10. Littlehales, Todd (Navigators), s.t.
Women: 1. Bockel, 83.5 in 2:43.47; 2. Jarvis, same time; 3. Jeanson, s.t.; 4. Quick (Giro Sportiva), at 2:53; 5. Cowden, Dotsie (U.S. National), at 4:38; 6. Wilson, Jennifer (Mt. Velo/Supergo), same time; 7. Gonzalez, Gabriela (Amoroso), s.t.; 8. McFall, Jeanne (Goldy’s/Saffron), s.t.; 9. Armstrong, s.t.; 10. Durand, Deborah (Helen’s/Trek/VW), s.t.s
Criterium, Feb. 17
Men: 1. Carney, Jonas (Prime Alliance), 1:10.05; 2. Stoianov, Plamen (Mercury), same time; 3. Littlehales, s.t.; 4. Sayers, s.t.; 5. Herbold, David (Landis/Trek/VW), s.t.; 6. Paolinetii, Jamie (Schroeder Iron), s.t.; 7. Barrett, Ryan (Schroder Iron), s.t. 8. Brownwell, Eric (Honeywell), s.t.; 9. Horowitz, Keith (Velo Pasadena), s.t.; 10. Erker, s.t.
Women: 1. Hannos, 35:39; 2. Jeanson, same time; 3. Franges, Lauren (Amoroso), at 0:17; 4. Hammer, same time; 5. Bockel, s.t.; 6. Downey, Laura (Pasadena Athletic), s.t.; 7. Durand, s.t.; 8. Yeung, Alexandra (Amoroso), s.t.; 9. Fisher, Kirstin (Team Cricket), s.t.; 10. Choo, s.t.
Men: 1. Wherry, 5:32.45; 2. Fisher, at 0:13; 3. Moninger, at 0:16; 4. Tuft, at 0:19; 5. Zajicek, at 0:25; 6. Stoianov, at 0:34; 7. Mazur, at 0:43; 8. Pate, at 0:49; 9. Sayers, at 0:57; 10. Wells, Todd (Mongoose), at 1:09.
Women: 1. Jeanson, 3:44.48; 2. Jarvis, at 2:28; 3. Bockel, at 3:30; 4. Quick, at 6:26; 5. Jutras, at 6:29; 6. Armstrong, at 7:03; 7. Emery, at 7:10; 8. Choo, at 7:23; 9. Bergeson, at 7:40; 10. DiGuistini, at 7:58.