By Neal Rogers
Saturn’s Anna Millward, two-time overall winner of the HP Women’sChallenge (1996 & 2000), won the Lowman to Stanley road race Sunday, out sprinting a select group of general classification contenders for her first sprint victory of the 2002 season.
In nearly perfect weather conditions and mild wind, the 56.6-mile stage with a lone saw tooth-shaped profile guaranteed action, delivering over 3000 feet of climbing in the opening 33 miles. Once over the 7000-foot elevation Banner Pass, the course flattened out, with a long, gentle straightaway descent into the small alpine valley town of Stanley.
As the peloton wound its way up the climb, Rona’s Manon Jutras drove a pace that quickly trimmed down the peloton. At 28 miles in, 45 riders remained; at the summit five miles later, a select group of 14 were left. Jutras had popped off, leaving behind teammate Genevieve Jeanson, Lithuanian National’s twin sisters Rasa and Jolanta Polikeviciute, British National’s Caroline Alexander and Rachel Heal, Itera’s Valentina Polkhanova, Saturn’s Judith Arndt and Kimberly Bruckner, T-Mobile’s Amber Neben, Boise’s Stacey Peters, Goldy’s Kristin Armstrong, and three from Canadian National — Sue Palmer-Komar, Cybil Diguistini, and defending race champion Lyne Bessette.
Once the group crested the hill and began the long descent, T-Mobile’s Mari Holden, Lara Ruthven and Kim Anderson led a 15-woman chase, aided by Saturn’s Petra Rossner and Millward. Also in the chase were Jutras and Lithuanian National’s Diana Ziliute. Slowly they reeled in the leaders, making time over the 8-mile descent, until they were reunited at mile 41.
The reunion didn’t last long however, as Millward immediately initiated an attack, quickly joined by Bessette and Rasa Polikeviciute. Once they were brought back in, another Saturn attack followed — this time it was Rossner initiating and Ziliute making the jump, and once again the others followed behind.
With 25 km to go a cross-headwind began to pick up, and it seemed as if the 29-woman group might ride it in together for a bunch sprint, until Bessette led out an eight-rider break that quickly gained 15 seconds over an unorganized pack. Included in what would become the final break were Rasa, Jeanson, Bessette, Armstrong, Bruckner, Neben, Polkhanova and Millward.
The group of eight worked together to stretch the gap to 46 seconds — with the exception of Neben, who sat on while her T-Mobile teammates again drove the chase.
With five kilometers left, Saturn used its numerical advantage, launching first Bruckner, then Millward, and then Bruckner again until it stuck. Bruckner got clear, opening a gap that was nearly 20 seconds before Neben, then Bessette stepped up to bring her in.
“Amber sat on the whole way,” Millward said. “She chased [Bruckner] for 2 [kilometers] but wasn’t going to be able to get there, so then Lyne jumped across to Kimberly, and we got to her with one [kilometer] to go, and then I basically waited for the sprint.”
The two that had to bring Bruckner back — Neben and Bessette — both then lost time in the finish, drained from the effort into the wind. Neben finished 8 seconds back of Millward, who easily won the sprint ahead of Polikeviciute; Bessette finished a full 22 seconds back.
“For me it was a mistake when I bridged to Kimberly,” Bessette told VeloNews at the post-race award ceremonies. “I should have waited and let somebody else do it. Bu you never know, and I killed myself pretty much, and when they counter-attacked me I was in the wind and tired.”
For current world road champion Polikeviciute, who, while tied with Millward in the GC now sits in second overall (narrowly decided by one individual point), the role of runner-up has its shortcomings. “I finished second here [in Stanley] last year,” the rainbow jersey said with a shrug of the shoulders, adding that she finished the H.P. third overall last year as well.
“That’s the first sprint win I’ve had all year,” a smiling Millward said. “I was really scared of that climb, but it wasn’t too awful.”
Monday’s stage, a relatively flat 40 km individual time trial, should shake up the overall standings and identify those who truly have form to contend for the leader’s jersey.
The revelation of today’s race was Boise local Kristin Armstrong, racing for Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro. A former professional triathlete who competed at the 2000 Olympic Trials, Armstrong is in only her first year of bike racing.
“I was psyched to be in the initial break,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “I never felt like I was in trouble. Once I’d crested the hill I knew that I was safe. When the second break happened, I took a look and saw who I was with, and was excited. I felt so honored to be in the winning break with the top women in the world.”
When asked how she feels about Monday’s time trial, Armstrong liked her odds, pointing out that the 40km TT is essentially the bike leg of an Olympic distance triathlon.
Rona’s “the-future-is-now” 20-year-old sensation Genevieve Jeanson sits in fourth overall, just seven seconds down in her first Women’s Challenge. After two stages, Jeanson leads Millward in the overall points competition, has a solid hold on the mountain sprint competition, and has a virtual lock on the Best Young Rider’s jersey. The 105-pound climber rode stage two’s 5% climb primarily using a 53:21 chain ring combination.
Saturn’s Petra Rossner, the race leader this morning, finished within the chase group, 51 seconds back, and now sits ninth overall.
Stage Two Results
1. Anna Millward, Saturn, 56.6 miles in 2:35:29 (21.84 mph)
2. Rasa Polikeviciute, Lithuanian National, s.t.
3. Valentina Polkhanova, Itera, s.t.
4. Kristin Armstrong, Goldy’s, s.t.
5. Genevieve Jeanson, Rona, at 0:04.
6. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 0:06.
7. Amber Neben, T-Mobile, at 0:08.
8. Lyne Bessette, Canadian National, at 0:22.
9. Diana Ziliute, Lithuanian National, at 0:51.
10. Jolanta Polikeviciute, Lithuanian National, s.t.
11. Judith Arndt, Saturn, s.t.
19. Petra Rossner, Saturn, s.t.
27. Mari Holden, T-Mobile, s.t.
29. Caroline Alexander, British National, s.t.
HP Women’s Challenge Overall GC, after two stages
1. Anna Millward, Saturn, 5:24:50.
2. Rasa Polikeviciute, Lithuanian National, s.t.
3. Valentina Polkhanova, Itera, at 0:06.
4. Genevieve Jeanson, Rona, at 0:07.
5. Kristin Armstrong, Goldy’s, at 0:09.
6. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 0:16.
7. Amber Neben, T-Mobile, at 0:18.
8. Lyne Bessette, Canadian National, at 0:28.
9. Petra Rossner, Saturn, at 0:51.
10. Diana Ziliute, Lithuanian National, at 0:55.
11. Jolanta Polikeviciute, Lithuanian National, at 0:57.
12. Sarah Ulmer, New Zealand National, at 0:58.