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By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
This early in the season, it can be considered either a major upset or a sign of things to come. Either way, Charles Dionne and his 7UP team will take it. The Canadian scored his first professional win Saturday, one day after his 22nd birthday, at stage 4 of the Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Redlands Downtown Criterium. With the help of his teammates, Dionne derailed the Mercury train on a blustery day in Southern California, giving 7UP a huge win to set the tone for its 2002 campaign.
The women’s race also saw a surprise victor, though not of the same shocker magnitude, when U.S. criterium champion Nicole Freedman overcame the Saturn machine to score her first win as a Rona team rider.
“My host family, they made a good [birthday] cake for me, that’s how I won,” said a jubilant Dionne after beating Mercury’s Gord Fraser at the end of the 90-minute men’s race that came down to a field sprint.
It would be easy to file the young Canadian’s win in the David versus Goliath category, but that wouldn’t do justice to the job done by 7UP. Though the squad was less visible than some big teams — Saturn, Mercury, Navigators and Prime Alliance included — it raced with an attacking style. John Lieswyn took turns at the front, and Greg Henderson helped Dionne in the final lap of the twisty 1-mile course that featured eight turns.
Boisterous fans left the sandals and sunglasses behind, opting instead for parkas and ski hats. Temperatures barely got out of the 40s, and the biting wind discouraged breakaway attempts. Still, the racing was heated and several attempts to escape were made, including several by last year’s overall winner Trent Klasna (Saturn), who was being closely watched by yellow jersey wearer Chris Horner (Prime Alliance).
A good chunk of the men’s field was left behind with the high speeds, and in the end the remaining field entered the final lap with Mercury at the front.
“There was lots of bumping,” Dionne said. “I was pushing into the top 10 and I had my teammate Greg Henderson in front.”
The final 500 meters of the course included five turns followed by an uphill sprint to the line. In the second-to-last corner, Dionne was behind Henderson and Fraser when he made his move. “They were looking at each other, so I just passed by and never looked back. I sprinted as hard as I could.”
Dionne, who is in his second year with 7UP, held off Fraser for the win. The French Canadian rider’s previous best result was when he won Tour de ’Toona as an amateur in 1998.
If early-season results are any indication, it could be an interesting year on the pro men’s circuit. No team has dominated yet, and Dionne said 7UP, for one, is a team that’s just getting started. “We’ve looked good in February and March, imagine what we’re going to do in June and July,” he said.
With only stage 5, the 88-mile Sunset Road Race remaining for Sunday, the men’s overall picture was unchanged by the criterium. Stage 3 winner Roland Green of the Canadian National team finished in the main group, as did race leader Horner.
It will be tough for Green to make up enough time on Sunday to beat Horner, but the hilly Sunset loop leaves plenty of room for shake-ups.
In addition to Green, Horner has Saturn to worry about on Sunday, with Soren Petersen third, one minute down, and defending Redlands champion Trent Klasna fourth, at 1:14. Right behind those two is the aggressive and on-form David Zabriskie of U.S. Postal, who will also be in the hunt for the overall.
The Saturn women controlled almost every lap of the women’s race but the one that counted. A clipped pedal and a crash in the first turn of the final lap threw a wrench into things, and for Nicole Freedman, a slightly open door is all it takes.
Wearing the stars-and-stripes of the national champion, the 2000 Olympian was hanging near the front all day, and even without the crash, she might have been able to handle Saturn’s speedsters Ina Teutenberg and Petra Rossner.
Freedman steered around the crash, but came out in bad shape. That’s when she got some help from her teammate Genevieve Jeanson. “She closed about a 10-meter gap for me, and at that point I knew I could get it,” Freedman said.
With three turns to go, Freedman came around the front, and on the uphill dash to the line, she was able to hold off Tina Mayolo-Pic of Diet Rite and Mexican rider Belem Guerrero.
Freedman’s win was some consolation for the Rona team one day after Jeanson lost the leader’s jersey to Saturn’s Judith Arndt on the Oak Glen road stage. “Last year everyone thought this was Genevieve’s team,” Freedman said, “so it’s neat to win as a team.”
With an overall lead of 6:18 heading into the final stage, it’s unlikely Arndt will relinquish the leader’s jersey, but with Rona riders Andrea Hannos and Jeanson in second and third, the team will race aggressively Sunday, said the team manager Andre Aubut.
REDLANDS BICYCLE CLASSIC, Redlands, CA. March 13-17.;;
1. Charles Dionne (Can), 7UP, 1:30:06; 2. Gord Fraser (Can), Mercury; 3. Miguel Meza (Mex), Team DARE; 4. Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal; 5. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance; 6. Greg Henderson (NZ), 7UP; 7. Damon Kluck, Saturn; 8. Hilton Clarke (Aus), Schroeder Iron; 9. Plamen Stoyanov, Mercury; 10. Kirk O’bee, Navigators, all s.t.;;
1. Horner, 7:49:37; 2. Roland Green (Can), Canadian National Team, at 0:34; 3. Soren Petersen (Dk), Saturn, at 1:00; 4. Trent Klasna, Saturn, at 1:14; 5. David Zabriskie, at 1:22.;;
1. Nicole Freedman, Rona, 59:06; 2. Tina Mayolo-Pic, Diet Rite; 3. Belem Guerrero (Mex), AC Mexiquence; 4. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn; 5. Katrina Berger, Cannondale-USA Cycling; 6. Genevieve Jeanson (Can), Rona; 7. Judith Arndt (G), Saturn; 8. Heather Cole, unattached; 9. Stacy Peters, Bianchi USA; 10. Sue Haywood, unattached, all s.t.;;
1. Arndt, 6:40:17; 2. Andrea Hannos (Can), Rona, at 6:18; 3. Jeanson, at 7:37; 4. Bessette, at 10:12; 5. Susy Pryde (NZ), TalgoAmerica, at 12:15.