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Pic nails women's race
By Lennard Zinn
After 31 laps on the challenging Laguna Seca raceway, after innumerable attacks by riders from all over the world on dozens of teams, three friends from the same town in Tasmania ended up taking the first three places in the SRAM Sea Otter men’s professional road race.
Already having wrapped up the king-of-the-mountains competition several laps earlier, Jelly Belly’s Matty Rice timed his last-lap move perfectly, replacing Caleb Manion, his teammate and longtime friend from Launceston, Australia, at the front and rolling across the line alone with a few seconds to spare over another friend from Launceston, Health Net’s Karl Menzies, who charged out of the chase group but ran out of road before the gap closed.
On a cool, sunny day with occasional strong winds, the field of about 100 tackled the 2.5-mile loop of the raceway, including the sharp wall of a climb on the backside followed by the spine-tingling drop down “The Corkscrew,” a zigzagging descent that has a world-class reputation in auto racing circles.
A rider without a team but with a strong pedigree, Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer appeared to be on good form and was a marked man throughout the race. He had been sick in March – nothing serious, just “the crud,” but he saw the illness as having been a good opportunity to come home and train and avoid the crashes his competition, including some compatriots, had been falling victim to in Europe. Although Leipheimer ended up not figuring in the final sprint, his efforts were decisive in the race, as he brought the group back together numerous times when other riders made adventuresome forays at the front.
The only one of those efforts to stick for some time was just after the midway point, when the field came back together for the points sprint with 15 laps to go after yet another unsuccessful breakaway attempt. Tucson trackie Curtis Gunn (Successful Living) jumped off the front alone on the final curve before the finish and just kept going after opening a big gap for the sprint points. He continued to press his advantage, opening it up to half a minute within a lap until a thirty-strong group led by Leipheimer, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Kodak Easy Share Gallery-Sierra Nevada) and Mike Sayers (Health Net-Maxxis) split the field and blew by Gunn after three and a half laps of freedom.
At just about this critical juncture, when the sustained pressure was shelling riders off the back, the alter-ego of the Tour de France devil abandoned them, perhaps throwing the race into even more disarray than Leiphemier’s thigh-burning pulls up the climb. The beautiful angel in white standing atop a Specialized van throwing kisses to the riders at the climb’s summit disappeared, perhaps due to the strong, chill wind on her huge wings, right when they needed her encouragement the most.
Maybe that’s what did in Jacques-Maynes, who fell victim to an asthma attack, and Health Net’s Tim Johnson, who dropped off complaining of severe back pain. Unfazed by the angel’s absence, though, a group of five went up the road, with a few more riders bridging alone over the ensuing laps. At the front of the group were two Jelly Bellys, but they were getting little help from the others in the lead group including two Spanish riders from Team Orbea and eventually eased off. With seven laps to go and the gap at 25 seconds, Leipheimer’s jump on the hill shredded the chase pack and brought the breakaway back. At six laps to go, six riders were closing to an 18-strong lead group that included Leipheimer, and the attacks were coming fast and furiously, particularly from the two SRAM-sponsored teams in the race, Team Orbea and Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, who were trying to win this SRAM-sponsored event in front of the company brass on their new SRAM road component groups. By the end of that lap, Rice had sewn up the KOM competition, as Adam Livingston (Successful Living), with whom he’d been tied on points, dropped out of the race.
With three laps to go, Health Net moved six riders to the front of the 30-strong front group on the lower flanks of the climb, and when the climb kicked up at the top, two of them, Menzies and 2005 Sea Otter champion Doug Ollerenshaw, jumped, paring the group down to 12, including five Orbeas, three Jelly Bellys: Manion, Rice and Andrew Bajadali (also riding Orbeas), Leipheimer and one Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, Jackson Stewart.
With a lap and a half to go, Manion attacked at the bottom of the corkscrew descent and got a big gap that continued to grow despite being chased by Health Net and Team Orbea. On the bell lap, Manion still had a gap at the top of the climb, and Orbea’s Alan Perez blew a gasket trying to jump across near the summit and dropped like a stone from the group. “Levi pulled over the top of the climb,” said Menzies, “and then I popped it on the downhill and got a gap and came up to Caleb.” Menzies and Manion, who along with Rice came up through the state training center system and have been riding and racing together for seven years, shared pulls until Leipheimer bridged up with Orbea’s Gustavo Dominguez and Rice. Just after his teammate had been absorbed, Rice attacked on a little rise on the long backstretch, about a kilometer from the line.
“It wasn’t that big of an attack,” said a frustrated Menzies, “it was just at the right time, and those two guys just sat there. I waited for them to pull, and finally Levi did pull all the way around the corner [the final left hairpin]. Then I went [on the sweeping right-hander before the finish], but it was too late. I was only a couple of seconds behind at the line [and Menzies was closing fast], but that’s racing.”
“It’s the worst place to be – second place,” continued the Health Net Tasmanian with the huge thighs, “we really wanted to win this race. We’ll get them at Tour of Georgia…”
Despite many hard efforts, Rice still had the legs it took to win. “We had to attack a lot to isolate Health Net and Kodak, because we just didn’t have the numbers,” said the lean Tasmanian winner. “The KOMs did not wear me out too much, because it’s hard for everybody, whether you’re attacking or not on the climbs.”
While Menzies may not have ended up with the victory he wanted, he and his two fellow Tasmanians most certainly gave a boost to the civic pride of Launceston on Saturday.
Tina Pic (Colavita/Cooking Light) made it look routine in easily taking the sprint by several bike lengths over Lauren Franges (Victory Brewing) after 21 laps on the Laguna Seca motorcar circuit. Pic stayed consistently near the front throughout the race; Webcor-Platinum, Victory Brewing and other teams attempted to get a gap on the backside climb, but Pic and her team were too strong and too attentive to let that happen.
“Nobody wanted to work with Tina when she’d get in the breakaways,” said Franges, “so it always came back together.”
Franges and her Victory Brewing teammates focused on winning the points competition, setting up Laura Yoisten to take the points sprints.
“Laura was spent [and dropped, after winning the points competition] from all of those sprints, so I was our team’s next best chance. I was in second place with 300 meters to go, and I started my sprint there, but Tina was just too fast. I am not particularly quick to accelerate, so I need a long sprint to get up to top speed.”
2006 SEA OTTER CLASSIC MEN’S PROFESSIONAL CIRCUIT RACE – LAGUNA SECA RACEWAY, APRIL 8
1. Matty Rice, Jelly Belly, 31 approximately 2.5-mile laps in 2:50:17
2. Karl Menzies, Health Net-Maxxis, at 0:03
3. Caleb Manion, Jelly Belly, at 0:05
4. Jackson Stewart, Kodak Easy Share Gallery-Sierra Nevada: 5. Gustavo Dominguez, Orbea, 6. Andrew Bajadali, Jelly Belly, all s.t.
7. Xabat Otxoterena, Orbea, at 0:06
8. Levi Leipheimer, Gerolsteiner, at 0:12
9. Iker Mezo, Orbea, at 0:39
10. Doug Ollerenshsaw, Health Net-Maxxis, at 0:45WOMEN
1. Tina Pic, Calavita-Cooking Light, 21 laps in 2:16:14
2. Lauren Franges, Victory Brewing
3. Dotsie Bausch, Calavita-Cooking Light
4. Rachel O’Connell, bicycle John’s
5. Christine Thorburn, Webcor-Platinum
6. Leigh Hobson, Victory Brewing
7. Brooke Miller, PABW
8. Anne Samplonius, Biovail
9. Sarah Bambeger, Cheerwine
10. Kristen Lasasso, Lipton, all s.t.