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Tuft, Pic take wins at inaugural U.S Open

Heading into the inaugural U.S. Open Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia, a few names of race favorites were on everyone’s lips: Toyota-United strongmen Henk Vogels and Ivan Dominguez topped the list. Other riders, such as Health Net-Maxxis riders Karl Menzies and Kirk O’Bee and current NRC leader Ben Jacques-Maynes of Priority Health-Bissell were also tossed around. But in the end, two riders not considered favorites — Svein Tuft of Symmetrics and Patrick McCarty of Slipstream-Chipotle — turned the race upside down after forming a winning two-man breakaway more than 15 miles from

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Snowstorm snarls Virginia race

By Neal Rogers

Tuft takes the hard-fought win

Tuft takes the hard-fought win

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Heading into the inaugural U.S. Open Cycling Championships in Richmond, Virginia, a few names of race favorites were on everyone’s lips: Toyota-United strongmen Henk Vogels and Ivan Dominguez topped the list. Other riders, such as Health Net-Maxxis riders Karl Menzies and Kirk O’Bee and current NRC leader Ben Jacques-Maynes of Priority Health-Bissell were also tossed around.

But in the end, two riders not considered favorites — Svein Tuft of Symmetrics and Patrick McCarty of Slipstream-Chipotle — turned the race upside down after forming a winning two-man breakaway more than 15 miles from the finish of the 112-mile men’s race.

On the last of eight 5.5-mile circuits in downtown Richmond, Tuft attacked McCarty on the decisive cobbled climb up Libby Hill and opened a gap that the time-trial specialist held to the finish line. Behind, a fading McCarty struggled to hold off a hard-charging chase group to finish second by a bike length. Argentinean Alejandro Barrajo (Rite Aid), a former rider with the Italian Panaria squad, brought the group home for third.

In the women’s 27-mile circuit race, which shared some of the same roads as the men’s circuit, ageless Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home) won ahead of Advil-Chapstick teammates Jen McRae and Heather Labance.

And while Pic was an obvious pre-race favorite, perhaps Tuft and McCarty should also have been taken into consideration. McCarty, 25, rode for both Discovery Channel and Phonak before signing with Slipstream-Chipotle for 2007. Tuft, 29, who once rode with Prime Alliance, left the sport after the 2003 season but returned in 2005 with the Canadian Symmetrics squad, winning last year’s Canadian national time-trial championship.

He resumed his winning ways early this season, winning the 14-stage Tour of Cuba in February and the prologue at the Redlands Classic two weeks ago. Tuft considered those results to be highlights of his career, but he guessed Saturday’s win in Richmond topped the list.

“This year has probably seen the best results of my career,” Tuft said. “Then again, as a pro cyclist, we tend to have short memories. That way you forget about all the pain it takes to win.”

To race or not to race?
The men’s race, a stop on the international UCI Americas Tour and the national USA Cycling Pro Tour, began in colonial Williamsburg and followed a route along the historic Jamestown plantations and Civil War battlefields, ending with the technical circuits in downtown Richmond.

It was in some ways a minor miracle that the U.S. Open was run at all. Financial difficulties led to the resignation in late February of Tim Miller, the principal of race organizer Red Five Sports Group. Richard Durishin, president of Red Five, immediately handed over race direction to John Eustice, director of the Univest Grand Prix and the now-defunct Housatonic Classic.

Though the race never landed a crucial title sponsor, in the weeks leading up to the event Red Five signed Anheuser-Busch, which used the race to promote its Michelob ULTRA and Busch Gardens Europe. Still, in the days leading up to the event, Red Five announced that the total prize list had been reduced from $125,000 to just $40,000.

But management, sponsorship and prize money were far from riders’ minds at Saturday’s start in Williamsburg. Riders awakened to snow in Richmond, and after a 45-minute transfer to Williamsburg, the peloton faced not only heavy snow, but temperatures in the 20s and strong winds.

Some of the fans lining the race route seemed a little frosty

Some of the fans lining the race route seemed a little frosty

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The field was informed that the race had been delayed by an hour because the wintry weather had grounded the TV helicopters. The coverage they were to provide, to be broadcast nationally on NBC, fueled hopes the race would go on even as team directors spoke with race officials about the possibility of keeping their riders from starting.

“I think the teams that are riding the Tour de Georgia are concerned about the weather,” said Jelly Belly team director Danny Van Haute. “The teams that aren’t in Georgia want to race. Of course everyone is concerned about hypothermia. No one wants to catch a cold or be in the hospital after the race. Most managers are nominating a team captain. If something happens in the peloton those captains will control the peloton. They’re not going to stop.”

Some suggested skipping the 65 miles of flat roads from Williamsburg and racing the technical Richmond circuits. But with a 190-rider field, that proved an unpopular alternative.

“I agree taking it back to Richmond is a bad idea,” Van Haute said. “I think we’d rather have it split up before we get to Richmond.”

Racing at all seemed a bad idea, or at least an unappealing one, to some riders.

“Some people do well in these conditions,” said Toyota-United rider Ivan Dominguez. “Some people do all right in these conditions, and some people don’t do well at all in these conditions. I fall into the last group.”

Dominguez’s teammate Henk Vogels, a veteran of Belgian classics such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, said in Europe the race would likely be canceled.

“You can’t ride cobbles in the snow,” Vogels said. “They would cancel this, no question.”

Last year's race was held in epic conditions

Last year’s race was held in epic conditions

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“I wouldn’t mind if we didn’t race,” said national cyclo-cross and cross-country champion Ryan Trebon (Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada). “It’s four hours of suffering, and not fun suffering either. It’s just going to be physical and mental anguish.”

Pre-race pix

But Health Net-Maxxis team director Jeff Corbett said he thought it best for the sport and his team if the race went off as planned. With the prospect of two and a half hours of national network exposure for their sponsors, team staff felt backing out was not an option.

Whoops — wrong way

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“I agreed with the rider protests [over course safety] at Sea Otter [in 2003] and Pomona [in 2004],” Corbett said. “But no one wants to look like wimps on national television.”

Just as the race was set to begin at 9 a.m., officials announced the start would be delayed another 30 minutes. A chartered bus that brought riders from Richmond to the start in Williamsburg was retained to follow the race as a broom wagon.

When the peloton finally rolled out for a 3-mile neutral start, the drama of the weather and the anxiety of the delays turned to comedy as the field was directed the wrong way and the entire race caravan was forced to turn around at a dead end.

Then, as the race left Williamsburg, the skies cleared almost immediately, and within an hour riders were peeling off rain jackets and the surgical gloves they had wrapped around their cycling gloves.

“I’ve never started a race where it was snowing like that, that cold and windy,” Tuft said. “It was unreal.”

Wind and cobbles: Is this Virginia or Belgium?
During the flat slog from Williamsburg to Richmond, a brutal mix of headwinds and crosswinds, combined with temperatures in the low 40s, kept the peloton strung out.

Perennial attacker Jackson Stewart (BMC) launched the first in a series of breakaway attempts, but none gained more than 25 seconds as Toyota-United, Health Net-Maxxis and Slipstream-Chipotle manned the front. Splits in the peloton became common as echelons formed, but each time the field eased up the group came back together.

At mile 42 a potentially dangerous group formed as Stewart and teammate Mike Sayers attacked, joined by Slipstream’s Danny Pate and Timmy Duggan along with Health Net’s Frank Pipp, a recent Tour of Taiwan stage winner. Toyota missed the move, went to the front and reeled the break back in.

Johnson leads Tuft on an early trip up the big hill

Johnson leads Tuft on an early trip up the big hill

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

As the peloton approached Richmond a three-man break opened a small gap — Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Eric Boily (Equipe Vallee de L’Aluminium de Vinci) and Christian Valenzuela (Successful Living).

“My legs felt bad, so I attacked,” said Sundt. “I’m never one to sit around. It was a circuit that suited me, and I wanted to get to those cobbles first. You look at the kind of crap Americans do to be on TV, singing in front of that critical British guy [on “American Idol”]. All I had to do was attack.”

Navigators tackling the climb

Navigators tackling the climb

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

A crowd of several hundred cheered the break as it took a small gap over the top of Libby Hill, a short effort comparable to Philadelphia’s Lemon Hill, only covered with cobblestones instead of pavement.

Behind, the field shattered on the first trip up the cobbled climb, which organizers hope will help make the U.S. Open a North American version of a European spring classic, like Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. Indeed, the televised images of the peloton snaking its way up the cobbles very much resembled a scene from a Belgian classic.

A race of attrition
As the pace quickened and the peloton caught the breakaway, all hell broke loose. Both Vogels and Sayers punctured out of the pack, while Navigators Insurance rider Glen Chadwick crashed. Later, Pate crashed on a high-speed cobbled descent, and many riders were seen rubbing leg cramps induced by the extremes in both weather and tempo. Jacques-Maynes, who spent the week going into the race fighting off illness, punctured and abandoned soon after.

The next rider to strike out on his own was Colombian Gregorio Ladino Vega (Tecos). Ladino opened a maximum gap of 22 seconds, but Health Net’s Tim Johnson drove a single-file field, bringing the gap down to less than 10 seconds.

Next to charge out of the pack was Navigators rider Phil Zajicek, runner-up at the Redlands Classic to Andy Bajadali (Jelly Belly) two weeks earlier. Zajicek bridged up to Ladino Vega, helping the Colombian extend his lead from 6 seconds back to nearly 20 seconds. But back in the field Toyota-United’s Serbian national champion Ivan Stevic drove the chase and soon the front of the race was back together.

McCarty workin'  it

McCarty workin’ it

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“I was trying to force a bit of a selection,” Zajicek said. “I thought things would break up sooner. Maybe it was a little bit early to use so much energy, but I though it was a good opportunity. It was a tough race. I think everyone was so drained from the cold. It was a different style of racing because everyone was so destroyed.”

With five laps (27 miles) remaining, Successful Living’s Alessandro Bazzana leapt from the field, and soon he was joined by Vogels and Health Net’s Shawn Milne. Priority Health’s Garrett Peltonen attempted to bridge, but was hung out in no-man’s land before being swept up by the first chase group of approximately 50 riders. After more than five miles off the front Vogels and Milne eased off the pace, sensing the inevitable catch, but Bazzana charged on, digging deep before he too was absorbed.

With one to go, he's gone

With one to go, he’s gone

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

As the gray clouds cleared and the sun finally shone through, McCarty made what would prove to be the day’s decisive attack. The Austin, Texas, resident jumped the group before the uphill finish that aimed directly into a headwind.

At first it seemed that McCarty’s attack didn’t have the legs, as his advantage hovered at less than 10 seconds over a field that was dwindling as each mile ticked by. But after Tuft bridged across with 15 miles remaining, the pair worked well together and stretched out a 30-second gap over a seven-man chase group containing Dominguez, Johnson, Stewart, Valeriy Kobzarenko (Navigators Insurance), Trent Wilson (Jittery Joe’s), John Fredy Parra (Tecos) and Lucas Euser (Slipstream-Chipotle).

This time, the chase group would not succeed. With Euser sitting on and the rest of the break hesitant to drag Dominguez to the line, Tuft and McCarty maintained their advantage. With one lap to go the gap from the two breakaway riders to the seven-man chase group was 45 seconds. And even when a larger second chase group caught the first bunch, providing more horsepower, the impetus was lost.

“[Dominguez] had nothing left on the last lap but at that point, it didn’t make a difference any more,” said Toyota-United team director Harm Jansen. “The two guys up front were among the four or five strongest guys in the race and they were both from smaller teams. So when they got together, we had to do the chasing.”

As Johnson and Vogels drove the group into the last lap, Tuft was calculating his winning move. The Canadian had seen that McCarty, who is more of a pure climber, had been falling slightly off the pace each time over Libby Hill. The final time over the winding climb Tuft put in a massive attack, and the Slipstream rider had no response. After the race, a spent and shivering McCarty could barely speak.

“I knew he was stronger than me, and I think [Tuft] knew he was stronger than me,” McCarty said. “I was blacking out that whole last two or three kilometers. At the end I literally almost fell down. I could barely stay on the bike.”

Tuft, a burly and perpetually unshaven resident of Langley, British Columbia, who once rode a bike equipped with a trailer from Vancouver to Alaska and back, was overjoyed with the win.

“I was surprised the group behind never caught us, but it was a race of attrition,” Tuft said. “When it’s cold like that everyone is hurting and it comes down to who wants to suffer the most.”

Most riders agreed that for Tuft to win alone on such a difficult course proved that he was the strongest man of the day.

“Svein definitely earned the win today,” said Toyota-United’s Justin England. “He was super strong.”

Some top teams skip women’s race
Major women’s teams such as Webcor Builders, T-Mobile and Lipton were not in attendance in Richmond. Pic took the 27-mile circuit race in part because of the work done by her only two Colavita teammates in the race, Iona Wynter and Andrea Dvorak.

Wynter and Laura Bowles of Advil-Chapstick formed the day’s early move, putting the pressure on the Target Training women. Once back together, Dvorak led the group up the final climb — the women’s route did not include Libby Hill — and Wynter took over after the final corner. Wynter said that Dvorak hit it so hard up the final climb that she opened a substantial gap.

“One person we were wary of was Jen McRae [Advil-Chapstick],” Wynter said. “When she saw [Dvorak’s] gap she panicked, and she drilled it trying to get up there. I sat on her on the last corner and when I went to go for Tina, I think Jen panicked again and she went around too early into the wind. Tina just timed it perfectly.”

The overall purse for the event was $40,000 — $30,000 for the men’s race and $10,000 for the women. By contrast, the overall purse for the sporting event that followed the U.S. Open on NBC, the Santa Anita Derby horse race, had a purse of $750,000. The horse race was held under warm, sunny skies and lasted 1 and 1/8 miles.

Look for an in-depth profile on Tuft and Pic in VeloNews issue 7, on newsstands and in mailboxes April 23. — Editor

U.S. Open Cycling Championships
Williamsburg-Richmond, VA. April 7

1. Svein Tuft (Can), Symmetrics, 112mi in 4:19:10
2. Pat McCarty (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle, at 0:41
3. Alejandro Borrajo (Arg), Rite Aid, same time
4. Russell Downing (GB), Health Net-Maxxis, s.t.
5. Andrew Pinfold (Can), Symmetrics, s.t
6. John Fredy Celada Parra (Col), Tecos, s.t
7. Trent Wilson (Aus), Jittery Joes, s.t.
8. Viktor Rapinski (Blr) Navigators Insurance, s.t.
9. Alex Candelario (USA), Jelly Belly, s.t.
10. Valeriy Kobzarenko (Ukr), Navigators Insurance, s.t.

1. Tina Pic, Colavita-Sutter Home, 27 mi in 1:04.16
2. Jennifer Mcrae, Advil-Chapstick
3. Heather Labance, Advil-ChapStick
4. Erica Alla, Fuji-Salamander Racing
5. Jenette Williams, Hub Racing
6. Natalie Klemko, Advil-ChapStick
7. Emilie Roy, Specialized-Vinci-Menikini
8. Hiroko Shimada, Target Training Women’s Team
9. Robin Farina, Target Training Women’s Team
10. Laura Bowles, Advil-ChapStick

Photo Gallery


U.S. Open Cycling Championships

Williamsburg-Richmond, VA. April 7

1. Svein Tuft (Can), Symmetrics 4:19:10

2. Pat McCarty (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle, at

3. Alejandro Borrajo (Arg), Rite Aid, at 00:41

4. Russell Downing (GB), Health Net p/b Maxxis, at 00:41

5. Andrew Pinfold (Can), Symmetrics, at 00:47

6. John Fredy Parra Celada (Col), Tecos, at 00:58

7. Trent Wilson (Aus), Jittery Joe's, at 00:58

8. Viktor Rapinski (Blr), Navigators Insurance, at 00:58

9. Alex Candelario (USA), Jelly Belly, at 00:58

10. Valeriy Kobzarenko (Ukr), Navigators Insurance, at 00:58

11. Kirk Obee (USA), Health Net p/b Maxxis, at 01:02

12. Henk Vogels (Aus), Toyota-United, at 01:02

13. Phil Zajicek (USA), Navigators Insurance, at 01:02

14. Lucas Euser (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle,
at 01:02

15. Tim Johnson (USA), Health Net p/b Maxxis, at 01:02

16. Evan Elken (USA), Jittery Joe's, at 01:16

17. Jackson Stewart (USA), BMC Racing, at 01:37

18. Sean Sullivan (Aus), Toyota-United, at 01:46

19. Gregorio Ladino Vega (Col), Tecos, at 02:29

20. Ken Hanson (USA), BMC Racing, at 02:29

21. Chad Hartley (USA), BMC Racing, at 02:29

22. Jake Rytlewski (USA), Rite Aid, at 02:29

23. Dominique Rollin (Can), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada,
at 02:29

24. Davide Frattini (I), Colavita-Sutter Home
, at 02:29

25. Alessandro Bazzana (I), Team Successful Living, at 02:29

26. Shawn Milne (USA), Health Net p/b Maxxis, at 02:29

27. Ivan Stevic (Serb), Toyota-United, at 03:09

28. Ivan Dominguez (Cub), Toyota-United, at 03:28

29. Caleb Manion (Aus), Toyota-United, at 04:18

30. Tejay Van Garderen (USA), (USA), Cycling National Development
Team, at 04:32

31. Charles Dionne (Can), Colavita-Sutter Home
, at 04:32

32. Daniel Bowman (USA), Kelly Benefit/Medifast
Cycling, at 04:32

33. Jacob Rosenbarger (USA), BMC Racing, at 04:32

34. Dan Timmerman (USA), Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, at

35. Scott Zwizanski (USA), Priority Health-Bissell , at 04:40

36. Yosvany Falcon (Cub), AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork, at 04:40

37. Jason Donald (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle,
at 04:40

38. Frank Pipp (USA), Health Net p/b Maxxis, at 04:40

39. Cameron Evans (Can), Symmetrics, at 04:40

40. David Mccann (Irl), Colavita-Sutter Home
, at 04:40

41. Garrett Peltonen (USA), Priority Health-Bissell , at

42. Timmy Duggan (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle,
at 04:40

43. Emile Abraham TRI Priority Health-Bissell , at 04:40

44. Justin England (USA), Toyota-United, at 04:40

45. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Symmetrics, at 04:40

46. Cody Stevenson (Aus), Jittery Joe's, at 04:40

47. Glen Chadwick (NZ), Navigators Insurance, at 04:40

48. Andrew Randell (Can), Symmetrics, at 04:40

49. Craig Lewis (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle,
at 04:47

50. Ryan Roth (Can), Kelly Benefit/Medifast Cycling
, at 04:47

51. Frank Travieso (Cub), AEG-Toshiba-JetNetwork, at 07:43

52. Mike Lange (USA), Slipstream-Chipotle, at

53. Jonathan Mumford (USA), Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast
Pro Cycling, at 13:44

54. Waite Nicholas (USA), Kelly Benefit/Medifast
Cycling, at 18:57

DQ Jesse Anthony (USA),) Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada

Number Starters: 141

Finishers: 54

Riders Finishing out of Time Limit: 0

Riders Abandoning Race: 86

Riders Disqualified 1