By Neal Rogers
After two consecutive mountaintop finishes, the 83 riders remaining in the H.P. Women’s Challenge were given a slight respite Friday, as an early thirteen-rider break without GC contenders was allowed to slip away and contest for the stage win. At the line, it was Anita Valen, a 33-year-old fitness instructor from Norway, who took the 88-mile stage in a field sprint.
Early on, the Norwegian team Sponsor Services came out swinging. First the team’s Finnish rider Pia Sundstedt took a solo flyer at mile 18, opening a gap of 25 seconds before being caught three miles down the road. However, the Norwegians were determined to make something stick, and soon after, when another group formed, they were in on it.
In the break were Valen and teammate Solrun Flataas, two Canadian Nationals, three Boise riders, two from Intermountain Orthopedic, Goldy’s Priska Doppmann (second in the stage four field sprint), T Mobile’s Kim Anderson, Itera’s Silvia Valsecchi, and the highest-placed GC rider of the bunch, Lithuania’s Modesta Vzisnauskaite, 13th overall, 19 minutes back.
After 40 miles of windy, open conditions, the stage route offered three rounds up and down a three kilometer pitch, from the Snake River Bridge into the trout-farming town of Buhl. On the first go round, Vzisnauskaite, wearing the yellow jersey of the highest ranked young rider, made a move from the break to claim the mountain-sprint points.
Vzisnauskaite’s aggressive riding concerned the Rona team back in the peloton, which organized at the front and led chase to the break.
“We wanted to preserve everything we have,” team director Andre Aubut explained of his arcane tactics. “We [Genevieve Jeanson] have the overall points, the best young rider, and the mountain-points jersey.”
Mistakenly considering Vzisnauskaite a threat to the mountain jersey – she began the day with only 1 mountain-sprint point to Jeanson’s 47 – he instructed his team to chase, which they did for over 30 kilometers, before finally relenting with 10 kilometers left. Meanwhile, Saturn’s GC riders Juidth Arndt and Kimberly Bruckner sat on, content to shadow the second-place Jeanson.
Ahead, the group worked together, maintaining a three-to-four minute gap. T Mobile’s Anderson took the second of the three mountain sprints, while Vzisnauskaite again raced ahead of the break to take the third.
Once over the last pitch, it was Valen – returning to bike racing after a respite of more than ten years – that attacked the break at the one-kilometer mark, holding off Doppmann and Vzisnauskaite in a mad dash to the line.
Three minutes later, the main field of GC contenders rolled in, with Jeanson out sprinting Arndt for 14th on the stage.
With no change in the overall standings, Jeanson has two stages to move into the top spot on the GC: Saturday’s 38-mile Idaho Statehouse criterium, and Sunday’s Emmett to Boise 56-mile road race.
Saturday’s flat course favors the sprinting power of Saturn’s Petra Rossner and Ina Yoko-Teutenberg, and with only one short pitch in Sunday’s stage, the remaining question for the podium placements is whether the tired Rona team can preserve Jeanson’s slim 14-second margin over Bruckner.
The standout performance of the day – and one of the great surprises of the 2002 Women’s Challenge – came from Lithuania’s 18-year-old revelation Modesta Vzisnauskaite. En route to a third-place finish on the stage, the young climber took a three mile flyer from the 13-rider break, opening a gap of nearly one minute and winning the first and last of the three mountain-point sprints.
The last was the most dramatic, however, as Vzisnauskaite mistook the gathering around the sprint points line as the finish, throwing her arms in the air in an emotional victory salute. Unable to understand the English-speaking course judges prompting her to keep riding the last six kilometers, Vzisnauskaite stopped pedaling and nearly dismounted her bike before deciphering the hand signals that she must keep riding. Once caught by the break, she returned to pedaling and managed third in the field sprint, moving up to 11th overall, 16:07 back.
Stage Seven Results (Top 23), Twin Falls to Buhl, 82 miles ;
1 Anita Valen, (N), Sponsor Services, 3:21:47 (24.38 mph);
2 Priska Doppman, (Swi), Goldys, at 0:01;
3 Modesta Vzisnauskaite, (Lit), Lithuanian National, at s.t.;
4 Nicole Demars, (Can), Boise, s.t.;
5 Kim Anderson, T Mobile, s.t.;
6 Solrun Flataas, (N), Sponsor Services, at 0:11;
7 Silvia Valsecchi, (I), Itera, at 0:18;
8 Cybil DiGuistini, (Can), Canadian National, at 0:37;
9 Melissa Sanborn, Intermountain Orthopedic, at 0:45;
10 Anne Samplonius, (Can), Canadian National, at 0:49;
11 Joan Wilson, Boise, at s.t.;
12 Gina Grain, (Can), Boise, at 1:09;
13 Liza Rachetto, Intermountain Orthopedic, at 2:24;
14 Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona, at 2:55;
15 Judith Arndt (G) Saturn, at s.t.;
16 Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit) Lithuanian National, at s.t.;
17 Lyne Bessette (Can) Canadian National, at s.t.;
18 Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at s.t.;
19 Amber Neben, T Mobile, at s.t.;
20 Leah Goldstein, (Can), Boise, at s.t.;
21 Sue Palmer-Komar, (Can) Canadian National, at s.t.;
22 Valentina Polkhanova (Rus) Itera, at s.t.;
23 Caroline Alexander, (GB) British National, at s.t.;
General classification, (Top 11), after seven stages;
1 Judith Arndt (G) Saturn, 18:18:37;
2 Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona, at 1:20;
3 Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at 1:34;
4 Valentina Polkhanova (Rus) Itera, at 3:52;
5 Lyne Bessette (Can) Canadian National, at 4:18;
6 Amber Neben, T Mobile, at 5:06;
7 Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit) Lithuanian National, at 10:08;
8 Sue Palmer-Komar (Can) Canadian National, at 11:40;
9 Leah Goldstein (Can) Boise, at 12:04;
10 Caroline Alexander (GB) British National, at 14:48;
11 Modesta Vzisnauskaite, (Lit), Lithuanian National, at 16:07;