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By Neal Rogers
The Solano Bicycle Classic began Thursday, with the opening stage road race ending on a familiar note: last weekend’s Sea Otter overall winners Chris Horner (Prime Alliance) and Lyne Bessette (Saturn) atop the podium.
On a winding course through green foothills that can only be described as gorgeous, top domestic teams fought through gusting cross winds to decide the opening stage of this Northern California NRC event.
In the men’s 91-mile race—that began and ended with two long climbs—a missed turn by the lead group at mile 67became a point of controversy, as race officials scrambled to neutralize the field, bring the break back to the front, and re-establish the time gap, all without the use of properly functioning race radios.
From the start attacks were constant, but strong crosswinds made it nearly impossible for them to stick. Two-thirds into the race a breakaway pulled off the front, and slowly the gap crept to nearly a minute. The four-man group consisted of Mercury’s Henk Vogels and Derek Bouchard-Hall, 7UP’s John Lieswyn, and Danny Pate of Prime Alliance, who had fought his way to the front after throwing a chain on the first climb. Saturn’s team leader Trent Klasna had also been up front with the break, but was hit with a crosswind and blown off the road and out the back of the lead group.
“That was a strong wind at times,” an exhausted Klasna said later.
Suddenly Saturn had a chase on their hands, but their inability to effectively draw echelons together looked to be their undoing. Just as they appeared to be weakening, they were given a second chance.
“I know things happen, but you couldn’t ask for one little thing to affect the race so majorly,” said an openly frustrated Gord Fraser (Mercury), who felt his teammates efforts blown by a lack of organization from race officials.
“We had two in the lead group, and it was cracking. Saturn was on the ropes. They were chasing really hard, and they did a great job to keep it steady, but it was right at the point where they were giving up, and all of a sudden we turn right into a big straightaway, and no break in front of us. The gap was right at a minute, and a minute you can see in front of you.
“It affected the race completely. The chasers got to rest for a long time, and when the break came back, there was still very poor leadership on the part of the organization as to what was going on. All of a sudden the original break comes by us on these motorcycles, and there weren’t any commisaires telling us — are they giving back the minute? Are they giving them back 30 seconds? It was kind of like an honor system, and we were yelling to Saturn to let them get at least some kind of gap. Of course Saturn was like ‘No way, that’s bike racing’ – which they have a point, because ultimately it’s up to us to know the course, but at the same time, it’s pretty unfair.
“Still, I thought it was pretty admirable of Saturn to let the break get at least 30 seconds, which was pretty fair, but they still had a 20 minute rest, and then they were re-motivated. They couldn’t do it the first time, and they got a second chance.”
With still nobody in the break, Saturn was forced to chase, again — a fact Prime Alliance was fully aware of. Horner calmly waited as Saturn drew closer and closer to the break.
“They [Saturn] got it pretty close at the base of the last climb, perfectly close enough so that Horner could go across to his teammate,” Fraser told VeloNews. “Horner was just sitting back there, laughing all the way to the win. When you’re good and you’re lucky, it’s hard to overcome that.”
Indeed, Horner lit up the hill, catching Pate at the summit of the steep climb, and with Mercury teammates Vogels and Bouchard-Hall dangling in between, Chris Wherry gave his all to bridge across and sit in on Horner, Pate, and Lieswyn.
“I tried to get rid of him [Wherry],” Horner later said, “But I wasn’t too motivated to. It wasn’t a bad thing to have him there, and at the same time I know he’s time trailing well.”After pulling for the last mile and a half, a spent Pate worked out a deal that found him settling for fourth.
“I lead out the sprint for Chris. Lieswyn said he’d take a couple of pulls if I didn’t sprint him,” Horner continued. “He [Wherry] sat on pretty much the whole time, because he had Henk [Vogels] and Derek Bouchard-Hall chasing behind us. Lieswyn and Danny and I did all the work. I had Danny pull the last mile and a half, and just to make sure that Wherry worked a little bit, I jumped him to get a little gap. I thought he wouldn’t expect it and I’d get a little gap. I didn’t honestly think I’d get to the line, but I knew he’d have to do some work to catch me, and then I’d get his legs a little pumped up. He’d been sitting on the whole time, and you don’t want a guy who’s been sitting on the whole time coming in fresh to the sprint.”
Still, Wherry is the first rider to climb with Horner this year.
“I had to bridge to catch him, and I was really psyched about that, because he’ s just been untouchable lately. That was huge for me, just to be able to go over a climb with Horner. It’s a giant step in the right direction for me. I’ve just been getting stronger every week.”
With a relatively flat time trial course Friday, Wherry hopes to make up some time on Horner. “I love time trials, and this one’s not super hilly, so it’s not going to suit Horner too much. It should definitely even out the advantage.”
Although frustrated, 7UP’s Lieswyn kept a positive attitude about the events of the day.“I had to go up against two fresh guys [Horner and Wherry] that caught us on the final climb because of the course misdirection. If that hadn’t happened and the break had stayed away, I would have been going against three tired guys, and 7UP would have had a better chance at winning the stage.
“I think our four man group would have stayed away. Pate would have jumped us on the last hill, and the three of us would have brought him back, and I would have been able to go for the stage win with three tired guys. Sure, I’m disappointed how it worked out. Tomorrow is the race of truth, and I think I have a good chance to stay in the top three.
“I’m just happy that they’re holding the bike race. This race had a lot of trouble coming together again this year, and I hope it’s back for 2003. Hopefully there won’t be any problems next year. It’s a learning experience for the organizers. They had a real hard time getting enough volunteers.“You have to take the good with the bad, and the good is that we have a bike race to go to.”A tired Saturn team had little to smile aout afterwards.
“We actually got a group together that was going pretty good,” Klasna explained. “But if we were to try to ride it just us, nobody else would have pulled.”
One thing all riders seemed to agree on was that Thursday’s stage presented the most challenging conditions they’d seen yet this season. “This was the hardest day of racing we’ve had yet this year,” said a tired Will Frischkorn. “The heat and the wind made for a tough day.”
The Saturn Juggernaut continuesIn the women’s road race, Saturn continued to demonstrate their dominance over the rest of the domestic teams, sweeping the top three podium spots. A breakaway was driven by the Saturn duo of Judith Arndt and Lyne Bessette, former mountain bike world champion Alison Sydor (Canadian National), Trish Choo (Helens/Trek/VW), recent Sea Otter road race winner Susan Palmer-Komar and Talgo teammate Susy Pryde.
On the second climb, Bessette and Arndt, winners respectively of the recent Sea Otter Classic and Redlands, rode together, away from the field and into the wind.
As far as 20 km from the finish, Arndt and Bessette began to graciously offer the stage to each other, with Bessette eventually crossing first. Bruckner trailed in alone four and a half minutes later. The first non-Saturn woman to finish was Palmer-Komar, crossing the line six minutes back.
Race noteA bit of controversy was stirred up regarding a protest received by Jeff Corbett, manager of DietRite. Corbett protested the participation of Jessica Phillips, a member of the Saturn women’s team who participated in Thursday’s road race as a member of the Amoroso team.
Members of a UCI trade team are not permitted to participate outside of their team in a race in which their trade team is registered. Phillips has been withdrawn from the remainder of the race and will not be permitted to start subsequent stages.
Gianna Roberge, team director of the Saturn’s women’s team, replying to an email from VeloNews, had this to say about the dispute.
“I was not aware that there was a five person limit for women until arrival yesterday. Then, after some negotiations and willingness to see the importance of allowing women to race, the officials generously allowed Jessica to ride with an Amorosa jersey. I only wanted her to get some good racing, and I am disappointed that Jeff Corbett is short sighted…
“Although it might be breaking a UCI rule, this is NOT a UCI race AND this race had NOT followed ANY UCI rules to this point in time — in fact, there have been plenty of rules broken (ask about the motor pacing of the break in the men’s race). Thus, all I wanted all along was Jessica to get some experience — to get some more racing, because goodness knows, there is precious few stage races left here in the US for women. If I had known there were five women allowed I would not have paid for tickets for six women. Jessica was not in any way a factor in the success of today. She is here merely to learn and get some more experience racing — and isn’t racing all about getting as many women out there as possible? I can truly say we did not gain an advantage having Jessica in the race (she never took a feed from us, and never worked for the team at all). She did wear a Saturn radio only so that she could hear what was going on and learn some more about tactics, while seeing the race unfold. If it were Lyne, Judith or Kimberly, I could certainly understand Jeff’s unhappiness.
“I am disappointed in the ruling as it is unfortunate [Chief Official] Dan McCloud had to be put in that situation due to Jeff’s insistence. However, I really feel that this ruling is not in the spirit of women’s racing. It flies in the face of all that I am trying to do to encourage the growth of the sport by educating a young rider like Jessica.”
SOLANO BICYCLE CLASSIC; Fairfield, CA, March 28-30; Solano Garbage Road Race
1. Chris Horner, Prime Alliance, 91.3 miles in 3:30:37; 2. Chris Wherry, Mercury, s.t.; 3. John Lieswyn, 7UP/Nutra Fig, @ 0:03; 4. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance, s.t.; 5. Derek Bouchard-Hall, Mercury, @ 0:44.; 6. Henk Vogels, Mercury, s.t.; 7. Gord Fraser, Mercury, s.t.; 8. Charles Dionne, 7UP/Nutra Fig, s.t.; 9. Daniel Ramsey, Wheelworks/Cannondale, s.t.; 10. Greg Henderson, 7UP/Nutra Fig, s.t.; 28 riders at same time
1. Lyne Bessette, Saturn, 60 miles in 2:36:17; 2. Judith Arndt, Saturn, s.t.; 3. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn,@ 04:36; 4. Susan Palmer-Komar, Talgo America, @ 06:01; 5. Trish Choo, Helens/Trek/VW, s.t.; 6. Susy Pryde, Talgo America, s.t.; 7. Jeanne McFall, Team Goldy’s, @ 07:35; 8. Alison Sydor, Canadian National, @ 08:56; 9. Joanne Kiesanowski, Diet Rite, @ 12:29; 10. Erin Carter, Canadian National, s.t.; 39 riders at same time