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By Neal Rogers
It’s been a tough month of racing for the T-Mobile women’s squad, which saw Webcor’s Christine Thorburn get the better of their strong U.S. national team at the Columbia River Bank Cascade Cycling Classic after she took the elite national time trial championship and nearly repeated the feat several days later, taking second in the national-championship road race.
On Thursday, Thorburn, a Bay Area physician specializing in rheumatology, showed why she’s gone from a virtual unknown to Olympic team member in the span of a season, dropping the entire women’s field on the final climb into Three Creeks. Thorburn closed a one-minute gap on a lone Lynn Gaggioli (T-Mobile) in the final 3km, leaving behind defending race champion Lyne Bessette (Quark) and 2002 Cascade winner Kimberly Bruckner (T-Mobile).
After Bessette drove the front of the race over McKenzie Pass, whittling the field down to 13 riders, Bruckner attacked atop the climb, gaining a maximum advantage of 40 seconds before the chasing pair of Bessette and Thorburn reeled her in.
“Up the first climb Bessette had her team set tempo for a while,” Bruckner said, “and then she attacked and just drove it and narrowed it down to 13 of us, with five [T-Mobile riders] together, and we started attacking, although in retrospect I don’t know how smart that was, because a single person isn’t going to stay off forever with that field.
“It was kind of iffy because Bessette and Christine were the two strongest riders here, and they have such pop when they go, whereas we’re all coming off a break after nationals and working our way back into it, and we know we don’t have that jump. We should have had more numbers up the road.”
Instead, Gaggioli got away at the feed zone at mile 56, opening a gap of one minute on the final climb.
“They were five against me,” Bessette said, explaining why she allowed Gaggioli to escape. “I needed to give. I had to take a chance not to chase down Lynn. I had spent some energy on the climb to get the group smaller and they made me chase a couple of times. If it would have been Kristin Armstrong it would have been different, but it was [Gaggioli] and I knew it was a pretty hard climb, and it was a headwind also.”
Thorburn attacked with 2.5km remaining, reeling Gaggioli in within the final kilometer.
“I caught [Gaggioli] with about a kilometer to go,” Thorburn said. “I tried to drop her initially, but she got on my wheel and we rode together for a little while and then she dropped off.”
Gaggioli held on for second, nine seconds back, while Bessette attacked Bruckner to take third, 19 seconds down. Bruckner finished fourth, at 22 seconds.
“I tried to stay with her, but I had worn out,” Gaggioli said. “She was probably a little more fresh going up the hill than I was, because I had come into it after miles of being by myself.”
For Bessette, who is headed to Athens in a few weeks’ time, the race win is not a top priority. “I’m here with no pressure at all,” she said. “I want to race hard. I’ve been racing hard all year, and I think I need this race to ride into it and keep it cool. Right now I’m in great position. I had a hard day today. I did a few efforts because I wanted to see where I was. The girls are really strong. It’s a great field, and it’s going to be a really great week.”
Looking toward Friday’s 7-mile time trial and Saturday’s hilly circuit race, Bessette felt the race was still wide open. “Thorburn is going to be very good on that [time trial] course,” she said, “and she’s going to be hard to beat. That circuit race is hard and anything could happen. T-mobile has a big team, if they start attacking one after the other. It’s just the timing of the attacks, but in the crit there are girls that aren’t strong in the hills that can stay in the field in a crit, so it makes the race different.”
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