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By Mark Morical, Special to VeloNews
When Mike Creed won Thursday’s road race to gain a nine-second overall lead at Bend’s Cascade Cycling Classic, most teams didn’t think that his U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor team could defend it with just four riders.
But, even with Lance Armstrong and the other guys in France, Postal and Creed pulled out the overall win, making it official after Sunday’s criterium in Bend’s Old Mill District.
Creed crossed the finish line with the first pack of riders, and his 30-second lead was never seriously challenged during the race, a 1.2km loop.
“I’m sure all the other teams thought that we would crack or we wouldn’t be able to hold it,” said Postal’s Antonio Cruz. “I know how strong these guys are, and I knew I was feeling good, so we were ready to go for it.”
Creed, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, said he felt tired and nervous before the start of Sunday’s race, but he held on for his first GC win on the National Racing Calendar.
“My legs felt good, but I was kind of worried,” said Creed. “I woke up this morning and I was really tired. The crit was really hard and really technical, and you really had to be on your toes. I think today was actually harder for me than (Saturday’s) road race. I couldn’t ever really relax. My legs were good, but I was constantly fighting.”
Creed finished 12th in the first group, which crossed the finish in 55 minutes, 45 seconds, and won the overall in 11:56:23, 30 seconds ahead of Jeff Louder (Navigators) and 35 seconds ahead of Michael Sayers (Health Net).
“There was one move that Sayers jumped across to that had about 10 guys in it,” said Creed. “It was only on for, like, a lap. Was I worried? No. But I was definitely on top of it.”
While Creed easily held on for the overall victory, the battle for the final stage win was anything but easy. Alex Candelario (Jelly Belly-Aramark) narrowly defeated Cruz as the two sprinted frantically to the finish. Candelaria raised his arms after crossing the line, but it took a finish-line camera to prove him right. Charles Dionne (Webcor) was third.
“It was a little dicey on the last turn,” Candelario said. “Tony tried to come inside me. We were bumping shoulders going all the way through the corner. Once I got about a foot away (from the finish line) I was sure I won. I was a little nervous coming down the stretch. The turn bends, so the inside is short, and I was on the outside of those two guys, so I was little worried.”
Candelario, who lives in San Diego, has been looking for a stage win ever since the Redlands Classic in March.
“I got really sick after Redlands and it took me a really long time to regain my form,” he said. “All week we’ve been banging on the door. We’ve only got four guys.”
Cruz, meanwhile, had decided that once Creed was set for the overall win, he would push for the stage victory. He was just a few inches short.
“The first objective was obviously to take care of Mike and make sure he didn’t get into trouble,” Cruz said. “We took care of that, so I told him that on the last five laps, if he’s in good shape, I’m going to go for it. And it really wasn’t until the last two laps that I could see he had it.”
Cruz had some work to do before the race as well: Calm Creed down and get him to focus.
“He was nervous,” Cruz said. “I told him: ‘Don’t change anything. That’s why we’re here. I feel great. I can help you with anything.'”
During the race, Cruz had to help ensure that neither Louder nor Sayers would gain a big lead on the pack before he could concentrate on getting himself the stage win.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” Cruz said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of these guys.'”
Thorburn sticks to Gaggioli
Webcor’s Christine Thorburn, who held a nine-second overall lead coming into the final stage, also knew her task: Follow Lynn Gaggioli.
Thorburn stuck with the T-Mobile rider, making sure Gaggioli never got away from her to gain the nine seconds back.
“Basically my job for the entire race was to follow Gaggioli around,” Thorburn said. “She has very fast acceleration, so I didn’t ever want to be more than one wheel be hind her.”
The plan worked, as Thorburn finished fifth and Gaggioli sixth in the final 45-minute stage. Thorburn won the overall in 7:39:03, with Gaggioli second, still nine seconds back, and T-Mobile’s Kimberly Bruckner third at 19 seconds.
Bruckner gave Thorburn a bit of a scare on Sunday, breaking away with three other riders to take a 30-second lead on the race leader and the rest of the pack. That made Bruckner race leader on the road, since she was only 28 seconds back in the overall standings coming into Sunday’s race.
But the gap closed significantly in the final two laps, and T-Mobile decided to try to get Gaggioli at least a second-place finish in the stage, which would give her a 10-second time bonus and the overall win.
But it wasn’t to be. Laura Downey (Velo Club La Grange) won the stage in 45:18, followed by Sarah Uhl (Quark), Chrissy Ruiter (Team Basis) and Bruckner, all in the same time.
“We wanted to keep the break at a safe distance,” Thorburn said. “I was still pretty tired from yesterday.”
Thorburn added that it was her first GC win, and it came in her first attempt at the Cascade Classic.
“I’m really happy to win here at the Cascade,” Thorburn said. “I’ve always wanted to do this race.”
Downey, of Boise, Idaho, was also extremely pleased with her stage win. She was one of the women in the four-rider break, the others being Uhl, Ruiter and Bruckner.
“I didn’t think I could stay up there,” Downey said. “That was a very high-caliber, high class of women I was racing with. At one point I did think I was going to get dropped. I dug as deep as I could, and luckily that was enough to stay with all of them.”
Once the break had 37 seconds, Downey said, she was confident that it would stay away.
“All I was thinking about at that point was where to try to kick it,” she said. “I’m a pure sprinter. I really needed to sit on and have a little bit of guts for the end.”
Thorburn, who lives in Menlo Park, California, and is a doctor of rheumatology, will join T-Mobile for a race in Europe to prepare herself for the upcoming Olympic Games in Athens.
She hopes the United States can make a statement in the road race.
“We (the U.S. team) have to work really well as a team, because we’re not quite the power riders that some of the other European teams are.”