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By Neal Rogers
It was another episode in the season-long Saturn show at the Cascade Cycling Classic Thursday, with the team’s Tom Danielson and Lyne Bessette taking the hilly 69-mile road race up to the base of the Middle Sister outside of Sisters, Oregon.
Danielson’s win came after breaking away from a 14-man group on the uphill finish with Prime Alliance’s Jonathan Vaughters and Navigators’ Chris Wherry. Bessette’s day played out much differently – she rode away from the 57-woman field early on and time-trialed in alone for nearly 40 miles.
The first real move of the day in the men’s race came from Schroeder Iron’s Gordon McCauley, who rolled off the front 18 miles into the stage. As he made the turn heading into the 20-mile ascent to the summit of McKenzie Pass, McCauley’s gap hovered just below one minute; he was reeled in less than 10 miles later on the steep switchbacks.
Next to attack on the long pitch was Steve Larsen (Webcor), the NORBA national champion turned pro triathlete, who rode the final eight miles of the ascent alone. Larsen reached the lava-field summit at 5325 feet elevation with a gap of 1:30; however, a crack in his bike’s frame — which noisily creaked from the bottom bracket on each pedal stroke —hampered his effort.
Once the pack had reached the summit, Health Net’s Mike Sayers attacked, bringing a trail of riders down the narrow, twisting descent. In all, 14 riders were in the winning break, including Larsen and Greg Drake (Webcor); Danielson and Phil Zajicek (Saturn); Wherry and Chris Baldwin (Navigators); Andy Bajadali and Tim Larkin (OFOTO-Lombardi Sports); Ben and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Sierra Nevada-Clif Bar); Doug Ollerenshaw (Broadmark Capital); Antonio Cruz (U.S. Postal Service); and Vaughters.
“Those guys went for the KOM, and I thought, ‘This is a good time to attack,’ so I attacked,” Sayers said. “Next thing I know we’ve got a group of 14. Wherry came up to me and I said, ‘Saturn’s going to keep this close, but we’ve got ‘em isolated, and let’s just drill it.’ It was just too good.”
As the group went through the town of Sisters, its gap was just over one minute, and as it approached the Upper Three Creeks Snow Park it was Navigators’ Baldwin at the front, shepherding last year’s overall winner Wherry to the base of the climb. Neighboring wildfires created hot air, thick with smoke, and Danielson and Zajicek waited contently in the 91-degree heat until Zajicek stepped in and took a long pull at the front with less than 10km to go, steadily upping the tempo and leaving Danielson to deal with Wherry and Vaughters in the final 6km.
Although he was riding without team or any support, Cruz rode strongly and was one of the last to crack. “I just ran out of sugar and all of a sudden I just didn’t have any snap,” he said. “I felt really good on the other climb, and I was trying to go for the KOM, and I thought, ‘I’m going to rip it up the last climb,’ but all I had was water, I didn’t have any gels. It’s kind of hard without support. Without a team you have to cover more attacks, and Phil set a really good tempo and just lets that little guy unleash.”
Added Danielson: “Phil was unbelievable, but you wouldn’t expect anything less from him. He’s always there. Phil is an unbelievably reliable teammate. He makes all the breakaways, he’s really smart, and sets a perfect tempo.”
From there, Danielson — clearly the strongest on the day — obeyed instructions from team manager Andrzej Bek to back off the pace and force Vaughters and Wherry to pull through. Both tried in vain to attack, but Danielson countered every move; eventually, Wherry was dropped, left to dangle 15 seconds behind. “Andrzej just wanted me to have Jonathan race Wherry, and that’s basically what happened,” Danielson said. “Wherry looked good, so I wasn’t so sure about him. When I started coming off when Jonathan attacked, I was just watching [Wherry] and watching him, wondering if he was going to go across. I was wondering if he was toying with me, and then I jumped and he couldn’t quite come across.”
In the final 100 meters Danielson easily outsprinted Vaughters, with a surging Bajadali outkicking a fatigued Wherry for third place. Zajicek recovered to take fifth just ahead of Cruz. With the win Danielson assumes the overall race lead, with Wherry and Bajadali 21 seconds back and Vaughters another five seconds down.
“I can ride a lot off of experience, as opposed to fitness,” Vaughters said. “That’s pretty much what I was doing today.”
The women’s GC sees Bessette 1:07 ahead of Heather Albert (Team Basis) after her powerful solo effort; T-Mobile’s Kristin Johnson finished third, over eight minutes back. Although outmatched, the day was also to be considered a success for Albert, whose strong finish reduced a time gap that was 2:24 atop McKenzie Pass.
“Lyne and [Saturn teammate] Jessica [Phillips] just stayed at the front all day,” Albert said. “I could hear them talking. Lyne was setting a pretty hard tempo, and Jessica came up and was talking with Lyne, and I heard Lyne say, ‘Okay,’ and there Lyne goes.
“I stayed with her for a while, but she rode alone from probably nine miles from the top of McKenzie. On the climb she kept gaining on me, and the gap was 2:24 over the top, so I made back a minute on her on the last climb.”
Bessette, who is characteristically modest about her achievements, just smiled. “I’m here to race hard,” she said. “I took some time off after [Canadian] nationals. Now I’m starting over again. It was good to take some time to not focus on training. I’m really happy with my season, everything is going really well.”