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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
Yes, the First Union Invitational in Trenton, New Jersey, came down to a field sprint once again this year, but it was a long early breakaway that played a major role in shaping the outcome at the finish. After the Mercury team spent most of the day chasing after five escapees, U.S. Postal took advantage, launching New Zealander Julian Dean to the win on a warm Thursday evening in New Jersey’s state capital. It was a big win for Dean, who battled knee problems for most of last season, and hadn’t won a race in more than a year.
“That’s the thing that means the most,” said Dean. “It’s my first victory in an 18-month dry spell.”
On the flat, fast 7-mile circuit past the State Building and New Jersey State Museum on State St., into Cadwalader Park, and then back along State St. and into downtown Trenton, the expectations for the race usually run toward a field sprint finish, as has been the case in all but one of the previous dozen runnings of the race.
Those expectations, however, didn’t prevent an early attack by MROZ’s Eugen Wacker, who went off on his own on the fourth of 13 laps. By the next lap, he had been chased down by a formidable group: Matthew White (U.S. Postal Service), Michael Barry (Saturn), Danny Pate (Prime Alliance), Kirk O’Bee (Navigators) and Mike Sayers (Mercury-Viatel).
With that collection of strongmen in place, and with the biggest teams represented, it looked like successful breakaway was a possibility, as they increased their lead to around two minutes midway into the race.
At that point, though, luck would change the entire complexion of the race. When Sayers flatted in sight of the start/finish line, his five companions rode away while he got a quick wheel change. It wasn’t quick enough, though, and Sayers dropped back to the peloton, throwing Mercury into full chase mode.
For the next four-and-a-half laps, the entire team motored at the front, expending valuable energy from men such as Chris Horner, Henk Vogels, Baden Cooke and Sayers. The chase eventually brought the race back together with two and a half laps to go, but Mercury was spent.
“We just ran out of guys,” said team director John Wordin.
Entering the final lap, the Navigators team began to line up its train at the front, but as the race came back east on State St., four men were away: Viatcheslav Ekimov (U.S. Postal), Jakob Piil (CSC-World Online), Vassili Davidenko (Navigators) and Pedro Munoz Horillo (Mapei-Quick Step). It was a dangerous group, and Mercury burned one of its final matches when Gord Fraser closed the gap heading into the downtown circuit, leaving only Jans Koerts to hold down the fort.
Through the intricate 14-turn maze through downtown, Saturn made its final bid for the win, with Harm Jansen and Trent Klasna opening up a gap to spring Soren Petersen. It was a good move, but the Dane would be swallowed up by the sprint at the finish, where Postal set up Dean perfectly.
George Hincapie, normally the team leader during First Union Week, instead played the perfect teammate’s role, leading Dean out from about 1km to go, and then dropping the New Zealander off with 300 meters to go on the long, straight finishing stretch on State St. “Fred [Rodriguez] came up beside me, and I knew it was time to go,” said Dean.
Mercury’s last remaining sprinter, Koerts, came off of Rodriguez’s wheel, but couldn’t hold off the charging Dean and CSC’s Arvis Piziks. At the line, Dean took the win, with Piziks second, Koerts third, Oleg Grichkine (Navigators) fourth and Klasna fifth in a race that averaged just over 30mph for 91 miles.
The win evened the score for First Union Week, with Postal and Mercury each taking one win. They’ll be battling it out again at Sunday’s USPRO Championship, but they’ll have plenty of competition from teams like Saturn and Navigators who are still hungry for a win of their own.
1. Julian Dean (NZ), U.S. Postal Service, 91 mi in 3:00:43 (30.2mph); 2. Arvis Piziks (Lat), CSC-World Online; 3. Jans Koerts (Nl), Mercury-Viatel; 4. Oleg Grichkine (Rus), Navigators; 5. Trent Klasna (USA), Saturn; 6. Graeme Miller (NZ), NetZero; 7. Remigis Lpejkis (Lit), MROZ-Supradyn; 8. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Domo-Farm Frites; 9. Siro Camponogara (I), Navigators; 10. Vassili Davidenko (Rus), Navigators; 11. Zbigniew Wyrzykowski (Pl), MROZ-Supradyn; 12. Kevin Monahan (USA), 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 13. Jonas Carney (USA), Prime Alliance; 14. Charles Dionne (Can), 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 15. Damon Kluck (USA), Jelly Belly; 16. John Lieswyn (USA), 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 17. Gabriel Rampollo (Yug), DeFeet-LeMond; 18. Jessie Lawler (USA), Zaxby’s; 19. Soren Peterson (Dk), Saturn; 20. Andrew Crater (USA), RealityBikes.com, all s.t.