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By John Wilcockson
Lance Armstrong was the biggest draw of the inaugural New York City Cycling Championship presented by BMC Software, which was the first major sports event to take place in lower Manhattan since September 11. But on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon after a 50-lap, 100km circuit race watched by a crowd estimated to be anywhere between 50,000 and 125,000 fans, the four-time Tour de France champion was 16 seconds and 27 places behind the brilliant sprint winner, Ivan Dominguez, the 26-year-old Cuban who races from Saturn.
The $10,000 winner’s check along with the prestige of a nationally televised event represented the most important victory of Dominguez’s three-year pro career. His team knew that he was on good form, having won the criterium stage of the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in late June. And going into the New York City Championship, team director Jim Copeland had Dominguez tabbed as its most likely hope.
The prospect of a field sprint looked dim though when a seven-man breakaway group had a lead of 1:27 with nine laps (18km) to go. “I thought I’d be sprinting for eighth place,” said Dominguez.
In the break were his Saturn teammate Frank McCormack, along withArmstrong’s sprinter teammate Toni Cruz; two from Navigators, Italian SiroCampagnogara and Chris Baldwin; Jelly Belly’s Mariano Friedick and two Australians, Mercury’s Henk Vogelsand Schroeder Iron’s Hilton Clarke.
With all the major U.S. team’s represented except Prime Alliance, there was no major incentive for the peloton to chase. Armstrong tried one brief attack with teammate Chann McRae, and the Tour winner then led the pack for four whole laps, but the gap remained around the one-minute mark.
It was clear that the 98-degree heat was taking its toll, especially on the leaders, who had been out front for almost 70km. “Frankie said he’s not so good,” said Dominguez. And so team director Copeland gave his Saturn riders the order to start a chase.
Within four laps, they cut the lead by a minute, and the seven leaders were soon turning around, waiting for the inevitable. The junction came with three laps left of the flat, dumbbell-shaped course that traversed the length of Water Street, with the start-finish at Wall Street. There was an immediate counterattack by Schroeder Iron’s veteran, Roberto Gaggioli, but he was brought back by Mike Sayers of Mercury — the team that then took control.
There were still five Mercury men in the race, but Vogels was tired from being in the break and making one of the several attacks, while Sayers had just made a sharp effort to catch Gaggioli. This left just New Zealand veteran Graeme Miller and Chris Wherry to lead out sprinter Gord Fraser — who had raced for Canada in the Commonwealth Games road race on Saturday.
“I was going to sit back today,” Fraser said. But now he was Mercury’s main man. Riding the Mercury train was Navigators’ Vassili Davidenko, the Russian national champion, who was relying on his teammates Marty Nothstein and Ciaran Power to bring him through on the last lap.
Everyone had forgotten about Dominguez, who was riding the wheel of Saturn teammate Mark McCormack. “I was about 30 guys back going into the last ‘criterium’ section (a right-left-left-left loop at the south end of Water Street). I moved up on the left side, out in the wind, and we came around the last turn in about 15th,” said McCormack.
The two Mercury men, Miller and Wherry, had given it everything, so Fraser was left leading out the sprint with about 300 meters to go. Davidenko began his challenge with 200 meters left, just where a slight angle in the barriers forced McCormack to release Dominguez.
“I don’t like [dangerous] sprints,” said the Cuban, who defected to the U.S. after riding the track races at the 1998 Goodwill Games. “I don’t like to crash. It’s difficult for me [going elbow to elbow] with this guy,” as he pointed to Davidenko.
With the wind coming from the left, but slightly behind, Davidenko and Dominguez both came past the weary Fraser, and the Saturn man had just enough strength to overtake Davidenko in the last 10 meters to win by about half-a-wheel.
It was an exciting finish and a popular winner. Maybe not the result that all the Armstrong fans had hoped for, but his presence was key to making this a special event — which raised valuable funds for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
NEW YORK CITY CYCLING CHAMPIONSHIP
MANHATTAN AUGUST 4
1. Ivan Dominguez (Cub), Saturn, 100km in 2:06:38 (47.381 kph)
2. Vassili Davidenko (Rus), Navigators
3. Gord Fraser (Can), Mercury
4. Alex Candelario, Prime Alliance
5. Kevin Monahan, 7UP-Nutra-Fig
6. Roberto Gaggioli (I), Schroeder Iron
7. Toni Cruz. U.S. Postal Service
8. Mark McCormack, Saturn
9. Ernie Lechuga (Mex), Jelly Belly
10. Chad Gerlach, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
11. Jackson Stewart, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
12. Andy Crater, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
13. Kirk Albers, Jelly Belly
14. Dave McCook, Prime Alliance
15. Jamie Paolinetti, Schroeder Iron
16. Corrado Serina (I), Index-Alexia
17. Mart Nothstein, Navigators
18. Eddy Gragus, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale, all s.t.
19. Ciaran Power (Irl), Navigators, at 0:03
20. Graeme Miller (NZ), Mercury, s.t.
Also: 28. Lance Armstrong. U.S. Postal Service, at 0:16