“You know, I think I really like this stage,” said Alison Dunlap as she stood in the middle of the main street through downtown Ketchum, Idaho. She should like this stage, she’s now won it three times.
Dunlap, riding for a composite squad sponsored by Boise Cascade Office Products, won the 62.3-mile Stanley to Ketchum road in a fashion similar to the way she’s done before: stay in the mix up Galena Pass, rejoin the leader or leaders, notch the speed up on the long downhill and then time her sprint perfectly. While Dunlap did her stuff, the two women atop the overall standings – Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) and Lyne Bessette (Saturn) – did what they needed to protect their positions in this 12-day, 13-stage tour around Idaho.
While the ride from Stanley to Ketchum has a local reputation of being a climber’s race, the only climb sits almost exactly in the middle of the stage. Before it, a flat, windy approach to the base of 8700-foot Galena Pass and the 2000-foot climb to its summit. Then it’s nearly all downhill for almost 30 miles into Ketchum. Climbers hoping to do well on the back half must have a healthy gap at the summit.
As has been the case in the past, the attacks started early on Friday as the women’s field left the small mountain town of Stanley. Just one mile after the start Intersport’s Catherine Marsal took a flyer. She was under no illusion that she was going to beat the field to the top of Galena. She was just hoping to bring some company and get enough of an advantage going into the climb that she might be able to join the main group as they crested Galena. The plan didn’t quite work.
“It’s tough for me to follow the main group on the climb,” Marsal said. “I wanted to be there if my leaders Sandy (Espeseth) and Caroline (Alexander) need me. I was hoping someone would join me, but nobody managed to.”
She was briefly joined by Charmain Breon, but the Webcor rider soon fell back. Another group of six – this time including second-placed Bessette – made a brief foray, but Longo was not about to let her closest rival get away in the flats. Marsal was on her own for the 20 breezy and slightly uphill miles to Galena.
As the slopes of Galena neared, Longo – shadowed by Bessette – moved to the front and upped the pace. Marsal was caught and passed. By mile 25, as the grade steepened, Longo’s pace increased. Behind the field was beginning to fracture.
One mile into the steep part of the climb, only Bessette and Intersport’s Alexander, the British mountain-bike racer, were able to stay with the 42-year-old French race leader. Behind a chase group of four – Dunlap, Amber Neben (Earthlink), Trixi Worrack and Judith Arndt (both German National) – fought to keep Longo in sight. Another group, including Bessette teammates Kimberly Bruckner and Anna Millward and Acca Due’s Jolanta Polikeviciute, were another 30 seconds behind.
Within another mile, Alexander was dropped and then Bessette faded back. Both joined Dunlap’s group in pursuit. Longo soloed over the top of Galena with a one minute advantage. That first part favors a climber, but there were still nearly 30 miles left and the wind was picking up.
“I was really surprised,” said Dunlap, “because on the descent, our group split apart. It was just Lyne and myself. Lyne and I caught Longo a couple of miles down the descent. Then Amber and Trixi joined us a couple of miles later. Caroline and Judith never made it.”
Once down Galena, the lead group of five had about a one-minute advantage over a fairly dangerous group of six – Millward, Bruckner, Arndt, Alexander Ceris Gilfillan (British National) and Jolanta Polikeviciute — (who would not pull because her twin Rasa was in the field and had a better spot in the overall standings.)
For Dunlap, this was familiar territory and she knew what she had to do. After the descent off Galena, the road continues a gradual and steady drop toward Ketchum.
If the lead group could stay away, Dunlap stood a good chance at taking her favorite stage and Longo could keep Bessette from bringing two of her teammates into the mix. Neben, Dunlap and Longo powered the lead group. With teammates in the chase, Bessette and Worrack stayed on for the ride.
Within a few miles a large field of 45 formed behind the Millward-Bruckner chase and slowly began to reel them in. Powered by Autotrader.com, a team with no one in the lead groups and Acca Due O – Hewlett-Packard, a team with it’s top GC rider — Rasa, Polikeviciute – in the chase, the 45 riders narrowed the gap.
One hiccup along the way almost kept the main field from catching the first chase group. Rasa Polikeviciute flatted and a bumbled wheel exchange with a teammate, slowed kept her off the back for five kilometers. The Lithuanian rejoined, Acca Due resumed their pull and just two kilometers outside of Ketchum, the field reabsorbed the chase group.
Ahead, the race was down to just five. Dunlap, who had won here in 1996 and 1997, knew how to time her move.
“It’s a long sprint, there’s always a head wind and riders always make the mistake of going too soon,” Dunlap said. “Amber went too soon and then Lyne attacked really hard, but it was too soon and I was able to get on her wheel and come around her… and Jeannie, well Jeannie is here for the overall. Without her help, we wouldn’t have made it here. She did a lot of work.”
Longo did what she had too. Bessette remains six seconds behind the race leader as the HP moves into the race’s only double-stage day. An uphill “head-to-head” time trial in the morning and a tough, hilly circuit race in the evening. Check back with VeloNews.com on Saturday to see how Longo and Bessette fare.
1. Alison Dunlap (USA), Boise Cascade, 62.3 miles in 2:27:13; 2.Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn; 3. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot; 4. Trixi Worrack (G), German National, all s.t.; 5. Amber Neben (USA), Earthlink, at 0:08; 6. Petra Rossner (G), Saturn, at 0:41; 7. Meshy Holt(NZ), Boise Cascade; 8. Anne Samplonius(Can), Intersports; 9. Suzanne Thomas (GB), Contender Bicycles; 10. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lit), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 11. Emma Davies (GB), British National; 12. Alison Sydor (Can), Canadian/French Composite; 13. Roz Reekie-May (NZ), Boise Cascade; 14. Vera Hohlfeld (G), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 15. Kimberly Bruckner (USA), Saturn; 16. Sarah Konrad (USA), Boise Cascade; 17. Sandrine Marcuz (F), Canadian/French Composite; 18. Rachel Heal (GB), Contender Bicycles; 19. Ceris Gilfillan(GB), British National; 20. Nicole Demars (Can), 800.com, all s.t.
OVERALL AFTER THREE STAGES 7:40:34
1. Longo, 7:40:34; 2. Bessette, at 0:06; 3. Arndt, at 1:26; 4. Rasa Polikeviciute, at 1:33; 5. Bruckner, at 1:40; 6. Rossner, at 3:17; 7. Millward, at 3:20; 8. Hohlfeld, at 3:21; 9. Reekie-May; at 3:21; 10. Sandy Espeseth (Can), Intersports, at 3:21.