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Elken wins Cascade opener

As the entire field of 130 racers descended upon the finish line of the opening 93-mile stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon, a handful of names came to mind as the likely eminent stage winner. Would it be Health Net-Maxxis sprinter Gord “Flash Gordon” Fraser, the newly crowned Canadian national champion? Or perhaps Jelly Belly-Aramark’s strongman Alex Candelario would benefit from the long downhill finish. Surely it couldn’t be Webcor’s fast man Charles Dionne, who had spent much of the day in various breakaways. Based on the numbers, a safe bet would be on a Navigators

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Conservative racing over 90 hilly miles ends in field sprint

By Neal Rogers

Elken (left) nips Candelario and Fraser at the line

Elken (left) nips Candelario and Fraser at the line

Photo: Beth Seliga

As the entire field of 130 racers descended upon the finish line of the opening 93-mile stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon, a handful of names came to mind as the likely eminent stage winner. Would it be Health Net-Maxxis sprinter Gord “Flash Gordon” Fraser, the newly crowned Canadian national champion? Or perhaps Jelly Belly-Aramark’s strongman Alex Candelario would benefit from the long downhill finish. Surely it couldn’t be Webcor’s fast man Charles Dionne, who had spent much of the day in various breakaways. Based on the numbers, a safe bet would be on a Navigators Insurance sprinter, such as Kirk O’Bee, Aussie Henk Vogels, or Viktor “The Russian Concussion” Rapinksi.

But instead it was Oregon native and amateur racer Evan Elken of Broadmark Capital taking the win, snatching the 40mph photo-finish victory away from Candelario and Fraser with a perfectly timed jump to the line. It was another in a string of fine performances over the past month for the 27-year-old from Portland, who took third place at elite nationals last month and eighth at the Olympic Trials.

“It was a crazy sprint finish,” Elken said. “I got on the wheel of a rider who was leading out in the last 200 meters. I just waited until the last 100 meters to come around, and rolled the dice and was in the right place at the right time. I saw the line coming and thought, ‘Am I about to win it?’ I saw Alex’s wheel right next to mine, and I didn’t know who won until they told me.”

The win came as even more of a surprise for Elken considering the Health Net-led peloton had spent the final 15 minutes of the race chasing down breakaways Chris Baldwin (Navigators) and Andy Bajadali (Ofoto-Lombardi Sports), who had escaped at the top of the nearly nine-mile descent. The pair was reeled in with just 1250 meters remaining.

“I’ve seen moves like that work,” said Baldwin. “You’re just as spun out at the front as you are behind. Health Net was at the front, so if nothing else our guys could sit on and wait for the sprint. It was one of those things where you had to have 100 percent belief that it would work, and I think Bajadali didn’t know if it would stick.”

“It’s been a pretty amazing month for me,” Elken smiled, referring to his rides at nationals and his overall win at the Ecology Center Classic in Missoula, Montana, as well as a win at the Elkhorn Classic in Baker City.

Circumnavigating Mount Bachelor

Held under near-perfect 75-degree skies, the 93-mile stage opened with a long gradual ascent out of Bend and over the shoulder of Mt. Bachelor, where the road traveled along the chain of alpine lakes known as the Cascades Lakes. The course then looped around the scenic Crane Prairie Reservoir, before climbing back up to Mt. Bachelor and returning into Bend.

The first move of the day came from Subway-Express rider Christian Foster, just 10 miles into the race on the opening climb out of Bend. Foster was joined by Jeff Louder (Navigators Insurance), but the pair didn’t stay together long as Louder rode him off his wheel after just a few pulls.

The early breakaway, from left: Creed, Evans, Dionne, Lieswyn and Swindlehurst

The early breakaway, from left: Creed, Evans, Dionne, Lieswyn and Swindlehurst

Photo: Neal Rogers

“I just started setting tempo and [Foster] couldn’t come through,” Louder said. “I asked him afterwards, and he said it was too hard. I asked him why he attacked then, and he said, “I didn’t think I’d get away.’ It was a well-timed move, I think I just had a little more than he did.”

Alone, Louder toiled at the front as a group of five chased, containing Dionne, John Lieswyn (Health Net), Cam Evans (Symmetrics), Mike Creed (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor) and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators). With Swindlehurst sitting on, the group slowly reached Louder at mile 30 while the unrepresented Subway and Sierra Nevada squads led the chase in front of a strung-out field.

“We had problems [with the break] because we had Lieswyn and two Navigators,” said Dionne, who sacrificed himself throughout the day for his team’s GC threats Chris Horner and Justin England. “Other than that we would be going all the way to the end. But Lieswyn is good in the time trial, and we didn’t want to take any risks.”

The group was reeled in at mile 56 over a long stretch of rolling flats, prompting a series of counterattacks initiated by Health Net’s Mike Sayers, Tyler Farrar and Fraser, however none would stick. Finally Dionne attacked alone, opening a gap of nearly 30 seconds before drawing out Swindlehurst. It was a surprising duo, as both riders had participated in the day’s previous breakaway.

Behind, Webcor, Health Net and Sierra Nevada manned the front as the gap increased to one minute. But Swindlehurst punctured at mile 74, leaving Dionne to go it alone.

“What else am I going to do?” laughed Dionne. “We had a minute, so I’m not going to stop then.”

As Dionne’s pedaling began to slow, Velo Club LaGrange Westwood rider Josh Horowitz bridged across on the final climb, reaching the Canadian 1km from the day’s final KOM. But it wasn’t to be for the pair, as the peloton reeled them in at the top of the climb, moments before the beginning of the descent.

The peloton was having none of it

The peloton was having none of it

Photo: Neal Rogers

“We had a long way to go on the downhill to stay away,” Dionne sighed. “But hopefully we damaged Health Net a little bit.”

It did, admitted Health Net’s Chris Wherry. “Baldwin and Bajadali were going,” said Wherry. “That was pretty impressive. It took four of us, for ten or fifteen minutes, to bring them back. We were just trying to get Gord to the line. It was a headwind, it was downhill, it was fast – anybody could come from behind. It’s a total roll of the dice.”

Flying to the finish

In the “battle of the muttonchops,” the moderately side-burned Elken outdid the heavily side-burned Candelario at the line. “He just had a little more speed,” Candelario said. “It was a drag race. If I had had a 55-tooth [chainring] on I definitely would have been able to sprint it out. It’s hard to time it. You’ve got to go a little earlier than normal, because there’s so much speed that you can’t just pop around guys if you’re faster than them.

“If I had pinned my numbers differently,” the always-affable Candelario joked, “I definitely would have had it.”

A frustrated Fraser could only look forward to the race’s two upcoming criteriums. “Other teams were looking at us to bring back Baldwin and Bajadali and we kind of ran out of guys at the end and I kind of had to freelance it,” he said. “I just mistimed it a little bit. The guy who won, hats off to him. He beat some good sprinters. It was a sprint where timing was very important, and he timed it the best. He had the sheltered side. Alex was kind of worried about me and [Elken] slipped through. It was a good win. He definitely was in the right place at the right time. It was a smart move on his part.”

With no time bonuses given to the pro/1/2 field, there was no effect on the overall classification heading into the difficult W-shaped Deschutes Brewery Road Race, an epic stage of mountain passes and twisting switchbacks that crosses the lava fields of McKenzie Pass before finishing with a surprisingly steep uphill finish at the base of the Middle Sister Mountain.

The podium: Candelario, Elken and Fraser

The podium: Candelario, Elken and Fraser

Photo: Neal Rogers

It’s a climb tailor-made for a pure climber such as Health Net’s three-time Cascade winner Scott Moninger, however Moninger knows that status can work against him. “Unfortunately that kind of puts a big ‘X’ on my back,” Moninger said. “[Webcor’s Chris] Horner was my shadow today, along with a couple of other guys. Not that I blame them, but today was a lot of watching each other and no one wanting to ride with the guys that are dangerous. I wouldn’t say it was negative necessarily, but there were a lot of different combinations that no one was really happy with.”

Navigators’ team director Ed Beamon saw it the same way. “I was a little surprised at how conservatively everyone was racing today,” he said. “Tomorrow is such an important GC day, and then you’ve got the time trial after that. I think a lot of the GC guys were just kind of laying low and not wanting to waste too much energy. I’m certain that’s what Horner was thinking about, and I think the Health Net guys were more or less thinking the same way.”

For his part, Elken is realistic about his amateur Broadmark Capital team’s ability to defend the leader’s jersey. “The question is if I can make it over the [McKenzie Pass] climb with the lead group, which I haven’t done in the past two years,” Elken said. “I don’t really expect to. If I can make it over McKenzie, I’ll be happy. The last climb, if Horner, or any of those [climbers] attacks, forget it. I’ll be lucky to stay within three minutes of them.”

Instead, Elken said he would focus on the best Oregon rider’s jersey. “I was hoping to have a chance for that,” Elken said. “There’s some good money there. My teammate Carl [Decker, professional cross-country racer] is a pretty good climber, so he might win it. He could get it tomorrow.”


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