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Lyne Bessette took advantage of a small opportunity in the closing kilometers of Wednesday’s Twin Falls to Buhl stage of the HP Women’s Challenge and scored her first stage win of this 12-day tour through Idaho. Overall race leader since last week’s head-to-head time trial, Bessette has played her hand carefully while racking up an advantage of more than three minutes on second-place Judith Arndt.
“It’s nice,” said Bessette, the winner of this year’s Tour de l’Aude. “Usually if I win a tour, I don’t end up winning a stage, so when I saw the opportunity, I took it.”
Bessette finished seconds ahead of teammate Petra Rossner, who has had a very strong performance in this year’s Women’s Challenge, consistently climbing in the lead group and maintaining a hold on fourth place in GC.
After a flat, slightly downhill opening 35 miles, the course dropped through wide sweeping turns into the famed Snake River Canyon. Unlike past editions of this stage from Twin Falls to Buhl (known as the “Trout Capital of America”), this year’s version strongly favored climbers, after race organizers added three trips around a ten mile circuit, bringing riders in and out of canyon three times as opposed to the single pass through of past years.
While a number of riders tried early attacks, it wasn’t until the first climb up Clear Lakes Road toward the first of the day’s three climber’s sprints, that the pack began to fracture.
Jeannie Longo (Office Depot) who held the overall lead in the opening days of the race, moved to the front and upped the pace in her typical hands-on-drops climbing style. It was an indicator of things to come. It also proved that this race would be a battle of attrition rather than one of repeated attacks off the front. Each time up the climb, more and more of the field fell off the pace set by Longo.
Longo took the first mountain sprint – as well as the second and third of the day – and each time she accelerated the group trailing her looked about the same: Bessette was on her wheel and a shrinking number of riders followed.
Soon after cresting the climb out of the canyon for the last time, the lead group was finalized: Bessette, Longo, Rossner, Arndt, Vera Hohlfeld and the Lithuanian twins Rasa and Jolanta Polikeviciute (all three from Acca Due O-HP), Caroline Alexander (Intersports), British rider Ceris Gilfillan and French rider Sandrine Marcuz .
With just a few kilometers to the finish in Buhl, the attacks from the group began. Longo again found herself shadowed by Bessette and Rossner and unaided by others in the break. In the closing two kilometers, Bessette tried a small acceleration and found herself a few seconds ahead of the lead group. Three seconds, then five… it was tight, but with less than two kilometers to go, Bessette thought it worth a try.
The 26-year-old Canadian rode hard in those last two kilometers, holding on to a four-second advantage as she crossed the line. And who else to take the sprint for second, but Rossner?
The HP resumes Thursday with this year’s longest stage, a moderate to rolling 97 miles from Twin Falls to Mountain Home.
Race NoteAfter winning the stage from Stanley to Ketchum last Friday and starting today in 18th place overall, GT mountain-bike star Alison Dunlap pulled out of the HP Women’s Challenge, complaining of knee problems. As the climbing began at the 40-mile mark, Dunlap radioed her Boise Cascade team car and quickly climbed in. By the finish line in Buhl, Dunlap changed into “civilian” clothes and looking relaxed as she waited for the host town’s annual trout feed to commence.
“You know, I don’t stage race anymore, except for this race,” the former Olympic road cyclist said. “Mountain-bike racing is a lot different and when I come out here, my body starts saying ‘Hey! What the heck are we doing out here?’ My knee was bothering me and I have some big races coming up. I figured it would be smart to pull out before I did some permanent damage.”
1.Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn, 2:43:49; 2. Petra Rossner (G), Saturn; 3. Judith Arndt (G), German National; 4. Vera Hohlfeld (G), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard, all s.t. 5. Ceris Gilfillan (GB), British National, at 0:04; 6. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot; 7. Sandrine Marcuz (F), Canadian/French Composite; 8. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit),
Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 9. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lit), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 10. Caroline Alexander (GB), Intersports, all s.t.
Overall after 9 stages
1. Bessette, 20:04:19; 2. Arndt, at 3:20; 3. Rasa Polikeviciute, at 7:07; 4. Rossner, at 10:13; 5. Vera Hohlfeld (G), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard, at 11:09; 6. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot, at 11:42; 7. Chantal Beltman (Nl), Dutch National, at 12:40; 8.Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn, at 13:11; 9. Sarah Ulmer (NZ), AutoTrader.com, at 14:19; 10. Ceris Gilfillan (GB), British National, at 16:17.