She may have been something of a surprise when she rode to a second-place finish, at U.S. road nationals in Redding, California this year, but Earthlink’s Amber Neben may have just pulled her last surprise performance. The 26-year-old mountain-bike racing immunologist is beginning to make a name for herself as a serious road racer, especially after chasing down a nearly successful break, and going to a solo win in Tuesday’s eighth stage of the HP Women’s Challenge in Idaho.
Meanwhile Saturn’s Lyne Bessette maintains a tight hold on the overall lead of the Women’s Challenge, with a 3:13 advantage over second-placed Judith Arndt of the German national team. Bessette’s teammate and Saturn’s other big GC threat, Kimberly Bruckner – who had held third place overall – withdrew from the race early Tuesday after suffering for two days with serious saddle sores.
But with the overall lead of this 12-day women’s stage race in Idaho securely in Bessette’s hands, today was a day for the strongest of the remaining 83 riders to battle for a stage win. And it was Neben who managed to deliver. A day after taking eighth in the difficult stage to the Pomerelle ski area on Monday, Neben finished a-minute-and-a-half ahead of 800.com’s Nicole Demars at the top of long, gradual climb at the end of the 60.7-mile Burley to Magic Mountain stage.
Neben was not part of what looked to be a solid and potentially winning break that formed in the flat Idaho farm country outside of Burley. At the 25-mile mark, eight riders, including Demers, three members of the Dutch national team – Ghita Beltman, Angela Hillenga, and Marielle van Scheppingen – AutoTrader.com’s Kimberly Smith, Saturn’s Kristy Scrymgeor, the British national team’s Emma Davies and Intersport’s newest recruit, Pia Sundstedt.
With no major GC threats among them, the eight powered their way to an advantage of 3:40 over the main field. But soon Neben and New Zealander Meshy Holt (Boise Cascade) went off in a seemingly futile pursuit, dangling in that difficult zone between the main field and the leaders.
As the gradual 20-mile climb toward Magic Mountain, began however, the leaders’ pace slowed and the pursuers narrowed the gap quickly. Indeed, just as Hillenga, and van Scheppingen drifted off the back of the lead group, Holt and Neben rounded a corner and had the leaders in their sites.
Once in the group, it appeared that Neben would contesting the climb – which only reached 5 percent at its steepest parts – against Sundstedt, a Finnish rider who has honed her reputation as a climber over the past few seasons racing in Europe, most recently as a member of the Gas Sport squad.
Sundstedt and Neben eyed one another hoping to force someone to set tempo up the hill. But Sundstedt was already tiring as the grade steepened and Neben suddenly got one piece of valuable information over her race radio from her team director Jim Safford.
“You know, you beat all of these people by at least two minutes yesterday,” Safford said. “You should go for it.”
“That’s about all I needed, too.” Neben said.
She charged and soon left Sundstedt and the rest of the lead group to chase. Sundstedt faded, but Demars and Ghita Beltman began to chase.
Meanwhile, behind the leaders, Bessette, Boise Cascade’s Jeannie Longo and second-placed Arndt moved to the front of the main pack and stepped up the pace as the climb began.
What looked like a potentially successful break was caught, with only Neben, Demars and Ghita Beltman able to elude the main chase.
Neben said she was surprised to learn from fellow mountain biker, Alison Dunlap, that the two may well have qualified for the U.S. world’s road squad by winning stages at HP.
If she goes, it may not come as a big surprise when she turns in a stellar performance.
Bruckner said she decided only minutes before the start of stage 8 on Tuesday morning that she could not continue to ride with the saddle sores that have bothered her for the past two days.
“There’s still a lot of racing left,” Bruckner said. “If it was just a day or two, I’d keep putting numb cream on, but this morning, the pain was so bad, I couldn’t even walk across the parking lot with my bike shorts on. It seems like such a small thing, but it affects everything you do. I feel like such a wimp.”
1. Amber Neben (USA), Earthlink, 97.67km in 2:47:08 (35.06kph); 2. Nicole Demars (Can), 800.com, at 1:29; 3. Ghita Beltman (Nl), Dutch National , at 1:29; 4. Emma Davies (GB), British National , at 1:29; 5. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn , at 1:35; 6. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot , at 1:35; 7. Judith Arndt (G), German National , at 1:35; 8. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lit), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard , at 1:35; 9. Alison Dunlap (USA), Boise Cascade Office Products, at 1:35; 10. Ceris Gilfillan (GB), British National , at 1:41.
Overall after eight stages
1. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn, 17:20:40; 2. Judith Arndt (G), German National , at 3:13; 3. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard, at 6:53; 4. Petra Rossner (G), Saturn at, 10:08; 5. Vera Hohlfeld (G), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard at, 10:58; 6. Chantal Beltman (Nl), Dutch National at, 11:03; 7. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot at, 11:31; 8. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn at, 12:19; 9. Sarah Ulmer (NZ), AutoTrader.com at, 12:42; 10. Ceris Gilfillan (GB), British National at, 16:03.