“Everyone said that the Dutchies were supposed to win the criterium,” Marielle van Scheppingen said after the 12th stage of the HP Women’s Challenge, “so we felt some pressure to do it… and we did.”
Scheppingen (Dutch National) was part of a winning break of six that formed about two-thirds of the way into the 34.7-mile State House Criterium, a fixture at the 18-year-old women’s stage race through Idaho. Race leader Lyne Bessette (Saturn) was an early factor in the success of the small group. Not only did the 26-year-old Canadian in the blue race leader’s jersey power the group for two laps, her presence almost guaranteed that the powerful Saturn team wouldn’t lead the charge in pursuit of the break.
The eight-turn course through the streets around Idaho’s State Capitol building is the only criterium in this 12-day event and several teams, hungry for a win were gunning for stage. Early on, the 45-lap event offered a number of opportunities for cash-hungry riders to pull in a few bucks as spectators ponied-up to sponsor primes.
Scheppingen’s teammate, Chantal Beltman, was the beneficiary of most those, as she regularly found herself at the front of the field in the final turn on prime laps.
“It wasn’t part of our team plan,” said the winner of Stage 5’s Elkhorn circuit race in Sun Valley, “but I looked around and no one was contesting them, so if it’s possible, why not?”
Meanwhile Intersports’ Catherine Marsal locked up the Women’s Challenge sprint jersey after successfully taking the first and second of the day’s hot-spot sprints. Marsal was locked in a tight battle for the jersey with former U.S. national champion Nicole Friedman until the Voler rider was ejected from the race on Thursday for hanging on to a team vehicle during the long hot stage from Twin Falls to Mountain Home.
But Marsal was in the hunt for a stage win as well and quickly joined in a break initiated by AutoTrader.com’s Kim Smith with 18 laps to go. Race leader Bessette, covering the front for her team, jumped on Smith’s wheel and the two were quickly joined by Marsal, Van Scheppingen, Roz Reekie-May (Boise Cascade) and the big surprise of this year’s HP, Stage 7 winner, Amber Neben.
Bessette almost immediately took control and drove the break for two laps, building a healthy lead for a break that was now almost assured of success. The combination was perfect. All of the big teams were represented, so the chase in back was scaled back.
Saturn wasn’t chasing because of Bessette. AutoTrader had Smith and Intersports’ team director David Cathcart,sitting on the side of the course, radioed his team, “this is perfect for us, perfect. Just hang…. Ride false tempo.”
For the remaining 16 laps, the six cruised through the figure-8 course, while riders like Beltman, Petra Rossner (Saturn) and Sandy Espeseth kept watch on the chase. The gap stayed at around 40 seconds.
Neben took the initiative on the last lap and took an early flyer, hoping to surprise the sprinters. It didn’t quite work and she was caught as the others began to jjockey for position.
Van Scheppingen said she was nervous about the presence of Marsal. “She’s fast,” Van Scheppingen said. “I was worried. My coach kept telling me that I would have to be the first into the last corner and I was.”
The Dutch rider maintained her lead in the final 100 meters and edged Marsal at the line.
Smith, generally known as a climber, had also tried to get a prime spot into that last turn.
“Hey I wanted first, but seein’s that I am not a sprinter… I hit the corner in third and just prayed that I could keep it up ‘please, please, please.’” Smith said.
Reekie-May followed in fourth, ahead of Neben and finally Bessette.
Bessette, of course, maintains a strong hold on the overall lead, with an advantage of more than four minutes on second Judith Arndt. The Women’s Challenge ends on Sunday with a short 55-mile race from Middleton to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boise.
1. Marielle van Scheppingen (Nl), Dutch National, 1:22:02; 2. Catherine Marsal (F), Intersports; 3. Kimberly Smith (USA), AutoTrader.com; 4. Roz Reekie-May (NZ), Boise Cascade Office Products, all s.t. 5. Amber Neben (USA), Earthlink, at 0:03; 6. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn, s.t.; 7. Petra Rossner (G), Saturn, at 0:41; 8. Chantal Beltman (Nl), Dutch National, at 0:43; 9. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn; 10. Mirella van Melis (Nl), Dutch National, all .st.