Lieswyn, Beutler take Stillwater criterium
By Neal Rogers
Given that McGuire Pro Cycling’s Dave McCook had won three sprint finishes in three days at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, it would have been a safe bet he’d be a favorite for a race titled the “Stillwater Criterium.”
But the notorious 1.3-mile Stillwater Criterium is not your ordinary criterium; with its steep and narrow Chilkoot Hill climb through Stillwater’s upscale neighborhoods, dishing up an average grade of 18 percent and over 3000 feet of total climbing, Stillwater is one of the most feared crits on the North American circuit. Like the Fillmore Street climb in San Francisco, 39×25 rear chain rings were the norm.
Heading into the NVGP’s final stage, Navigators Insurance’s Henk Vogels held a 25-second lead over Sierra Nevada’s Ben Jacques-Maynes, with Sierra teammate Eric Wohlberg third, another seven seconds back. Jelly Belly-Aramark held two riders, 23-year-olds Australian Caleb Manion and local favorite Adam Bergman, in fifth and sixth overall. Sitting fourth on GC was Ofoto-Lombardi Sport’s Jackson Stewart.
Vogels wasn’t the only Navigators rider starting the race in a leader’s jersey; teammate Marty Nothstein held a one-point lead on the points jersey over McCook. With one intermediate sprint on the first lap, the race was on for the jersey, although there were no time bonuses available on today’s course, meaning GC spots could only be threatened with time gaps.
Coming off a serious injury dating back to June 2003, Vogels’s top-end condition was the big unknown on a demanding course that wavered between one more suited for a climber or for a strongman like Vogels. “It’s more of a powerman’s course,” said Jelly Belly’s Ben Brooks, who abandoned early on citing a cold. “But a circuit like this is more man-on-man.”
Sierra Nevada went to the front from the start, throwing down the gauntlet with a violent pace that shattered the field. By six of the 3.5-minute laps in, the front of the pack had been reduced to a group of approximately 15 riders, including Bergman and Manion (Jelly Belly), Jacques-Maynes and Wohlberg (Sierra Nevada); Jason McCartney, Jason Lokkesmoe, Scott Moninger and John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis); Justin England (Webcor Builders); Davide Frattini (Monex); Tim Larkin and Andy Bajadali (Ofoto-Lombardi Sports): and Vogels and Phil Zajicek (Navigators).
Questions of Vogels’s form were answered halfway into the race; on lap eight (of 20) he and Zajicek were at the front; the next time around Zajicek had drifted off the back, and a few laps after Vogels found himself one-minute down in a chase group along with Wohlberg, Bergman, Stewart, Jason Bausch (Ofoto) and McCartney.
Ahead, the lead group had whittled down to just seven riders: Jacques-Maynes, Lokkesmoe, Moninger, Lieswyn, Larkin, Bajadali and Manion, with Jacques-Maynes the virtual race leader. Given the best representation at the front of the race, things were looking good for Health Net to take the stage win; the team’s highest-placed rider in the group, Lokkesmoe, was 30 seconds behind a strong Jacques-Maynes on the overall.
With four laps remaining Lieswyn attacked on the steep climb, quickly opening a five-second lead. Manion went to the front to chase, while Jacques-Maynes sat on the group, preserving his overall position. Over the final three laps Lieswyn’s gap stretched to over 30 seconds, bringing him the stage win and his Health Net team salvation after missing out on the podium the previous four days. As icing on the cake, Lokkesmoe took the bunch sprint for second.
“I wasn’t feeling that well today,” Lieswyn said, “And I didn’t even know if I’d be able to finish the stage. I think not feeling well allowed me to race differently. Every attack I made I rode as though it might be my last lap. But when you’re in a lead group of seven on a course like this, you don’t quit the race.”
For the 25-year-old Jacques-Maynes, the overall win — the biggest in his promising young career — was verification that his opening stage time trial victory was no fluke.
“I’ve been right there so many times,” Jacques-Maynes said, “top-three, top-five, top-ten. It’s a big win for our whole Sierra Nevada team. Eric [Wohlberg] and Glen [Mitchell], all these guys, they’ve worked so hard for me all week.”
It was a tough day for Vogels, who clearly suffered each and every trip over the tough climb, and said afterwards, “This was a great race. I’m happy to know the form is back, but I’m not happy with the results.”
As for McCook, he was pulled and would finish with a pro-rated time of 8:53 down, but managed to take the points jersey, a fitting finale for the man that won every sprint finish at this year’s NVGP.
In the women’s 50-minute race, the steep climb shattered the field on the first lap, creating a select group of about 14 riders immediately. All the main GC contenders were there, including race leader Lyne Bessette, second-placed Joanne Kiesanowski (Colavita Olive Oil), 11 seconds down), Katrina Grove (RONA, 23 seconds down), and Lynn Gaggioli (T-Mobile, 25 seconds down).
Also in the group were Grove’s RONA teammates Kathryn Curi and Erinne Willock, Chrissy Ruiter (Team Basis), Ashley Kimmet (Colavita Olive Oil), Leah Goldstein (Verizon Wireless-Wheelworks), Mellissa Sanborn (Wells Fargo-Ragatz) and Annette Beutler (Leitzsport Cycling). Off the back were big names such as world pursuit champion Sarah Ulmer (TDS-Schwalbe), best U-26 rider Magen Long (sportsbook.com) and Gina Grain (Victory Brewing), who had wrapped up the points jersey Saturday.
As Bessette controlled the pace, the group rode together for the first eleven laps. With three RONA riders in the break it might have seemed as though an attack was forthcoming, however Bessette rode a pace at the front that kept the rest struggling to maintain her wheel.
“That was part of my strategy,” said Bessette, who won the stage last year riding in support of Saturn teammate Katie Mactier. “Ride hard enough so they know you’re the strongest, and no one will be able to attack.”
With three laps remaining it was do-or-die for RONA, and Willock put forth an attack up the steep Chilkoot Hill climb. Although Bessette quickly countered the move, Willock’s impressive ride was enough to land her in the best U-26 rider’s jersey.
The next time around the group had been thinned down to a selection of just four riders: Berger, Willock, Beutler and Bessette. Having spent themselves to gain as large a time gap as possible, the RONA riders lacked the final punch that Beutler and Bessette did, and on the final ascent it was Beutler taking the uphill sprint against Bessette, with Grove third and Willock fourth.
“Every course suits somebody, and this course suits me,” Bessette said. “My team took good care of me all week, and this was my payback.”