By Steve Medcroft, Special to VeloNews.com
The teams of overall race leaders Amber Neben and Scott Moninger showed their depth Saturday as former Olympic silver medalist and world time trial champion Mari Holden (T-Mobile) and Healthnet/Maxxis strongman Mike Sayers dominated the finishes of the Silver City Downtown Criterium to win stage 4 of the Tour of the Gila.
Held on a 1.08-mile course that included an elevation change of 110 feet per lap, Sayers went off the front with five laps to go, followed only by Arizona-based regional pro Jacob Rubelt (Landis Trek/VW), and kicked the final sprint to put a stamp on the men’s race.
T-Mobile played prefect strategy under New Mexico’s glaring sun. By putting a strong sprinter in a late break, GC leader Amber Holden was able to safely sit in the pack and save energy while Holden went for personal glory. In a bold maneuver on the final turn, in which she almost collided with the tire-pile barriers, Holden powered off the front and held all the way to the finish.
The guy is an ox!
For Sayers, the win was a chance to finally take a stage for himself after weeks of providing essential support to his team (to Moninger at Gila and, most recently, Gord Fraser at the Tour of Georgia).
“The plan all day was for me to try and get in a group like that,” Sayers said. The group formed at lap 28 of 40 when a small group broke off and Sayers jumped across the gap. Once in place, Sayers teammates moved to the front of the main group and slowed it down, giving Sayers room to set the break up as a winning move.
Also in the breakaway group was Landis Trek/VW rider Jake Rubelt. Before Saturday’s stage, Landis’ GC leader Drew Miller had to withdraw from the race after a night battling food poisoning. This left Rubelt, and teammates Tim Carolan and Brian Lemke to pursue whatever goals he wanted in the criterium.
With five laps to go, “one of the Tecos guys attacked,” Sayers said and he immediately countered. Only Rubelt was able to grab his wheel and quickly the duo was up eight seconds. “Mike Sayers is an ox!” Rubelt said at the finish. “He was letting me basically sit in. He turned to me and said ‘let’s do it, we can make it.’
Coming through the straight for the final lap, Rubelt was still stuck to Sayers’ wheel and the gap to the chasing group was holding at eight seconds. “Jake did what he could,” Sayers said but he knew there we be no trouble from the younger rider in the sprint. Just to be sure though, Sayers kicked into his highest gear and wound his power up into the final straight, surging 30 meters ahead before zipping up his jersey and pounding the air in excitement for the win.
“It felt so good. Not just today, but all of it. To have Scott (Moninger) in the lead and knowing that we’re working for a strong guy, it’s perfect.” Sayers said the success at Gila is 18 months in coming, since Moninger lost a season of domestic racing to a USADA sanction. “I knew we had the right guy,” Sayers said. “I worked hard to get him on our team and I really appreciate our sponsor for putting aside whatever concerns they may have had. This race is a chance for us to pay them back.”
T-Mobile on patrol
T-Mobile took a similar approach to the women’s race. GC leader Amber Neben needed to be protected and given the freedom to recover for Sunday’s Gila Monster road race. This meant T-Mobile would send sprinters Lynn Gaggioli and Mari Holden into any opportunity that presented itself.
After policing a few early attacks, Holden found the opportunity her team was looking for with eight laps to go. “Three girls got off the front and I was able to bridge up,” Holden said. Three other girls came with her. With a lead group of seven and one of their own represented, T-Mobile shut down the tempo of the main group and Holden worked to keep the break together. “I pressed a little bit to make sure it would stick,” she said. From there, the race came down to positioning for the final sprint. “I knew it would come down to who was willing to take the final corner the fastest.”
On Holden’s wheel was Basis rider Kate Maher. Holden moved to the front on the backstretch of the course, a street that climbed 75-feet above the start, which left a long descent leading down to the final turn. Holden took turn four so fast she almost put herself into a barrier. Maher found herself boxed out and had to brake for a moment before finding the strength to come around and follow Holden across the finish line to take second place.
For Maher, her success was a fun and rewarding victory. The U.C. Berkeley student and PhD candidate in Geochemistry has been racing at the Elite level for only her second year. Taking 2004 to gain general experience, she looks forward to competing in national-level events throughout 2005. Now that their GC leader has pulled out of the race with injury problems, her result in Saturday’s criterium gives her team something positive to take away after the weekend is over.
For Holden and T-Mobile, the win was further evidence of their strength and domination of the women’s peloton. It preserved their position on top of GC, and pulled Holden a little further up in the standings. “We have first place to protect but having me a little further up just gives us more options.” After Gila, Holden will return to her home in Colorado to “recover from these races and get on the track a bit.” To qualify to compete in the 2004 Summer Olympics, she will need to win either the road or time-trial Olympic qualifying race in June at Redlands.
A look ahead to Sunday
Experience and team depth seems to be the key to the 2004 Tour of the Gila. Healthnet/Maxxis and T-Mobile have determined the outcome of almost every stage. But there’s one race left and it can provide an opportunity for upset.
At 71.8 miles and covering one Category 2 and two Cat. 4 climbs (for almost 5500 feet of climbing), climbers like Brooke Ourada (Victory Brewing) and Christine Thorburn (Webcor Builders) (sitting 1:52 and 0:51 back in GC respectively), have a chance to make a break. If they do, it would up to Neben herself to protect T-Mobile’s GC advantage.
The men’s event is significantly tougher. At 106.4 miles, they’ll cross the Continental Divide three times for 9300 feet of climbing over a Cat. 1, two Cat. 2 and two Cat. 4 climbs. The major climb of the day runs from 5600 to 7600 feet in only three miles and was the site of last year’s winning breakaway by Drew Miller and Ubaldo Estapa (Tecos).
If anyone is going to threaten Healthnet’s grip on the 2004 Tour of the Gila, the attack will have to come on one the major climbs. With the loss of Miller from the peloton, the number of riders who have the climbing pedigree to hurt Moninger has dwindled. Davide Frattini (Team Monex –2:32 behind in GC) and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators – 3:43 behind in GC) are chief among the challengers. And, of course, Albuquerque, New Mexico resident Ryan Blickem is still in the hunt at 2:18 back after his fantastic stage 1 time trial.Women Stage 4
1. Mari Holden (T-Mobile)
2. Kate Maher (Basis) at 00:01
3. Anna Milkowski (Team Rona)
4. Alisha Little (ABD Cycling Team)
5. Melanie McQuaid (Ford Outfitters)
6. Maria Molina (Orto-Evra)
7. Candice Blickem (Genesis Scuba/FFCC), all s.t.
8. Maria Castaneda (Ortho-Evra), at 0:28
9. Erinne Willock (Team Rona)
10. Chrissy Ruiter (Basis), both s.t. Women’s GC
1. Amber Neben (T-Mobile) 07:54:40
2. Christine Thorburn (Webcor Builders), at 00:51
3. Brooke Ourada (Victory Brewing), at 01:52
4. Mari Holden (T-Mobile), at 02:34
5. Kori Seehafer (Genesis/Scuba/FFCC), at 03:44
6. Erinne Willock (Team Rona), at 03:48
7. Lynn Gaggioli (T-Mobile), at 04:25
8. Sandy Esepeth (Victory Brewing), at 04:29
9. Anna Milkowski (Team Rona), at 05:50
10. Johanna Buick (Victory Brewing), at 06:08 Men Stage 4
1. Mike Sayers (Healthenet/Maxxis)
2. Jacob Rubelt (Landis Trek/VW), at 00:03
3. Domingo Ramirez (Tecos) at 00:12
4. Lawrence Perera (Sharper Image)
5. Jon Tarkington (Vitamin College)
6. Fausto Munoz (Tecos), all s.t.
7. Jason Lokkesmoe (Healthnet/Maxxis), at 00:28
8. Mike Jones (Healthnet/Maxxis)
9. Chris Gruber
10. Aaron Norman (Owens Healthcare), all s.t. Men’s GC
1. Scott Moninger (Healthnet/Maxxis), 07:48:07
2. Mike Jones (Healthnet/Maxxis), at 01:48
3. Ryan Blickem (Aida’s Bail Bonds), at 02:18
4. Davide Frattinin (Team Monex), at 02:32
5. John Hunt (Villiage Peddler), at 02:52
6. Carl Decker (Broadmark Capital), at 02:59
7. Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators), at 03:43
8. Jonathan Baker (Excel Sports), at 04:17
9. Mike Sayers (Healthnet/Maxxis), at 5:15
10. Marsh Cooper (Symmetrics), at 5:15
With five laps to go in the women’s race, Yukie Nakamura (Webcor Builders) touched the back wheel of Lynn Gaggioli (T-Mobile), sending both riders to the ground. The women were treated for road rash and, with sore bones to show for the crash, should be at Sunday’s start line to work hard for their leaders (who just happen to be the top two women in GC).
The finish-line camera
Ever wonder how the officials can sort out the final order of riders in super-fast sprint finishes? You may have noticed a scaffolding at either side of the finish line. And a camera perched on top catching all the action. Well that’s not a typical camera. Standard video, at 30 frames-per-second, has enough pause time between frames and blur within the frames themselves that it is almost useless for cycling finishes. That’s why race organizers like Jack Brennan of the Tour of the Gila call in professional finish-line experts to get it right.
In Gila’s case, the expert is Doug Ashbaugh of Loveland, Colorado. He uses a 10-year-old Accutrack film camera. Instead of having a shutter, the camera has a slit through which the film is exposed. Ashbaugh simply feeds film past the slot, at just the right speed to catch the action of course, and captures an inch-by-inch panorama of the field. “There’s absolutely no jump in the picture at all,” he says.
The result is an image in which the officials can tell rider positions even if they are millimeters apart. The most memorable finish Ashbaugh filmed was “The International women’s challenge in Utah,” he says. The gap between first a second wasn’t more than the width of a penny, he says.
“This particular model of camera,” Ashbaugh explains, “was designed for horse and dog racing. It was really meant to be permanently installed.” That means Ashbaugh has to be careful whenever he transports and sets the camera up for new events. “It takes a 150-foot roll of film.” That roll will last Ashbaugh the weekend. And to expedite the processing of results, the camera has a built-in developer right behind its main body. “It takes about 30 to 45 seconds to process the film.”
Ashbaugh’s company D & L Sound, runs the finish-line camera, does results and rents and runs sound and video equipment for cycling venues. “I used to do all the NORBA’s,” he says, but is slowing his schedule down so as not to travel so much. “I’ll do maybe 20 events this year.”
His biggest challenge in running the camera? “Film. Kodak’s slowed down production on it and I can only buy in huge quantities now.”
Look for Ashbaugh and his camera at bike races across the west.