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By Kathie Reid
With their participation at the Beijing Olympics just a month away, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) and Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo Lifeforce) made the most of their last time trial before the Games by putting significant time into their opponents in Friday’s stage 3 Skyliner’s Time Trial at the Cascade Cycling Classic. Leipheimer’s win put him in the yellow jersey, while Armstrong retained her solid hold on the lead in the women’s race The evening’s Downtown Criterium brought no significant changes to the GC when Dominique Rollin (Toyota-United) and Brooke Miller (Team Tibco) both took exciting sprint wins in their respective fields in front of huge enthusiastic crowds in downtown Bend, Oregon.
Men’s Time Trial – A shake up in GC
Few were surprised when Leipheimer, on the podium at last year’s Tour de France, beat his nearest competitor by more than one minute, but folks following the GC may have been surprised at how the day’s first race shook up the overall standings.
BMC teammates Jeff Louder and Darren Lill came in second and third at 1:15 and 1:20 down, respectively, while Bissell’s Tom Zirbel and Toyota-United’s Ben Day were fourth and fifth at 1:35.
Zirbel and Louder’s strong performances moved them into second and third on GC, respectively, while Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United) retained fourth, and Thursday’s yellow jersey wearer, Matt Wilson (Team Type 1) is now in fifth.
Minutes after completing his ride, Leipheimer said he felt good on the course, though he did notice Bend’s 3623 foot elevation.
“It’s definitely altitude, so the sensations, you don’t feel it so much in your legs. You feel it in your lungs and your throat. I’m burning right here,” he said, pointing to his chest. “But it was good, exactly what I need for the Olympics.”
Leipheimer said he passed his one-minute man, Santiago Botero (Rock Racing), just past halfway on the way out.
“It kind of looked to me like something was wrong,” Leipheimer said. “I don’t know if he had a mechanical or something. He kind of kept looking down.”
Botero, the former world champion time trialist who will also be in Beijing but for his native Columbia, had perhaps the most surprising performances of the day, as he finished 6:25 behind Leipheimer and slipped from third to 31st on GC.
Zirbel has just four seconds on Louder in the GC and expressed mixed emotions about his own time trial performance.
“You never know how your legs are going to bounce back from the day after being in a break all day, so I was happy with the way things went,” he said shortly before the evening’s crit. Referring to the slight uphill on the front half of the time trial course, he continued, “I tried to go a little bit harder on the way out obviously than the way back, but couldn’t make up the time that I lost on the way out on some of those guys. So it’s a little closer than I wanted. I wanted a little bigger buffer … it’s going to be hard to hold on to, so we’ll see what kind of tactics we’ll throw down tomorrow.”
As they have in year’s past, large enthusiastic crowds lined the streets of downtown Bend for the early evening criterium, and they were not disappointed. The men of Successful Living started attacking early, while other teams followed suit, and by the twelfth lap, a break of seven began slipping away from the peloton. It initially contained Ivan Stevic (Toyota-United), Daniel Holloway (Garmin-Slipstream), Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis), Davide Frattini (Colavita-Sutter Homes), Christopher Barton (U23 National Team), Shawn Milne (Team Type 1), and Curtis Gunn (Successful Living).
Riding at average speeds of close to 30 miles per hour, the break gained close to a 15 second gap. With Astana teammate Leipheimer in yellow, Bend-local Chris Horner could consistently be seen on the front of the charging peloton with the yellow jersey tucked in behind him, surrounded by members of teams like Health Net-Maxxis, Toyota-United, Garmin-Chipotle, BMC and Successful Living, who took turns sending men to the front.
Around lap 27, Toyota-United came to the front of the peloton and took control of the pace. Rollin explained that, while they wanted somebody in any breaks just in case one stuck, “Our plan was to be at the front, control the race. This way, we keep me safe for the sprint, but also Chris Baldwin and [Chris] Wherry safe for the GC. This way they don’t fight, they don’t get caught in crashes.”
They did succeed in avoiding a variety of crashes, including one on the back side of the course that brought roughly 30 riders into the pit halfway through the race. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) was caught in this crash, and his team director, Glen Mitchell, confirmed that he sustained a broken collarbone. “It looks like it’s a pretty clean break all the way through,” he said. Jacques-Maynes told Mitchell that Tom Peterson (Garmin-Slipstream) “slipped out on a corner and basically slid across the road and was right in front of Ben. He didn’t really have time to react or avoid it, so he ended up hitting Tom Peterson and going straight over the handlebars and obviously landing straight on his shoulder.”
With roughly 10 minutes to go in the race, Stevic attacked what was left of the break (Barton was gone after about seven laps and Gunn had a crash that eventually took him out, as well) – “He thought he could make it,” Rollin said – but his team was not able to keep the peloton from charging, and he eventually was reeled back in to help set Rollin up for the sprint.
Horner continued to stay near the front while Leipheimer left his wheel as teams like Health Net-Maxxis, Toyota-United and Successful Living began trying to get lead-out men in place. Gritters explained that his teammates did an excellent job keeping him safe, and enabled him to make his move. “I came out of the second-to-last corner about five wheels back and thought I might have had it,” he said. “I had Dom through the corner, following him, but I think I got a little overconfident, grabbed too much gear, and he got me right at the line.”
Rollin added, “The last two turns were just crazy, guys coming from everywhere. The last two teammates I had were just giving everything they had and I came around first on the last corner, and I knew if I came around first, I would make it to the line … The guys just did an incredible job up front controlling the race.”
Women’s Time Trial – No surprises
As with the men’s field, it’s likely few were surprised by the winner in the women’s race, world champion time trialist Armstrong. She was followed by Beijing teammate, Christine Thorburn (Webcor) at 52 seconds, Katheryn Mattis (Webcor) at 1:47 and Aaron’s teammates Julie Beveridge and Felicia Gomez at 2:03 and 2:25, respectively. This led to only one change in the top 5 on GC, as Thorburn and Beveridge traded places: Thorburn now sits in second while Beveridge is third in front of Mattis and Kristin Sanders.
Even before knowing the official results, all three women felt good about their rides. “I think it went really well,” Armstrong said. “I felt really strong … It was good conditions and I gave it everything I had.” Armstrong was even relaxed enough to joke about the upcoming crit. “It hurt, and the whole time, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do a crit tonight. How can I get out of that one?’ I wish it made it optional – ‘if you win a stage, the next stage is optional’! I think a lot more people would be racing if that was the choice,” she said with a laugh.
Like Leipheimer, Thorburn noted the impact of the elevation. “It’s a little bit tough for me because we’re at altitude,” she said. “Normally on this course, I would have gone out harder, but I’ve had a bad experience time trialing at 5000 feet and blowing up, so I was a little more conservative.”
Mattis, who suffered a broken collarbone early in the season at the Tour of New Zealand, was not only pleased with her fitness, but appreciated the level of competition. She explained, “Today was definitely a good test, especially with having Kristin and Christine in the field. They’re such good time trialists that it’s always good to use them as litmus tests to see where my fitness is … it definitely gives me confidence that my fitness is coming around.”
When asked what her plan would be for going into the evening’s crit – still in yellow and still without teammates – Armstrong said, “Stay safe and stay in the top 10, no matter what. Even if I have to deal with a little bit of work … if you get behind the top 10, it’s a little bit harder because you’re always fighting people and it’s a little bit more dangerous. So if I have to sit up there and do a little more tempo in the wind, I’d rather do that. At this point, I just want to stay safe for Beijing.” She predicted that a lot of teams would be out for the stage win, and said, “I think Brooke [Miller] and Gina Grain have the best chance of winning tonight.”
Women’s Criterium – Armstrong predicted the outcome
The crowds were already thick for the women’s race, which went off roughly 90 minutes before the men’s. And from the beginning, Armstrong’s prediction that a lot of teams would be going for the stage win was evident. Multiple riders from ValueAct Capital, Aaron’s, Webcor and Team Tibco were consistently at the front, vying to control the pace, while individuals from smaller teams such as Touchstone and SHO-AIR/CVAC were also often in the mix. And Armstrong’s yellow jersey was easy to spot, always out front taking the wind, or at least in the top 10, as she’d anticipated.
Averaging speeds of up to 27 miles per hour, the field shrank as small groups of women came off the back with successive laps. Officials sometimes cut groups of as many as ten who had fallen too far behind.
At roughly lap 25, Gomez was off the front by herself and stayed there for four laps. She said it was somewhat of an accident, though. She said she was going for the $200 prime and then Coryn Rivera (Kahala La Grange), a 15-year-old from Tustin, California who has accrued 16 national champion jerseys in road, track and cyclocross, went for it. “I thought, I can’t take $200 away from a 16-year-old, right? I sat up and let her take it,” she explained. As they crossed the prime line, Aaron’s director Carmen D’Aluisio radioed Gomez that she had a gap, so she said to Rivera, “Let’s go! But she couldn’t go, so I just went alone. I was hoping someone would bridge, but they didn’t.”
Gomez credited Armstrong with taking the lead for keeping the pace pretty high, as well as keeping it pretty safe. She said that by the last five laps, or so, though, the pace slowed down very slightly as teams started getting their sprinters in line.
Miller said that she believed Gina Grain (Webcor) was the best sprinter with the best lead-out, so she was “just sitting behind her, just being patient” as they came into the final laps. She thought someone would jump on the back side on the last lap and was surprised when no one did. “That kind of allowed me to relax a little bit, and I just wanted to make sure that I was patient coming around the corner. I was about third or fourth wheel coming around the corner, and I was just really focused on the line and got a good run on Gina’s wheel and jumped around her.”
Grain was on Miller’s wheel across the line, with Alison Testroete (Aaron’s) in third.
Twenty-four-year-old Testroete, a former speed skater from British Columbia, seemed flattered to be in the company of sprinters like Miller and Grain. She said that she got on Thorburn’s wheel – “I’m sure she didn’t know I was on her wheel” — when Thorburn was setting Grain up, and when Grain went on the outside of the last turn, Testroete waited a couple seconds and took the inside. “Then Brooke came just because she has so much speed. Brooke and Gina, they’re just so fast, so I was happy with that. I knew that I had to be ahead of them for the sprint because I knew that they would be faster than me.”
Two hilly stages remain in the Cascade Cycling Classic: Saturday’s Cascade Lakes Road Race and Sunday’s Awbry Butte Circuit Race.