The Saturn women’s team has had a run of things this season, dominating individual events, stage races and even the World Cup. 2001 has pretty much belonged to Saturn, save the occasional run-in with a French-speaking rider usually willing to take on the entire squad by herself. And that’s what happened on the opening day of the 2001 HP Women’s Challenge…. Nope, Genevieve Jeanson is back training in Arizona. This time it was Jeannie Longo.
Longo, riding for a composite team sponsored by Office Depot, joined and then dominated a decisive early break in the 69.5-mile road race from Boise to Idaho City Wednesday. It was a break largely made-up of Saturn Women – Ina Teutenberg, Kim Bruckner, World Cup leader Anna Millward and Tour de L’Aude winner Lynn Bessette, as well as 1997 Women’s Challenge winner Rasa Polikeviciute (Acca Due O-Hewlett-Packard). Over the course of the next 25 miles, the 42-year-old Longo – who has won this race in 1991 and 1999 – rode all but one of them off of her wheel.
The wind was blowing cold and hard at Wednesday morning’s start at the World Center for Birds of Prey, just south of Boise. Out in the rolling wide-open prairie it was the wind that was the biggest factor in the early part of the day. The course wound a large, 35-mile loop around the prairie south of Boise before heading into the hills.
With a nearly 360 loop, the women’s field had to face the hard wind at nearly every angle. At the 16-mile mark as the course turned, offering a strong cross-tailwind. Right after the turn, Saturn’s Petra Rossner, fresh off her fifth win at Philadelphia’s Liberty Classic, charged off the front. Her teammates, Longo and Polikeviciute were able to make the jump. The rest of the field fractured, forming up in echelon in pursuit.
But the winners would emerge from that group. Rossner drifted back to a chase group of about 25 about 45 seconds behind. The six leaders moved on, building their lead as they rolled toward the hills and the reservoir that marks the beginning of 6.5-mile climb to the day’s Queen of the Mountain sprint. As the terrain began to rise, Longo upped the pace and Teutenberg was the first to fall out of the lead group.
The road steepened and Longo accelerated. Bruckner and Bessette were able to stay with her. Millward – who had won this stage for the past three years – and Polikeviciute were not.
Longo attacked again. This time Bruckner faded back. Bessette stayed with her. By the crest of the climb at the 45-mile mark, Longo and Bessette had a 30-second advantage over Bruckner, with Millward and Polikeviciute not far behind.
And so it stayed. Longo powered the pair, their lead eventually building to 2:30 – and that was over the chase group of 25. It was another eight minutes before the next group of 19, including notables such as AutoTrader’s Kim Smith and Julie Young and both Alison Dunlap and Alison Sydor.
Up front, Bessette stayed quiet, riding behind Longo, offering little help, despite the French rider’s strong words of encouragement.
“Why she wouldn’t pull, I don’t know,” Longo later recalled. “She should have pulled. She spent 35km on my wheel. She didn’t pull.”
Riding into Idaho City, with a healthy lead in excess of 2:15 over the chase group, the pair negotiated the hard left-hand turn on to the main street of the small mountain community. Not the sort to take a stage win after shadowing her breakaway partner for a good portion of the race, Bessette did not contest the sprint.
“Jeannie has a way of almost intimidating you into working, even if you have no reason to,” Bessette said. “For us as a team, it wouldn’t have really benefited us to build on that lead. It’s a long race and anything can happen. I think as a team we’re better off not having to defend the jersey right after the first stage.”
No, the jersey, the stage win, the sprint points and QOM points all went to Longo. At the end of the stage, race director Jim Rabdau smiled as he scanned preliminary results.
“As near as I can tell,” he said, “she pretty much got everything today, except the best young rider’s jersey.”
The next two days will give Longo a good opportunity to defend and perhaps add to her lead. Thursday features a hilly 58.5-mile race from Lowman to Stanley, marked by a long climb up Banner pass, with 1900 feet of elevation gain over 13 miles. Friday will take the HP from Stanley to Ketchum, including the usually decisive climb over 8700-foot Galena Pass.
HP Women’s Challenge June 13 – 24
Stage 1 Boise to Idaho City
1. Jeannie Longo (F), Office Depot, 111.83km in 2:40:25 (41.82kph); 2. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn, s.t.;> 3. Petra Rossner (G), Saturn, at 2:15; 4. Judith Arndt (G), German National; 5. Chantal Beltman (Nl), Dutch National; 6. Susy Pryde (NZl), AutoTrader.com; 7. Sara Symington (GB) British National; 8. Ceris Gilfillan (GB), British National; 9. Vera Hohfeld (G), German National; 10. Sandy Espeseth (Can), Insport, all s.t.