By Phil Marques, Special to VeloNews.com
The Martinsburg circuit race has traditionally been the day for sprinters to steal the spotlight at the International Tour de Toona, giving GC riders to rest up for Saturday’s mammoth road stage. Friday’s 76-mile race featured four 19-mile circuits of ice-smooth roads through bucolic Mennonite farms and dairy pastures.
In the men’s race Colavita-Sutter Homes played their hand right and swept the entire podium. Mark McCormack took the win, and more importantly, gained a 15-second time bonus. The effort paid off as McCormack moved from eighth to sixth on general classification, only 27 seconds from the yellow jersey and definitely within striking distance.
If history is any forecast, it should be noted that ‘Toona has had the yellow jersey stolen three times in the past five years in the final stage criterium. And if what happened in Fitchburg was any indication of Colavita’s strategy for the upcoming two stages, the race may in fact come down to Sunday’s stage.
Finishing right behind McCormack were teammates Jonathan Page and Juan Jose “JJ” Haedo, who evidently weren’t too sapped from yesterday’s podium appearance.
“We knew it was critical to get to the first right hander first,” said McCormack afterwards.
Last year’s stage winner and McCormack’s teammate, Aaron Olsen, was in a breakaway with five other riders that lasted most of the race. Joining Olsen were Volkswagen/Trek’s Alex Lavallé, Jonny Sundt (Jittery Joe’s-Kalahari), Tim Larkin (Kodak/Sierra Nevada), Alejandro Acton (TARGETRAINING), and Jason Donald (RMCEF).
“We were rolling smooth,” said Olsen.
But on the final lap, the break disintegrated as the Health Net-Maxxis team set a hard tempo to preserve Wherry’s yellow jersey, bringing everything back together.
In the women’s race several breaks got off the front but never made it out of sight, reeled in by a cosmopolitan effort of several teams. It ultimately came down to a drag race easily won by three-time national criterium champion Tina Pic (Quark). T-Mobile’s Ina-Yoko Teutenberg kept her green sprint jersey and finished second while Gina Grain (Victory Brewing) took third.
But the most aggressive award had to go to Ford-Basis rider and team manager Nicole Freedman. Freedman made what was looking to be a Cinderella solo move with seven miles to go that almost held off the accelerating peloton until the finish line. But right before the final turn with 250 meters to go, therevved-up field swamped the wasted Freedman and left her in its wake. So spent was Freedman that 25 riders passed her to the finish.
Always quick with a sardonic comment, Freedman put it in perspective.
“It’s no coincidence,” said Freedman. “I think the chase is usually timed to the last second.”
For Pic, it was her first stage win at this year’s edition of Toona.
“I think everybody thought ‘it’s okay’ if she [Freedman] gets the time bonus,” said Pic. “I mean everybody wanted the stage win, but I think that everyone was fine with that too because they were working for their GC riders.”
Although nobody told that to Canadian national road champion Geneviève Jeanson (The Bicycle Store/Rona). Jeanson’s sprint finish was only one spot shy of stealing a 5-second time bonus that would have put her into the yellow jersey had she placed third instead of fourth.
“I just saw her [Freedman] in the last corner,” explained Pic. “Grace [Fleury] was doing the leadout, and she went so hard on the back hill that she dropped everyone. Gaps were just opening up – Geneviève was on Grace for a while, then Victory got in front of her, and I was just jumping around people. But I was thinking ‘Grace just keep going’ because I thought Grace is going to win she’s going so hard. And then she stopped behind Nicole in the [next to last] corner and then I jumped around Victory and the other two in the last corner.”