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Chris Horner wrapped up the men’s road title at the Sea Otter Classic as he finished in the main field of the Laguna Seca circuit race Saturday, easily protecting the nearly three-minute lead he had in the overall standings.
Saturn’s Mark McCormack took advantage of a final-lap charge and held off a closing field to earn a win in the final stage of the three-day, four-stage event, near Monterey, California.
With just 20 laps around the twisting tarmac of the Laguna Seca speedway, there was little chance that anyone would come close to making a dent in Horner’s substantial 2:49 lead over second-placed Henk Vogels (Mercury). Instead, the focus of the day was on snatching a stage win and momentarily directing a bit of the spotlight away from Horner, who has dominated the opening weeks of the U.S. road season.
The 2.25-mile course is highlighted by a steep stair-step of an opening climb that is immediately followed by an even steeper twisting drop known as the “corkscrew.” The course then takes riders out into the open where the wind can prove to be as difficult of a challenge as any part of the climb.
As has been the case over the past few days, much of the day’s action came from the aggressive Navigators’ team. Surprisingly, it was again Kirk O’Bee, one of two riders who powered a long break in Friday’s Fort Ord road race, who found himself off the front early in the stage.
“Just a few laps into it, I went ahead and got a gap,” O’Bee said. “I wasn’t really trying to get away. We just came into this to protect Glen (Mitchell’s) sprinter’s jersey. But real quickly I had a minute on the field.”
O’Bee managed to stay out there for the bulk of the 45-mile race, notching up sprint points along the way and at least keeping the jersey in his team’s hands.
But as the finish neared, the main field picked up the pace of its pursuit just as O’Bee dropped a chain on a bad shift and his lead was eventually erased in the closing laps.
It was on the final lap, just as the field began its last trip up the climb that McCormack took a chance and gambled on an early attack, a full two miles from the finish.
“I felt good and thought I would take a chance at it,” McCormack said. “Coming down the hill, I looked at my computer and I was doing 57 miles and hour.”
McCormack estimated that the main field was following him down the drop at just 51. Through the final turns of the speedway, McCormack was holding on to a lead of around seven to nine seconds.
“Coming down the straightaway, I knew I had it,” McCormack recalled. “I knew they weren’t going to catch me at that point.”
Mercury’s Gord Fraser, winner of Thursday evening’s Cannery Row criterium, easily took the sprint for second.
“It was a good thing for the men’s side of the Saturn program to do something here,” McCormack said. “Obviously, the women have been having a phenomenal race and it was important for us to salvage a bit of pride in this last stage.”