By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
All the usual suspects found their way to the top of the standings after the Laguna Seca Time Trial, stage 1 of the Robert Talbott Elite Road Race, the opening event of the 2001 Sea Otter Classic.
On the women’s side, Saturn’s Anna Millward was the quickest around the up-and-down 27.5km course. The Aussie posted a time of 44:11, knocking teammate Kim Bruckner from atop the leaderboard and setting up a 1-2 finish for Saturn. The win in the hills just outside of Monterey, California, continued Millard’s impressive run that includes wins at the year’s first two World Cups.
Under overcast skies, Bruckner was the second racer to head out onto the course usually reserved for motorsports. Once away she whipped around the track, nearly catching AutoTrader.com’s Kimberly Smith, who was the first racer of the day. Smith ended up in third place, 1:37 back of Millward, while Judith Arndt of the German National Team and Sandy Espesethe of Intersports rounded out the top five.
“This course really suited me,” said a smiling Bruckner moments after she crossed the finish. “It helped when I got Kim in my sights. I always do better if I can target something.”
And for a while it looked like Bruckner’s target had aimed her straight at the top of the podium, as rider after rider failed to come within a minute of her time. But then Millward, who’d started near the middle of the 68-rider field, came barreling home, shaving :36 of Bruckner’s mark, and making it clear she is the one to beat.
“Anna is just flying right now,” Bruckner said. “Still it’s nice to have two people up near the top.”
In the men’s race U.S. Postal’s Levi Leipheimer picked up the win, besting Mercury-Viatel’s Chris Horner by just 10 seconds with a time of 38:49. Already Leipheimer felt the 148-rider field had been narrowed. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I think right now this is a two-man race,” he said of himself and Horner.
As for Horner, he and his Mercury mates were still bristling from last week’s events at Redlands. “They wanted us to win the race for them,” he said of the U.S. Postal squad’s repeated requests for help in chasing down the break that ended up giving Saturn’s Trent Klasna the overall win at the Southern California race. Added Mercury’s Scott Moninger: “At Oak Glen we could have brought that break back, but they wouldn’t put their guys up there.”
The sea-foam clad duo wasn’t worried about a repeat performance this week, though. “It’ll be a disappointment if we don’t win this race,” Moninger said. “We have the strongest team.”
Moninger joined Leipheimer and Horner on the podium, finishing fourth, one spot behind KRKA-Telecom’s Vladimir Miholjevic. Jelly Belly’s Eddy Gragus was fifth. Klasna finished 10th, 1:14 back of Leipheimer.
The four-stage race continues Thursday afternoon, with the Cannery Row Criterium in downtown Monterey. Check back this evening for a full report.
MERCURY SEA OTTER CLASSIC, Monterey, California, March 22-25
Stage 1, Leguna Seca Time Trial
Women: 1. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn, 27.5km in 44:11.00; 2. Kim Bruckner (USA), Saturn, at :36.10; 3. Kimberly Smith (USA), AutoTrader.com, at 1:37.70; 4. Judith Arndt (G), German National, at 1:54.03; 5. Sandy Espeseth (Can), Intersports, at 2:42.59; 6. Anke Erlank (SA), Saturn, @2:58.62; 7. Ann Samplonious (Can), Intersports, at 3:02.29; 8. Catherine Cardwell (USA), Jane Cosmetics, at 3:14.79; 9. Tina Mayola-Pic (USA), AutoTrader.com, at 3:16.35; 10. Pam Schuster (USA), AutoTrader.com, at 3:23.97.
Men: 1. Levy Leipheimer (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 27.5km in 38:49.08; 2. Chris Horner (USA), Mercury-Viatel, at :10.16; 3. Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro), KRKA-Telecom, at :56.18; 4. Scott Moninger (USA), Mercury-Viatel, at :58.19; 5. Eddy Gragus (USA), Jelly Belly, at 1:00.51; 6. Michael Rogers (Aus), Mapei-Quick Step, at 1:03.22; 7. Chris Fisher (USA), Saturn, at 1:09.44; 8. Jamie Drew (Aus), Mercury-Viatel, at 1:09.44; 9.Eric Wohlberg (Can), Saturn, at 1:10.61; 10. Trent Klasna (USA), Saturn, at 1:14.48.
Women: 1. Millward, 44:11; 2. Bruckner, at :36; 3. Smith, at 1:37; 4. Arndt, at 1:54; 5. Espeseth, at 2:42; 6. Erlank, at 2:58; 7. Samplonious, at 3:02; 8. Cardwell, at 3;14; 9. Mayola-Pic, at 3:16; 10. Schuster, at 3:26.
Men: 1. Leipheimer, 38:49; 2. Horner, at 10; 3. Miholjevic, at :56; 4. Moninger, at :58; 5. Gragus, at 1:00; 6. Rogers, at 1:03; 7. Fisher, at 1:09; 8. Drew, at 1:10; 9. Wohlberg, at 1:10; 10. Klasna, 1:14