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By Rob Jones, Special to VeloNews
Nathan O’Neill did a solid job of protecting his hold on the leader’s jersey in a tough final stage at the 20th edition of the Tour de Beauce: 12 laps of a tough 11-kilometer circuit in and around St Georges, Quebec.
O’Neill, who took over the yellow jersey from Svein Tuft (Symmetrics), and his was the strongest squad in the race, but would it be enough to cover the inevitable attacks that would take place? The answer was yes, although a small group did finally creep away in the last two laps, giving Health Net’s Doug Ollerenshaw the final stage win.
The attacks began immediately, but it wasn’t until the fourth lap that a break was firmly established. Saturday’s stage winner Charles Dionne (Team Canada), Tim Johnson (Jittery Joe’s-Kalahari), Jean-Sebastien Maheu (VW-Trek), Brandon Crichton (Italpasta-Belmire Transport) and Przemyslaw Mikolajczyk (Paged-MBK-Scout) fairly quickly took a one-minute lead, but that was all Navigators would allow. Crichton was the highest placed, 4:02 behind O’Neill, but he was in the break just to watch Maheu, who was second to him in the Espoir category.
This group stayed away until four laps remained. Maheu was dropped from the lead group, and their lead stabilized at around 50 seconds, until a chase group of four jumped across: Mark Walters (Navigators), two Health Net riders – Justin England, John Lieswyn – and Dominique Perras (Team Canada). This spelled the end for the break, and Navigators reeled them in. Ollerenshaw counter-attacked as the breakaway was caught, and gained half a minute, but was brought back shortly after Bruno Langlois (VW-Trek) managed to bridge up to him.
Perras, who was trying all day to get something going, tried again on the final climb with 10 kilometers to go. On his own, on the climb, he managed gain 28 seconds, but it wasn’t until three others joined him that it began to look like this break might finally succeed. The lead group is now down to 23 riders, including O’Neill and Tuft, plus two other Navigators “minders” – David O’Loughlin and Jeff Louder.
Perras was joined by Ollerenshaw, Cameron Jennings (Cyclingnews.com) and Krzysztof Mermer (Paged). The group took the gap to 45 seconds, without a serious chase being mounted from behind. The peloton was down to 25 riders, and no one had the inclination to attack, so the winner would come out of this group. That winner would be Ollerenshaw, who jumped his companions on the descent to the finish, coming in just ahead of Jennings and Mermer, with Perras falling off the pace in the final couple of kilometers.
Tuft was philosophical about just missing the chance to become the first Canadian to win Beauce since his team mate Eric Wohlberg 10 years earlier: “My team was going to try and do something to win back the jersey, but O’Neill’s Navigators team was riding super strong. We went really hard on the climb a couple of times, but we just couldn’t get away from those guys. With one lap to go, I realized that I was going to finish up second. That’s pretty awesome; a year ago I never would have expected this.”
O’Neill praised his team for making the job of protecting the jersey relatively easy. “It was pretty aggressive the first few laps, but the team did a fantastic job of controlling things. I never really felt that I was under pressure; I barely had to lift a finger all day.”
“I’m excited to win Beauce, it has a huge reputation as one of the toughest races to win. You just have to look at the past list of winners to realize that it is a big honor to add your name.”