By Kip Mikler , VeloNews Editor
If early-season happenings on the domestic road circuit are any indication, we are experiencing a planetary shift. Move over, Mercury, it’s Saturn’s turn to shine. Trent Klasna is red hot, Harm Jansen is as aggressive as ever, and Anna Millward just can’t seem to lose. Those three Saturn riders led the charge in Friday’s grueling Fort Ord Road Race at the Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca Speedway in Monterey, California.
As usual, Jansen couldn’t hold himself back in the men’s race. With more than 70 miles of rugged California coastal roads still ahead of him, Jansen initiated the day’s first serious break. He and Canadian Rad Cunningham (Broadmark Capital) attacked on the course’s biggest climb and quickly gained more than two minutes on the field.
“I like this,” Klasna told Saturn director Jim Copeland when he saw his teammate Jansen go up the road. That move wouldn’t stick, but later, when Klasna made a solo attack in the fourth of five circuits, Jansen again tapped into that aggressive behavior. The Dutchman joined Prime Alliance rider Michael Creed in a chase, and when Creed punctured, it was just the two Saturn men alone at the front.
At that point, it was all about eating away at the 1:14 lead held by Levi Leipheimer (U.S. Postal Service) before the race. Jansen’s work was key in bringing the leader’s jersey into the Saturn camp and onto Klasna’s back. They did that and then some, and as a reward for his hard work, Klasna, who won last week’s Redlands Classic, sat back at the finish to give Jansen the well-earned stage victory.
Afterward, Jansen looked like he had just gone for a spin in the park, not a rugged effort of more than four hours, in which he spent plenty of time alone in the wind.
“On a course like this, I don’t think it’s much of a disadvantage to be out front,” Jansen shrugged.
Putting an exclamation point on the Saturn message was Soren Petersen, who left a chase group behind to finish third, making it a clean sweep of the top-three spots. “It’s phenomenal,” Klasna said of Saturn’s current momentum. “I can’t even describe it.”
In the 75-mile women’s race, Autotrader.com threw everything they had at Saturn diva Millward, but it wasn’t enough. Not only did the Australian World Cup leader hold onto the yellow leader’s jersey, but she also won a stage for the second consecutive day.
Millward, who won Thursday’s time trial and carried an overall lead of 44 seconds over teammate Kim Bruckner into the pivotal road race, seems, at this point in the season, unstoppable. In addition to her domination in Monterey, she has two World Cup wins to her name this year.
Kim Smith started the day third overall, 1:45 behind Millward in the GC, and so the Autotrader.com rider went on the attack right around the midway point of the race.
“I saw that I had Anna and Petra [Rossner, also of Saturn] with me, and I knew they weren’t going to work with me, so I just pulled and pulled,” said the outnumbered Smith. “I had to give it everything I had.”
It was enough for Smith to shake Rossner, but not Millward. The Australian said she had a hard time matching Smith’s pace, but she was able to stick with Smith until the duo was caught, less than 10 miles from the finish, by a chase group of eight riders that was being powered mostly by Bruckner. (Autotrader riders Julie Young and Jimena Florit were sitting in, not wanting to hurt Smith’s chances).
After that group of 10 came together for the finishing stretch, Millward would have done well to just finish with the group and maintain her overall lead. Instead, she decided to go for another stage win, launching a sprint toward the finish at Laguna Seca from about 150 meters out. With no one able to match it, Millward won it and took a 10-second stage win bonus.
Note: Official men’s results were not available several hours after the finish, but the top-three in G.C. heading into Saturday’s stage 4 will be, unofficially: 1. Klasna; 2. Pedersen; 2. Vladimir Miholjevic (Rus), KRKA-Telekom Slovenia.
MERCURY SEA OTTER CLASSIC, Monterey, CA. March 22-25.
Fort Ord Road Race
Women: 1. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn, 75mi in 3:05:48; 2. Julie Young, Autotrader.com; 3. Katrina Berger, 800.com; 4. Sandy Espeseth (Can), Intersports; 5. Kim Smith, Autotrader.com; 6. Anke Erlank (SA), Saturn; 7. Judith Arndt (G), German national team; 8. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, all s.t.; 9. Jimena Florit (Arg), Autotrader.com, at :07; 10. Stacey Peters, 800.com, s.t.
Women: 1. Millward, 4:27:57; 2. Bruckner, at :54; 3. Smith, 1:55; 4. Arndt, at 2:10; 5. Espeseth, at 3:00; 6. Erlank, at 3:26; 7. Berger, at 3:41; 8. Florit, at 4:23; 9. Young, at 4:39; 10. Peters, at 4:51.
1. Harm Jansen (Nl), Saturn, 182.6km in 4:29:47; 2. Trent Klasna, Saturn s.t.; 3. Soren Petersen (Dk), Saturn, at 1:50; 4. Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro), Krka-Telekom, at 1:57; 5. Gian Paolo Cheula (I) Mapei-Quick Step, s.t.
1. Trent Klasna, Saturn, 6:59:00; 2. Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro), Krka-Telekom, at 1:45; 3. Eddy Gragus, Jelly Belly at 1:47; 4. Soren Petersen (Dk), Saturn, at 2:14; 5. Scott Moninger, Mercury-Viatel, at 2:17