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Sea Otter: Fraser and Berger take Cannery Row Criterium

With just a few hours of rest after this morning’s opening time trial, riders tackling this year’s edition of the Sea Otter Classic moved down to Monterey as Mercury’s Gord Fraser and Katrina Berger (Cannondale-USA) won on the tough and grinding criterium course through the streets of the historic Cannery Row district. After two stages, the day ended with U.S. Postal’s David Zabriskie and Rona’s Genevieve Jeanson maintaining their hold on the overall lead. Depth of field Seeing Fraser take a sprint finish in a criterium has been not an unusual sight in American racing over the past few

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Zabriskie and Jeanson hold overall

Zabriskie on the downtown streets of Monterey.

Zabriskie on the downtown streets of Monterey.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

New colors,  same old Gord

New colors, same old Gord

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

With just a few hours of rest after this morning’s opening time trial, riders tackling this year’s edition of the Sea Otter Classic moved down to Monterey as Mercury’s Gord Fraser and Katrina Berger (Cannondale-USA) won on the tough and grinding criterium course through the streets of the historic Cannery Row district.

After two stages, the day ended with U.S. Postal’s David Zabriskie and Rona’s Genevieve Jeanson maintaining their hold on the overall lead.

Depth of field

Seeing Fraser take a sprint finish in a criterium has been not an unusual sight in American racing over the past few years. There was a time, not too long ago, when Mercury, and Fraser in particular, were about the surest bets out there. The sea foam green machine dominated everything it entered, often from start to finish. And sure, the result in Monterey may have been familiar, but the action leading up to it was refreshingly varied, bringing in a wild mix of teams fighting for a stake in the 80-lap, 48-mile men’s event.

From the outset, the most aggressive man in the field was Fraser’s old teammate Chris Horner. The old Mercury man split from the squad late last year and signed on with the growing Prime Alliance team. Horner, fresh from his win at last week’s Redlands Classic, finished second in the morning’s Laguna Seca time trial, behind U.S. Postal’s Zabriskie, but came into Monterey riding like he was the man defending the jersey.

Horner stayed in the mix at the front, initiating attacks and joining a dangerous group of four others – 7UP’s John Leiswyn, Doug Ziewacz and Godfrey Hayden as well as Mercury’s Phil Zajicek – at the front in a break that was only reeled in through the cooperative efforts of Saturn and Zabriskie’s Postal squad.

After a series of attacks and counter attacks from Saturn, Navigators, Postal and Mercury, Navigators Glen Mitchell and Mercury’s Stoyanov Plamen managed to escape building a lead that grew to 30 seconds… more than enough to make Horner and the Prime Alliance squad move to the front and power the chase. The two were finally pulled back to the fold with nine laps to go.

The battle for position began in earnest. It looked like it was going to be another mass sprint for the finish. But Canadian national champion Mark Walters (Navigators) had a different idea of how the crit’ should finish and powered off the front with three laps remaining. He put his down and stayed away… almost to the finish.

Diving into the second-to-last turn, Walters was caught by a string of riders led by Mercury’s Henk Vogels, with Fraser moving into prime position going into the last turn.

“It’s not like it was before,” Fraser said. “All Mercury all the time. It’s a lot harder to get a win these days… of course when it does happen, it’s that much nicer.”

As for racing against his old teammate, Fraser shrugged. “It’s a lot easier when he’s on the same team. Riding against Chris kind of sucks. I don’t know what his secret is, but he’s in phenomenal shape right now.”

Depth, but most of it’s on one team

While the talent in the men’s peloton may be equally divided than it has been in the past, the opposite may true in women’s racing these days. Saturn, the world’s number one team, with the world’s number one rider and a solid lead in the race for the World Cup has turned into the proverbial 800-pound gorilla of women’s cycling.

After Rona’s Genevieve Jeanson emerged the winner of the time trial at Laguna Seca she knew that the criterium would be “a battle between me and Saturn.”

It was an easy prediction… and the rest of field knew it, too. For Berger’s Cannondale squad and others the race became a matter of timing, covering the right move by Saturn might just put a rider in prime position for a win.

Early on, Saturn’s Kimberly Bruckner joined Cannondale’s Amber Neben off the front of the field, maintaining a steady 20- to 25-second lead. Rona moved to the front of the field in pursuit, but it took Jeanson’s horsepower to narrow the gap. It was a pattern that would be repeated throughout the 40-lap event.

As Bruckner and Neben were pulled back into the field, Saturn Lyne Bessette charged off the front. Jeanson drove the chase. The gap shrunk. Jeanson, pounding big gears, pulled the escapee back. But there was no rest for the Rona rider before Bessette’s teammate Judith Arndt attacked; Jeanson chased; the gap shrunk and…

“It’s our big advantage going into this race,” Bessette later said. “Saturn has so much depth, we can keep sending people off the front and eventually wear her down.”

And eventually, that’s precisely what happened. As Arndt left for her third foray off the front, Jeanson began to fade. The Saturn rider was joined by Berger, Neben and Nicole Demars (Bianchi).

“At that point, it just made sense for me just to keep them in sight,” Jeanson later said. “I had a good time trial and I was beginning to get tired… my legs didn’t burn, they just felt empty.”

Jeanson did her best to minimize the damage and the four women up front began to think of taking the stage.

“I’ve seen how past winners have done it. I knew that the corner up there is key,” she said pointing to the second-to-last turn, leading into a steep downhill, before a hard turn onto the final straight away. “If you make into that turn first, you’re first into the final turn and you’ve got it.”

Berger called it right.

“I knew that she was probably going to go early,” Demars said. “I hesitated for a second watching Judith, by then Katrina was gone.”

Arndt and her Saturn teammates were satisfied with the outcome. They had come with an eye on the overall title, and a plan to wear down their most serious competition.

“I think we did that,” Bessette said. “It took a lot out of her.”

As for the team’s strategy for Friday’s Fort Ord road race, Bessette said the approach will be simple. “Same as today,” she said. “Just keep attacking.”

It’s an approach that works when a team has that kind of depth.

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