By Chris Milliman, Special to VeloNews
Chris Horner wasn’t shy when talking about his strategy for today’s 100-mile road race finale to the 2004 Sea Otter Stage Race: wait as long as possible to attack for the stage and overall win. Neither was he coy when discussing the reason for his simple plan: save his legs as much as possible for the Tour of Georgia, which starts on Tuesday.
The beauty of Horner’s simple plan was that it actually worked, giving the 32-year-old Webcor rider the stage and overall victories in the three-stage event. With a few fruitless breaks punctuating the first three-quarters of the stage, and with the field groveling against a fierce head wind up the Salinas Valley, Horner and his Webcor teammates allowed the Sierra Nevada squad to make the pace at the front in order to protect Trent Klasna’s overnight leader’s jersey.
Gordon McCauley (Monex) threw a wrench into the Sierra Nevada machine as he attacked in the final 20 miles and opened a useful minute-plus gap. Klasna’s team chased to the dangerous McCauley, who was caught at the start of the final climb into Laguna Seca raceway. Horner hovered back in the group until the dwindling field came onto the raceway for its three-lap finale around the circuit.
“I wanted to wait and see if Trent was going to be there at the end,” said Horner, “and if he had been I wouldn’t have attacked him. I would have let him win because he’s been such a good friend to me.”
But Klasna did not make the final group, leaving Horner to unleash a savage dig up the Laguna Seca track’s main climb. Health Net’s Mike Jones, lying second overall going into the final stage, reacted to Horner’s move, but not quickly enough to get on his wheel.
“I let him get a running start at it,” admitted Jones, “and by the time he came by me he was going way too fast for me to get on him. I should have known better.”
Horner needed to put 30 seconds on Jones to move into the GC lead, but he ended up taking 1:25 out of the Health Net rider in the final six miles, more than enough to snag the overall win. It was Horner’s third stage-race victory of the spring, but how he fares in his next race, the Tour of Georgia, will test whether his simple plans keep working.
Bessette plays a waiting game
Lyne Bessette had much the same plan for the final stage as Horner, though her thinking had more to do with the size of her team and the windy conditions in the valley. The Quark racer knew that the combination of small four-rider teams and the ferocious head wind that hammered the course would keep dangerous breaks at bay. That, she reasoned, would leave the race to be decided on the steep climb into the finish, the lead-in 86 miles merely a very long warm-up.
As expected, Bessette instigated the race-winning move, taking Kristin Armstrong (T-Mobile) and Christine Thorburn (Webcor), her closest challengers on GC, with her. But instead of jumping clear of the main field, the leading trio was chasing a dangerous two-rider breakaway of Kate Maher (Team Basis) and Amy Moore (Quark).
While neither rider was a serious threat on the overall, Bessette didn’t want to take any chances. Once she, Armstrong and Thorburn caught and dropped Maher and Moore, it was up to them to decide the stage win. It was business as usual for Bessette in the sprint as the 29-year-old Canadian outkicked Armstrong to take the stage win and solidify her hold on to the overall GC.
“It was so windy in the [Salinas] valley. There was no way a break was going to make it,” said Bessette. “It came down to who was the strongest rider, which was good for me, obviously.”
“I know Lyne’s a good sprinter, so I just did the best I could,” said Armstrong, who consolidated her second-place overall. “I’m getting better at it, but she’s fast.”
Bessette’s GC win completes one of the most successful early-season campaigns of her career and leaves her in good condition for an upcoming trip to Europe.
Sea Otter Classic
Road Race – 101 miles
1. Chris Horner, Webcor, 4:24:49
2. Mike Jones, Health Net, 4:26:14
3. Charles Dionne, Webcor, 4:26:41
4. Brice Jones, Health Net, same time
5. Jason Lokkesmoe, Health Net, s.t.
6. Imanol Ayestraran, Webcor, s.t.
7. John Kelly, Webcor, 4:26:56
8. Cory Lange, Canadian National Team, s.t.
9. Todd Terlecki, La Grange, s.t.
10. Eric Wohlberg, Sierra Nevada, s.t.
Women – 95 miles
1. Lyne Bessette, Quark, 5:22:14
2. Kristin Armstrong, T-Mobile, s.t.
3. Christine Thorburn, Webcor, s.t.
4. Jenny Eyerman, Red 5, 5:23:11
5. Gabriela Gonzalez de Ferrat, Velo Bella, s.t.
6. Tina Pic, Genesis Scuba, s.t.
7. Audrey Lemieux, Quark, s.t.
8. Karen Bockel, TDS Schwalbe, s.t.
9. Meredith Miller, Team SATS, s.t.
10. Mette Fischer Anderson, Team SATS, s.t.
1. Horner, 6:55:25
2. Mike Jones, at 0:50
3. Dionne, at 1:34
4. Lokkesmoe, at 1:36
5. Wohlberg, at 1:45
6. Ayestaran, at 2:00
7. Lange, at 2:02
8. Davide Frattini, Monex, at 2:03
9. Dominique Perras, Canadian National Team, at 2:09
10. Brice Jones, at 2:14
1. Bessette, 7:09.18
2. Armstrong, at 0:07
3. Thorburn, at :28
4. Pic, at 1:09
5. Stacey Peters, T-Mobile, at 1:39
6. Lauren Franges, Victory Brewing, at 1:41
7. Mari Holden, T-Mobile, at 1:43
8. Catherine Powers, La Grance, at 1:44
9. Eyerman, at 1:45
10. Erin Mirabella, Red 5, at 1:47