By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor
In a brilliant effort in tandem with Ofoto’s Dominique Perras, Chris Horner (Webcor Builders) won the Housatonic Valley Classic, the final stage of the Tour of Connecticut, on Sunday, while Mark McCormack (Colavita Olive Oil) held on to the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
On the demanding, up-and-down course through the narrow, twisting, tree-lined roads of southwest Connecticut, Horner and Perras stayed away for close to the final 70 miles of the 100-mile road race, benefiting from Colavita’s tactics aimed largely at keeping McCormack in yellow.
Perras and Horner escaped around the 30-mile mark with four others: Ivan Dominguez (Colavita Olive Oil), Mike Sayers (Health Net-Maxxis), Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators Insurance) and Daniel Ramsey (Seasilver). But with only half the group motivated to work, Horner, Perras and Sayers began attacking, with Horner and Perras finally establishing a gap over the rest of the group.
With the overall title being decided on points, rather than time, Colavita could allow the breakaways to gain as much time as they wanted, as McCormack only had to stay within a few placings of his nearest rivals in the finish in Danbury. Thus, as Colavita rode tempo at the front, Horner and Perras would extend their lead to over four minutes. It wasn’t until that point that Navigators and Health Net began to mount a serious effort at the front.
Nonetheless, despite the two chasing squads putting up to eight men total into the chase, Horner and Perras pressed on, with Horner setting a hard, but steady tempo on Housatonic’s tough climbs. It wasn’t until the duo approached the finishing circuits in Danbury – 14 laps of a 1.4-mile – circuit that the gap began to come down, and it was around 2:30 as Horner and Perras entered town.
By the time the peloton reached Danbury, however, the chase was losing steam, due in part to some untimely punctures to Navigators riders, including three-time defending champion Vassili Davidenko. Then, Horner got more good fortune on the finishing circuits, as a drenching downpour began midway through the laps.
With three to go, Horner gave his last push, increasing the lead up to about 1:20 after it had been under a minute, and shedding the fading Perras in the process. He soloed to the win in the pouring rain, while behind, teammate Charles Dionne edged Ciaran Powers (Navigators Insurance) for the win, with McCormack sealing the overall by finishing fourth.
“I can’t remember another win that came that hard, honestly,” said an exhausted but smiling Horner at the finish. “This is a hard way to win. I think this takes years off your life.”