By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
Mercury-Viatel fired the opening salvo at the First Union Cycling Series, with Leon Van Bon taking the win at the 91-mile First Union Invitational in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. With two men in a five-man break, Mercury faked out its competition, launching Van Bon to the win with less than a half mile to go through the streets of downtown Lancaster. The Dutch champion soloed across the line, three seconds ahead of breakaway companions George Hincapie (U.S. Postal Service), Trent Klasna (Saturn), Jakob Piil (CSC-World Online) and Baden Cooke (Mercury-Viatel).
The five leaders escaped on the 12th of 13 laps of the 7-mile circuit, when Piil launched an attack out of the lead group of about 25 riders. When the Danish rider jumped hard on the tough feed hill in Rockford Park, he was followed quickly by Klasna, Hincapie, Cooke and Van Bon.
At the end of the 91 miles, on a warm and humid evening, the race would come down to some of the strongest men in the race, including two former winners: Piil and Klasna.
“Today was a hard race,” said Hincapie. “There were guys suffering at the end. I think the strongest guys were there at the finish.”
Over the final 14 miles, the group would extend its lead to 1:14 on the challenging course, a rolling circuit with several short, sharp climbs to sap the energy out of the legs. Behind, the chase was comprised largely of teammates from Saturn, Mercury and Postal clogging the front for their teammates ahead.
With fast finishers Hincapie, Van Bon, Cooke and Piil all in the mix at the finish, it looked like the race would surely come down to a sprint finish, with teammates Van Bon and Cooke having the upper hand. With Cooke sitting on the back for most of the final lap, Mercury had the others keeping an eye out for the Australian. And when Van Bon went to the front two turns from the finish line, both Klasna and Hincapie had the same thought.
“Van Bon came to the front with about a half mile to go, and I thought, ‘He’s gonna lead Baden out,’” said Klasna.
“I saw him right when we were coming into the corner and thought he was gonna lead Cooke out,” said Hincapie, “and then I realized he [Van Bon] was gonna go.”
Almost instantly the Dutch rider had a 25 yard gap, and he rounded the final turn well clear of his companions, with plenty of time to celebrate in front of the big crowd, which swelled as the race played out in the early evening.
The win was a little bit of revenge for Van Bon, who in April lost to Hincapie by centimeters in a sprint finish at Ghent-Wevelgem. “It’s better to win from him than lose from him,” said Van Bon.
The Mercury rider, who until last weekend’s Capital Cup hadn’t raced in the U.S. since the Tour DuPont in 1996, was asked afterward if he liked racing in the U.S. “I did three races here and won two, so yeah, I like it.”
1. Leon Van Bon (Nl), Mercury-Viatel, 91 mi in 3:20:13; 2. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:03; 3. Trent Klasna (USA), Saturn; 4. Jakob Piil (Dk), CSC-World Online; 5. Baden Cooke (Aus), Mercury-Viatel, all s.t.; 6. Geert Van Bondt (B), Mercury-Viatel, at 1:10; 7. Michael Barry (Can), Saturn; 8. Levi Leipheimer (USA), U.S. Postal Service, both s.t.; 9. John Lieswyn (USA), 7UP-Colorado Cyclist, at 1:16; 10. Julian Dean (NZ), U.S. Postal Service; 11. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), U.S. Postal Service; 12. Harm Jansen (Nl), Saturn; 13. Henk Vogels (Aus), Mercury-Viatel; 14. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Saturn; 15. Soren Peterson (Dk), Saturn; 16. Graeme Miller (NZ), Jelly Belly-NetZero; 17. Pedro Munoz Horillo (Sp), Mapei-Quick Step; 18. Luis Rebollo (Sp), Festina Lotus; 19. Zbigniew Piatek (Pl), MROZ-Supradyn; 20. Victor Laza (Yug), DeFeet-LeMond; 21. Leif Hoste (B), Domo-Farm Frites; 22. Glenn Mitchell (NZ), Navigators; 23. Gord Fraser (Can), Mercury-Viatel, all s.t.; 24. Scott Moninger (USA), Mercury-Viatel, at 1:37; 25. Luis Perez (Sp), Festina, at 1:40; 26. Vassili Davidenko (Rus), Navigators, at 1:54; 27. David Zabriskie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, s.t.; 28. Kirk O’Bee (USA), Navigators, at 2:18; 29. Simon Kessler (SA), IBM-Lotus, at 2:57; 30. Siro Camponogara (I), Navigators; 31. Kirk Albers (USA), Jelly Belly-NetZero; 32. Shawn Willard (USA), DeFeet-LeMond; 33. Kirk Willett (USA), Prime Alliance; 34. Scottie Weiss (USA), Zaxby’s; 35. Jason Crookham (Can), Sympatico.ca; 36. James Perry (SA), IBM-Lotus; 37. Mike Ley (USA), Zaxby’s, all s.t.