June 29/99 1:06 am - Road Nationals Road Race Story
Posted by Editor on 06/29/99
This year's road race championships proved two things: First, the importance of team work. And second, a properly executed plan can make all the difference.
Clara Hughes and Czeslaw Lukaszewicz (Espoir Laval Naya) - both previous champions - returned to the top spot of the podium because they each planned their races perfectly, and had the team support to make it happen. This was particularly important this year, since the course itself was not as selective as in some previous years. The 12.8 kilometre circuit had only one short climb of 500 metres before the finish, and a long series of false flats and rolling hills. This suggested the strong possibility of sprint finishes - something the non-sprinting teams wanted to avoid at all costs.
The 41 rider womens field contained all the top names in Canadian road racing - defending champion Linda Jackson (Timex), Saturn's Hughes and Lyne Bessette, time trial silver medallist Anne Samplonius and Elita's Annie Gariepy and Cybil DiGuistini. Elita had the largest team presence (5 riders) and their strategy was obvious from the start: attack until you get a breakaway, and reduce the numbers this way. Two laps into the 9 lap (115 km) race Elita managed to shake Gariepy free, and half a lap later Saturn sent Hughes off.
"I came up to Annie (Gariepy) and was ready to work with her, but she was going too slow." said Hughes. Gariepy admitted the same: "I tried, but couldn't stay with Clara." So, Hughes put her head down and started to time trial, only 26 kilometres into the race. "I just said to myself: Å’keep it steady, make sure to drink and eat, don't go too hard' "
Behind, this put tremendous pressure on the lone Timex rider, Jackson. Repeatedly she tried to break away, but every time there was Lyne Bessette on her wheel. Jackson got frustrated with the whole exercise: "it seems that they (the other riders) were just racing for second place...". After a couple of laps of this the pack settled down for a Sunday training ride, with speeds dropping below 30 kilometres per hour on stretches. Occasionally Jackson or Bessette would try to get away, but the whole pack would briefly stir to life, like a colony of ants, before falling asleep again.
And so, Hughes went away, and away and away - nearly 11 minutes by the end of the race. Jackson's frustrating day culminated with being taken down in a crash less than half a lap from the end of the race (she would finish 22nd, 16:22 down on Hughes). The race for second began in the last kilometre, with Samplonius jumping just before the base of the last climb. She could not sustain her gap and Bessette came by with 300 metres to go, to make it a 1-2 result for Saturn. Sandy Espeseth (Team B.C.) took third and Gariepy fourth.
The men's race was more difficult to predict. Besides the strong teams - Saturn with Walton, Anand and Barry; Degree Radio Energie (Wedge, Bergeron, Thibideau); Espoir Laval Naya (Lukaszewicz, Lavallée); Shaklee (Wohlberg, Beauchamp); JetFuel (Hall, Randall, Guiliano) - there was also Gord Fraser (Mercury), Dominique Perras (Nutra Fig) and last year's champion Mark Walters (Navigators). Also, there was extreme heat of the day to contend with - 35 degrees Celcius (95 Fahrenheit).
As the race developed two competing strategies became apparent: attack and split things up to suit yourself (Saturn), or hang on the coattails of others and hope that you don't miss the crucial move (Degree Radio Energie and the individual riders such as Walters, Perras and Fraser). However, in the end it was a third plan, by Lukaszewicz, that proved to be successful - go early and force the others to chase.
So Czeslaw Lukaszewicz, the two time road champion, at 35 one of the older riders in the race, went with an early break on the fourth lap of 14. "I knew that I have to be in front. I use these guys (the lesser known members of the break) for 100 kilometres. I can pace myself, eat, drink, not worry. They (the other teams) have to chase me. It is very stressful for the chasers. By the time they catch me they are just as tired as me."
The original break began on the second lap, by Alexandre Lavallée - last year's Espoir champion. Others gradually trickled up to join him until by the 50 kilometre mark there was a group of 15 sitting a minute in front of the pack, including Lukaszewicz, Beauchamp and Anand. Some more of the Å’big guns' then came up - Walton, Wohlberg, Wedge, Barry and Perras - until by the halfway point in the race the only key riders missing were Fraser and Walters.
However, those two had finally reacted and were heading up together, only 45 seconds down. When this news reached the front group - that the two best sprinters in the race were closing in - the reaction was swift: Saturn launched an attack off the front, splitting the group. Anand, Lukaszewicz and Beauchamp were in the front group of 8, with Barry, Walton, Wedge and Wohlberg behind. Fraser made contact with this second group, and then he and Wedge jumped away to go to the front group. Again, the front group split on this news, with Anand, Lukaszewicz, Eric Lyman and Beauchamp going off the front.
Behind, things were getting rather chaotic, with small chase groups forming and falling apart constantly. Brian Walton, in particular, was marshalling his forces like a general; making sure that every chase group containing potential sprinters was heavily marked. Walters was shelled from this action fairly early, while Fraser finally sat up in frustration and dropped out - a victim of his own sprinting prowess, and with whom nobody would work.
So, with two laps to go, as the riders went through the start/finish area the situation was as follows: Lukaszewicz, Anand, Lyman and Beauchamp in front, working well together. Barry, Wedge and the original instigator of the break, Alexandre Lavallée back by about 1 minute, and further minute behind Walton, Wohlberg and Thibideau.
This is where the race split open because of Czeslaw Lukaszewicz's stubborn streak. Initially, the officials would not allow feeding from vehicles, but, because of the extreme heat (over 100 Fahrenheit in the sun), they rescinded this rule. Saturn, who had a vehicle in the caravan handed out water to Anand, but wouldn't feed the other riders. The organizers did send out neutral vehicles shortly afterwards to provide water, but it was too late: "I got so mad, they made me crazy, handing out no water. So I went back (to the neutral vehicle) and got water and then I just went." stated Lukaszewicz.
He "went" alright, gaining 45 seconds in 2 kilometres while the other three looked at each other. By the start of the last lap, he had a minute and a half and was still steaming. Anand attacked with 6 kilometres to go, taking Beauchamp with him, and then attacked again to drop the Shaklee rider. The Saturn rider managed to pull to within 20 seconds by the finish line, but it was definitely too little, too late. Beauchamp managed to hang on for third, despite a late race lone charge by Wedge that brought the Criterium champion to within 25 seconds of the bronze medal. Lavallée managed to beat out Barry for the fifth place spot.
- Lukaszewicz has now captured the road title in 1995, 1997 and 1999. The joke was "watch out for him in 2001..."
- Jonathan Tremblay (Québec Provincial) beat out Charles Dionne (Degree Radio Energie) and Martin St-Laurent in a sprint for the Espoir title, 10 minutes down on Lukaszewicz.
- Clara Hughes was beaming after her wins, extremely pleased that she was now assured a Pan Am Games spot for the competition in her home town of Winnipeg. After two years of post-Olympics injuries, it was very good to see Hughes back at the top of the podium.