Posted by Editor on 03/24/01
It was Australia Day today at the final stage of the Sea Otter Classic road race. Anna Millward (Saturn) completed her total domination of this race by winning her third stage (she finished second in the only other one), while Baden Cooke salvaged some Mercury pride with a win in the men's event. Millward also took the overall for the women, while Trent Klasna gave Saturn double honours by taking the men's title.
The final stage is run entirely on the Laguna Seca Speedway motorcycle circuit, a 3.62 kilometre loop. From the start the riders face a sharp 1 kilometre climb, then immediately dive into a twisting corkscrew descent. Once at the base they follow a zig-zag path back to the start. The women completed 13 laps, the men 20.
After a slow start, Saturn immediately began sending riders off, beginning with Kim Bruckner. "It went perfectly" said Millward afterwards. "We had a rider up the road all day, which meant everyone else was on the defensive."
Millward went off herself with 3 laps remaining, after her team mate Anke Erlanke was caught. "I thought we should keep it aggressive, so I went for it."
It looked like Millward would solo in for a while, but Autotrader.com and 800.com went to the front and succeeded in bringing her back in the last lap. Unfortunately for them, this set things up perfectly for the Saturn train, with Millward coming to the front and bringing it home in the final 200 meters. Laura Van Gilder ((Talgoamerica.com) took second and Petra Rossner (Saturn) third.
While the women's race followed a pattern Saturn established in the first stage, the men's offered a number of interesting twists. Saturn was, of course, protecting Klasna's overall lead. There wasn't much chance that anyone could overtake him, so they didn't mind when a group took off early in the race. From 9 this lead bunch was gradually whittled down to 4 - Dominique Perras (Marco Polo), John Lieswyn (7 Up - Colorado Cyclist), Mark Walters (Navigators) and Danny Pate (Prime Alliance).
If not for the presence of Pate (9th on GC), the group might have been allowed to go. However, Pate was close to Harm Jansen (Saturn) and Chris Horner (Mercury), so both teams shut it down finally with 2 laps left. Mercury had another reason to bring it back: this event is actually called the Mercury Sea Otter Classic, and so far they had no stage wins in an event sponsored by their own paymaster.
Gord Fraser, the super-sprinter that Mercury relies on, has, by his own admission, been feeling flat all weekend. So, it came down to 22 year old Cooke. Mercury went to the front after the breakaways were caught, and looked in good shape until the last climb, when Michael Rogers (Mapei-Quick Step) made a last ditch effort to get away. Mercury brought him back after the descent, and then went towork.
"Jamie (Drew) took over from Chris (Horner) after we caught Rogers" explained Cooke. "I went underneath Jamie with 200 meters left and gave it everything. I knew (Joren) Blijlevens (Lotto) was right behind me, and he's one of the fastest guys in the world!"
Cooke admitted to apprehension when he found out that he was the designated sprinter. "When these guys (Mercury) lead you out, you are expected to win. Gord hardly ever loses, so it was a lot of pressure." In the end, Mercury managed 1-2 with Cooke and Drew in front of Gorik Gardeyn and Blijlevens of Lotto.
- Dominique Perras was away in breaks all day. "I was disappointed with my road race yesterday, and I felt good today. I am being aggressive because I need to find a team." (Perras was caught out by the non-start of the Noble team he joined last fall).
"I trained all winter to prepare for June and July, but now I have to go hard in the spring. The Marco Polo team is only for this race. It is good to have this, but it hard to race well when we are sleeping 7 guys in 1 hotel room."
- Sandy Espeseth (Intersports) actually bridged up to Millward at the top of the climb on the final lap, but "she just sat on and wouldn't work with me. I couldn't stay away by myself for the whole time, so we just waited (for the peloton)."
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