July 31/01 6:28 am - Road Nationals Road Race Story
Posted by Editor on 07/31/01
Canadian Road Nationals Road Race Story
Held on the same 13.7 kilometre circuit as the time trials, the course was not in itself selective enough to split the field up; it would be up to the riders to make the race happen. The women did 8 laps (110 kilometres) and the men 13 (190 kilometres). In both events it turned out to be an early break that determined the outcome of the race.
In the women's race 4 riders broke away on the second lap. Clare Hall-Patch (Norco), Melanie Nadeau (Rona), Melanie Dorian (Quebec) and Darnelle Moore (BC). The peloton initially made a half-hearted attempt to reel them in or bridge up, but backed off after a lap, allowing the break to establish a gap of approximately 1 minute.
Part of the problem was the cat and mouse game going on between the top riders. "I knew Lyne was watching me, and I was watching Lyne, and everyone (else) was watching us, so we were all waiting for each other." explained Jeanson (Rona).
As the race passed the halfway mark that gap started to creep up, reaching 3 minutes with less than 40 kilometres to go. This was too much, and the front runners took action. At the start of the 6th lap, Jeanson's team mate Manon Jutras attacked. She did not succeed, but Bessette (Saturn) had followed her, as did Jeanson, and a select group looked over their shoulders, saw that they had a gap and motored away.
In the group, besides Bessette and Jeanson, were defending champion Sandy Espeseth (Intersports), Sue Palmer-Komar (Janes Cosmetics) and Leah Goldstein (800.com). This group caught the front group shortly before the start of the final lap, putting 9 riders at the front, with Jeanson the only one to have a team mate in the group. Again, the group went into watch and wait mode, with no one willing to try and break away.
The race came down to the final 600 metres, when Hall-Patch tried to go long. It didn't succeed, but it set up Bessette for her second national title.
"Clare did a really good lead out for me!" exclaimed Bessette. "I wasn't expecting that, but I got on her wheel and then with about 250 metres left I came around her. My coach and I have been working on my sprint for the last 4 weeks because we knew that on this course it would come down to a sprint. My sprint has gotten a lot better, but I certainly did not expect to get both titles."
The favoured sprinter in the group - Espeseth - got boxed in and ran out of room before the finish line. "I figured that I was the strongest sprinter in the group, but I got stuck behind Genevieve and couldn't get around her in time. I needed about another 50 metres."
Jeanson finished third, shut out of the national titles for her second consecutive year as a senior. However, she was rather philosophical about it: "I made a mistake and let her (Lyne) be on my right. However, I know that I still have a lot to learn, and there are many years to come. I know that my turn will come and I will be the national champion."
At 190 kilometres, and on a non-selective course, the expectation was that the elite/espoir race would be a race of attrition. Defying all predictions, the winning move went away in the first 50 kilometres when a very select group of 8 riders got a gap and rode the peloton off their wheels.
The group contained many of the favourites: Michael Barry and Eric Wohlberg (both Saturn), Mark Walters (Navigators), Charles Dionne (Quebec/7 Up-Colorado Cyclist), Min Van Velzen (Trek-VW), Alexandre Lavellee (Kissena), Ross Hooker (Dr Walker Chiropractic) and Bruno Nella (Kia Suisse). Walters and the two Saturn riders knew that this was their best chance to get clear because all three were heavily marked, so they all went to the front to drive the break.
Behind, the field was tearing itself to pieces because it could see the race going up the road. Svein Tuft, Dominique Perras (FCC Ficonseils), 4-time champion Czeslaw Lukaszewicz (Servisco) and mountain bike pro Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) were all putting out tremendous efforts, but couldn't make a dent in the gap.
"We knew that we had to hold on." explained Barry. "The gap wasn't increasing (it hovered around 40 seconds for 50 kilometres), but we knew that eventually the pack would stop chasing. At one point it dropped down to 20 seconds, and only Eric, Mark and I were working, but then it began to creep up again, and once it got over a minute I knew we had it. Eric was doing massive pulls - nobody wanted to get on his wheel!"
The gap finally reached a minute as the race passed through the 100 kilometre mark. Behind them the pack had been shredded, and only 29 would eventually finish after the 8 leaders (123 started). The front group continued to work together smoothly until 2 laps were remaining, at which point the knives came out and they began to attack each other.
Saturn's two man advantage was negated when Wohlberg suffered severe cramps ("the worst I have ever suffered") and could not help Barry. Wohlberg would eventually drop off the group and finish alone in 8th. Of the others, it was Barry and Walters who were the most aggressive, and who eventually got away with just over a lap remaining.
"I countered a move by Alex (Lavellee)" explained Walters, "and then looked back and saw Mike was coming up, so I waited for him."
The pair agreed to work together until the final kilometre to distance themselves from the 6 remaining chasers, and managed to gain nearly two minutes. Walters outmaneuvered Barry, forcing the Saturn rider to take the lead in the final kilometre.
"I just wanted make sure that Mike was on the front into the headwind. I drafted him and came around in the final 100 metres. I think it came down to that my legs were just a little bit fresher." said Walters, who also saw his victory as a vindication. "This second title (he also won in 1998) is like a confirmation. Now I feel that I can put myself up as one of the top riders in Canada."
- Charles Dionne was the only member of the break that was an Espoir (he also won the chase sprint for third), however, a controversy delayed the awards ceremony for an hour when it was pointed out that he raced for a GS III team and could possibly be ineligible (as a pro he would be automatically bumped to elite). The officials feverishly searched rule books (including on the internet), but the regulations were ambiguous on the point. Eventually they made a ruling that he was eligible for espoir and he was awarded the title.