Posted by Editor on 04/18/98
Willett, Demet Win Epic Smith River Road Race
(courtesy USA Cycling)
Report by David Morgan
EUGENE, Ore. -- Competition intensified and leaders' jerseys changed backs amid the steep climbs and technical road conditions of FridayÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s mountainous Smith River stage of the Mercury Tour of Willamette.
There no complaints heard from the riders who seemed to thrive on challenging conditions. The menÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s course was particularly messy, with winter storm damage, logging debris and gravel that turned sections of the course into a technical trap.
In fact, most of the men loved it. Mike McCarthy (Saturn) summed it up best.
"It was awesome! ItÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s the most fun road race IÃ¢â‚¬Å¡ve done in America. ThereÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s a certain amount of risk involved, and when you are warned at the start that sections are a bit rough, itÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s up to you. You have to be prepared, and you have to make the right choices. Yeah, it was a bit sketchy, but this is epic!"
In the menÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s event, the majority of the race saw lots of small attacks and counterattacks. During the first big climb the Saturn team and Norm Alvis, second overall going in to the race, moved out front, trying to get away from Tour leader Roy Knickman (Mercury).
"Roy didnÃ¢â‚¬Å¡t make the first group, so the Saturn guys threw down really hard trying to eliminate the group because they had the race lead by a minute and50 seconds," Willett said. "But the guys came back up to us. Actually, we hadsome help when (SaturnÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s Brian) Walton flatted on the descent and that took a little impetus out of their charge ... and then Roy made it back."
Willett ended up breaking away later and eventually out-sprinting Walton of Saturn for the stage win.
But there was still plenty of racing before it was over. Knickman made it back up to the front and then he flatted, and teammate Thurlow Rogers gave him his bike so he could stick with the leaders. Rogers then made it back up to the group of about 25 riders in the lead.
The group continued to attack until about 2km past the feed zone and 70 miles into the 95-mile race, when four riders broke away. Willett went with this group, hanging back on the other three riders until the sprint. He finished first, followed by Walton, Greg Randolph (GT) and Ron Schmeer (NutraFig). All received the same time of three hours, 51 minutes and four seconds.
Rogers, Mark McCormack (Saturn), and Eddy Gragus (Oilme) arrived next, respectively, with the time of 3:52.45.
Knickman and Alvis, showed up less than a minute later with David Zabriskie (U.S. National Team) and leading a huge pack of about 60 riders to finish with a time of 3:53.34. The Mercury vs. Saturn rivalry has shifted as Willett now holds a four-second lead over Walton.
"It was a good effort on my part, the result was second place, and of course weÃ¢â‚¬Å¡re always going for the win," Walton said. "But itÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s not over yet, we still have tomorrow and weÃ¢â‚¬Å¡ll be challenging and try to put the boots to Kirk tomorrow on Kill Hill. The everyoneÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s riding strong, but weÃ¢â‚¬Å¡re undermanned ... yet as a team weÃ¢â‚¬Å¡re clicking very well."
Knickman, whose stage win on Thursday was the first national win of his comeback after retiring four years ago, was a bit surprised at his finish and isnÃ¢â‚¬Å¡t sure what to expect as he starts racing again.
"This year, itÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s a bit of a mystery since I took four years off. Normally IÃ¢â‚¬Å¡m better second and third days, but I felt excellent yesterday ... and today on the steeper climb, it was brutal for me! I was following Norm around, whoÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s just a few seconds behind, and people were joking we were connected by a four- second string (the time difference between the two). Norm saw I was cracking and he gave it everything on the steep hill and he got in the front group. My team did an excellent job. Thurlow Rogers and Dave Clinger waited for me and they rode steady and kept us close, and then when the Saturn rider flatted out of the front group, the front just sat up and so it made it easy for us to get back in."
For the women, FridayÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s stage covered the hardest climbing yet in the Tour.
"The race was really about surviving over the climb," said Cheryl Binney (RalphÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s-Klein). "It was just so much longer than yesterday."
Binney finished in the second group of about 25 riders just under four minutes after the front group of six. Also in this group was Clara Hughes (Saturn), the overall womenÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s leader at the start of the stage.
HughesÃ¢â‚¬Å¡ teammate Dede Demet finished first in 3:02:25, leading a sprint with Susy Pryde (Saeco-Timex), Ward Griffiths (Safeway-Saturn), Tammy Jacques (Clif Bar), Linda Jackson (Saeco-Timex) and Louisa Jenkins (Shaklee) all finishing with the same time.
"It was a really hard race, really good course, beautiful roads, beautiful scenery -- and hard!" said Hughes. "And Dede won. We were really happy we had one rider up front and you canÃ¢â‚¬Å¡t ask for more than that on a day like today. It was hard from the gun, it was fast from the gun, and it just got harder and harder. Then we got on the climb. And that basically made the selection of the race.
"The group got away on the climb and we chased and chased, but we were happy to have one of the Saturn girls up front. Dede was able to sit on. Obviously sheÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s not going to pull when her teammate with the leaderÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s jersey is behind chasing, and that enabled her to go to the finish line pretty fresh for the sprint."
Pryde moved into the leaderÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s jersey, 25 seconds ahead of Jacques.
SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬Å¡s stage, the Co-Motion Cycles Kill Hill Road Race begins at Spencer Butte Middle School at 43rd and Donald. The course is closer to town with wider roads and more traffic, and more intimidating hills. Pro/Elite Men begin at 10 a.m., Women at 10:45 a.m. The Mortals, or Masters and Category 3 amateurs, begin at 10:30.
Stage Two - Smith River Road Race 95 miles
1. KIRK WILLETT (MERCURY), Pullman, Wash., 3:51:04
2. Brian Walton (Saturn), N. Delta, B.C., Canada
3. Greg Randolph (GT), Durango, Colo.
4. Ron Schmeer (NutraFig), Seattle, Wash. all s.t.
5. Thurlow Rogers (Mercury), Van Nuys, Calif., 1:41
1. Willett, 8:39:39
2. Walton, 0:04
3. Randolph, 0:28
4. Schmeer, 0:33
5. Roy Knickman (Mercury), Colorado Springs, Colo., 0:57
1. DEDE DEMET (SATURN), Boulder, Colo., 3:02:25
2. Susy Pryde (Saeco-Timex), Auckland, New Zealand
3. Ward Griffiths (Safeway-Saturn), Seattle, Wash.
4. Tammy Jacques (Clif Bar), Carbondale, Colo.
5. Linda Jackson (Saeco-Timex), Nepean, Ont., Canada, all s.t.
Overall standing not available. Unofficially Pryde led Jacques by 25 seconds, but due to the 30-second centerline violation assessed to Susy Pryde (Saeco-Timex) after Thursday's stage, Tammy Jacques (Clif Bar) now has a five-second overall lead.
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