June 13/04 9:19 am - Nature Valley Grand Prix: Final Day Story
Posted by Editoress on 06/13/04
Nature Valley Grand Prix
In the end, John Lieswyn and Health Net got some revenge, Ben Jacques-Maynes and Sierra Nevada got some glory, and McGuire Realty's Dave McCook got cooked - and a sprinter's jersey.
As for Navigator's, who went into today with both the leader's jersey and the sprinter's jersey, they got an incredible course that proved to be much more of a monster than the team could handle to defend the two jerseys.
"That was a great race," said Navigator's Henk Vogels after coming in more than a minute-and-a-half down on the field. With the crowds and the 24-percent grade hill that shattered the field early, Vogels only described it as a "big spectacle."
At the end of the day, though, it was Lieswyn and Jacques-Maynes enjoying the view from the top, although it was sometimes hard to tell who was enjoying the view more.
For Lieswyn and the Health Net crew, the race provided some redemption from a series that provided questionable times for the time trial, along with flat tires and crashes for their sprinter, Dan Schmatz.
"We couldn't get a break," a relieved Lieswyn said after winning the Stillwater Criterium. "We had a team-and-a-half here. I feel like we should have been the team in control of the whole thing."
Instead, that job fell to Sierra Nevada, who started the day with Jacques-Maynes and Eric Wohlberg sitting 2-3 in the GC. From the start, they put four riders near the front to push the pace and shatter the field, and even Lieswyn had to tip his hat to the maturing team.
"They rode like champs the whole race," he said.
Jacques-Maynes, who ended up in a six-man break for about half of the race, said he was happy to not only win, but to bring home the biggest stage-race victory for the 3-year-old team.
"I was fortunate to just have the energy to stick to the plan," he said, giving most of the accolades to his teammates who kept him protected through the week and set him up for the break.
"He handled the pressure well," said Jelly Belly's Caleb Manion, who started seven seconds behind Jacques-Maynes in the GC and ended up with second overall.
"This is the biggest win for us," team director Mike Neel said. "We're very, very happy after three years."
Half way through the race, Neel knew Jacques-Maynes was in the jersey. From the top of a long climb that started at 20 percent grade, Neel watched his young rider match the pace of three Health Net riders, Manion, and two Ofoto's, including Tim Larkin, a strong rider who could have challenged for GC if not for a wreck in the last few laps of the rain-soaked Minneapolis Downtown Classic.
"This race was interesting, because there were two races today - the stage and the GC," said Larkin, who finished third in the stage. In his group included four GC contenders, including Health Net's Jason Lokkesmoe - second in the stage - and Scott Moninger, who sat 26 and 32 seconds behind Jacques-Maynes.
It did not include Vogels, though, who fell to more than a minute behind the leaders with half the 70-minute race to go and with no teammates to help.
"I'm happy to have found my form," the rider who broke his neck a year ago said. "I'm not happy with the results."
With Vogels out of the way, and despite the Health Net's presence in the lead group, Jacques-Maynes said his attention turned to Manion.
"He tried to attack with five laps to go, and I was able to match him," Jacques-Maynes said. "From there, it was game over."
A late attack, though, from Health Net, did put a question mark into Jacques-Maynes' certainty. Moninger put in an attack with four laps left, matched by the group, but then followed by an attack from Lieswyn. The last attack stuck, and Lieswyn continued to pull away. At more than one minute down to Jacques-Maynes and Manion, the group didn't follow, but when his lead built to 35 seconds with two laps to go, Health Net thought there could be a chance for the overall.
"Because I was so far down the GC, that gave me some leeway," said Lieswyn, who powered through the finish without the look of a champ but with the look of a guy still seeking the overall win. "Dan was in my ear yelling for me to go, and because of that, I really couldn't enjoy it."
Unlike Trent Klasna, who made up more than one minute, 30 seconds, to win the Nature Valley title last year, Lieswyn ended with only a 28-second lead.
But in the spirit of Klasna, Sierra Nevada's victory defended his leader's jersey. Klasna, a Saturn rider in 2003, joined the developing team this year, although he did not race at Nature Valley.
Along with the biggest win of the team's existence, the win was also big for Jacques-Maynes, himself.
"I've been waiting for him to break through," said Larkin, who has watched Jacques-Maynes develop from his days in Berkeley, Calif.
And, at the end of the day and the other side of the spectrum, McCook sat, having enjoyed his best form in nearly a decade and looking for more the rest of the season.
"The hardest goal is how long can I hold this form," said the McGuire Realty rider and Nature Valley Salsa Cycle's sprint champion, who is targeting the national criterium jersey in Downers Grove, Ill., in August as his ultimate goal. "That would make my season."
The only thing between Lynn Bessette and the win was Chilakoot Hill but, at 20 percent in some places, the win was a tall order.
"Every course suits somebody, and this course suits me," Bessette said. Bessette finished second in the fifth stage behind Leitzsport's Annette Beutler.
Bessette's Quark teammates held on for her. Audrey Lemieux paced her team leader even though she's only 19. So did Megan Elliot.
"My team took good care of me all week," Bessette said, "this was my payback."
Bessette's rivals tried to isolate her during this fifth stage, a 50 minute circuit around this riverside town between Minnesota and Wisconsin. No team could get away until four laps to go when Bessette, Grove, Beutler, and Willock got away, getting a minute on Gaggioli and a chasing group. Rona was trying to work together to get second-place Katrina Grove some time on the general classification. Twice, the train "light bleu" took to the front on Chilakoot to get ahead, but Grove admits her engine was out of gas.
"It was a tough race, that hill is rather difficult," Grove said, "I just didn't have the go legs to stay with it. I was having a tough time with my back. "
Rona would have to be 4 consoled with winning the young rider's jersey with Erine Willock. Willock won the best young rider's jersey here last year, and she started a solo break in the first road race of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Bessette said she's a star of the future.
A star of the past, Jeannie Longo, showed she still has form. The former world champion and Olympic gold medal winner finished 8th overall and only one minute 46 seconds back. While certainly used to longer climbs, Longo struggled up Chilakoot with women 20 years her junior.
T-Mobile's Lynn Gaggioli was without her team, but the tiny climber has won this stage before and was determined to make up the time she trailed on GC as well. Gaggioli won the first sprint which race organizers placed right after the first climb on the fi rst lap. Alone, Gaggioli had to settle for first of the chase group, more than a minute back.
Not even little Gaggioli could match Switzerland's young pro, Annette Beutler. Just four years riding, but she trains in the Alps of Switzerland.
"My chance was on the steep hill because I'm good in mountains," Beutler said, "every up I try to stay in front."
Bessette knew the attacks were coming on this final stage, and when her young teammates couldn't hold on, the stage and the overall win would fall on her. She's won here before, though, and expected the race to turn.
"Rona could've attacked more," Bessette said, "I know this course, and I know where to go hard." Little did her challengers know she was tiring on the stage.
"Sometimes you have to show them you're not hurting," Bessette said laughing.
Stage five finished with Beutler first, then Bessett, Grove, Willock, and Sandy Espeth of Victory Brewing in the top three.
The Nature Valley Grand Prix crowns Bessette with the general classification title, Grove 23 seconds back, Beutler 55 seconds back, and Willock 56 seconds behind. Joanne Kiesanowski, who was second in the general classification, finished fifth overall, more than a minute back.
Along with Willock's young rider jersey, the Nature Valley Grand Prix awarded Anne Grabowski of Nature Valley/Penn Cycle the Cat 3 titled, and Gina Grain of Victory Brewing the sprinter's title.