June 28/04 12:12 pm - Road Nationals: Men's and Women's Road Race Story
Posted by Editoress on 06/28/04
2004 Tim Horton Road Nationals Kamloops BC
Gord Fraser's (Healthnet Presented by Maxxis) smile as he crossed the line said it all - he was finally the Canadian national road champion, and had moved into strong contention for an Olympic spot. In the women's race, Lyne Bessette (Team Quebec) was the dominant rider, taking her second road title in four years. Olympic hopeful Manon Jutras (Team Quebec) finished second to Bessette, and now looks set to take the third spot on the women's squad, beside Bessette and national time trial champion Sue Palmer-Komar (Genesis-Scuba).
The heat that has sapped the strength of riders all week showed no signs of abating on the final day of the championships, topping 35 degrees during the men's race. The ten kilometre circuit was simple in design, and incredibly hard - start and finish in the valley, in downtown Kamloops, and climb three kilometres up out of town each lap before a quick descent. The climb went up in steps, with some portions better than 10%, and many riders, including Bessette and Fraser, called it the hardest nationals course in memory. The women had to do 12 laps, and the men 18. In the women's race, only 12 riders finished on the same lap as Bessette.
Speculation was, prior to the start of the women's race, that Team Quebec would try to get Jutras into position to take the remaining Olympic spot. Bessette's position was secure, as the highest UCI ranked Canadian woman, and Palmer-Komar, after her incredible time trial performance, had a virtual lock on the second spot. Now it was down to one remaining spot and four contenders - Jutras, Genevieve Jeanson (Rona), Anne Samplonius (Team Quebec) and Amy Moore (Quark). Jeanson did not have a lock on the third spot, after finishing sixth in the time trial, so there was an opportunity for another rider to grab the place.
"My plan was to go early, make it hard and get the group at the front smaller." explained Bessette.
Her surge on the very first climb was so strong that only Jutras, Erinne Willock (Rona) and Palmer-Komar could respond. Willock sat on, for her team leader Jeanson, and Palmer-Komar was struggling, still depleted from her effort in the time trial.
The gap steadily increased, as the field behind splintered. Jeanson was riding with a chase group containing Moore, Samplonius, Sara Neil (Trek-Broadway) and Nicole Demars (Victory Brewing), but they were constantly losing ground, and the Rona team leader clearly did not have the legs to get up to the front group. Bessette and Jutras finally said to Willock that Jeanson was not coming, so she had to contribute. The young Rona rider responded with an attack which dropped Palmer-Komar. Jutras brought Bessette back to Willock, and then the Team Quebec pair dropped Willock on the fifth lap.
Bessette and Jutras rode together until the final climb, with Bessette spending the majority of the time at the front, setting a hard tempo. On the final climb, Bessette attacked, and soloed in for the national title, 1:29 ahead of Jutras. Behind, Palmer-Komar bridged up to Willock, but "my legs only had one speed today on the that climb, they had no snap." said Palmer-Komar. So, when Willock attacked on the final climb, it ensured the first year senior rider a bronze medal.
"It worked out perfectly, with four of us at the front." said Bessette. "Erinne wouldn't work, so we dropped her, and then Manon and I worked together until the last lap. We had discussed (letting) Manon win, to help her Olympic chances, but this is the nationals and it should be the strongest rider who wins, so I attacked again on the final climb."
In the men's race, the pace started slower, given the 18 ascents the riders would have to make. By the fifth lap the race was beginning to take shape. A front group containing Dylan Sebel (Symmetrics Cycling), Alexandre Cloutier (Volkswagen-Trek), Trevor Connor (Chris Cookies/Swan Cycles), Alexandre Lavallee (Volkswagen - Trek) and Darren Vogler (BC) had a gap of 1 minute on a chase group of four: Jacob Erker (Team Seasilver), Derek McMaster (Team Coastal), Andrew Randell (Jet Fuel Coffee) and Cam Evans (Symmetrics Cycling). The peloton was at another minute back. Two laps later the two groups at the front had merged, and Eric Wohlberg (Sierra Nevada) and time trial champion Svein Tuft (Symmetrics) attacked from the peloton, with Fraser recognizing the danger and bridging up. They joined the lead group, while Team Quebec, supporting Olympic hopefuls Charles Dionne and Dominique Perras, went to the front. The gap came down to 45 seconds, but that was as close as it would get.
A lap later, the situation at the front had stabilized, with 11 riders steadily gaining ground on a disorganized chase. The front group contained Eric Wohlberg, Gord Fraser, Alexandre Nadeau (Volkswagen - Trek), Dylan Sebel (Symmetrics Cycling), Svein Tuft, Jacob Erker, Alexandre Lavallee, Derek McMaster, Andrew Randell, Marsh Cooper (Symmetrics Cycling) and Cam Evans. Behind, small chase groups were forming, but Walters, Dionne and Perras seemed to be watching each other, each waiting for someone else to make the effort to pull things back together. By the halfway point, the leaders were over two minutes ahead, and Walters finally reacted, blowing the remains of the field apart, as a core group, including Dionne and Perras, took up the chase.
They would pull to within 1:30 of the leaders with 80 kilometres remaining, before losing impetus and starting to slide back out of contention. The front group was gradually shrinking, as riders succumbed to the heat and the climb. By the final 35 kilometres there was a core group of six left at the front - Fraser, Wohlberg, Evans, Tuft, Lavallee and Randell. Evans was the only Espoir rider in the group, assuring himself the national title. The Walters / Dionne group was nearly six minutes back.
Fraser was looking very strong and confident, frequently coming to the front on the climb, but Symmetrics had the upper hand, with two riders in the group. On the last lap, the heat began to affect everyone, with Wohlberg coming to a virtual halt at the base of the climb after a sudden attack of cramps. Lavallee launched a serious attack which immediately put Randell in difficulty, and Fraser hung back, forcing the two Symmetrics riders to chase.
"I almost had a heart attack going across to the break behind Eric (Wohlberg) and Svein (Tuft), but I knew that was where I had to be." explained Fraser. "I was feeling really good on the climb, but I was totally cramping up in the last laps. I knew that I had only one chance to do an attack because of the cramps, and it had to be at the top of the climb, because if I could get over the top with a gap, I could stay away on the descent to the finish. Then, I just had to try and keep it together in the last two kilometres - I was definitely coming a bit unglued."
Evans led the trio back up to Lavallee, and then Fraser launched his decisive attack in the final 750 metres of the climb, immediately getting a gap which he was able to hold to the finish. Tuft took second, with Lavallee third. Evans was fourth, but took the national Espoir title.
- While the women's Olympic picture looks clearer, the men's is still harder to call. Michael Barry (US Postal) is the only rider assured of a spot, due to his top Canadian UCI ranking. Fraser and Wohlberg both had strong rides at Nationals, but Dionne was also very strong a week earlier at Beauce. Perras appears to have slipped out of contention, and Walters, while showing an impressive effort in the road race, does not have the necessary results.
- Fraser had high praise for the local Symmetrics team. "They rode like pros today; very impressive. They knew what they needed to do, and had riders in all the right moves. It was good to see a team riding like that in Canada, especially with young fellows like Cam (Evans)."
- Fraser has had a frustrating time at past nationals. His sprinting prowess has meant that he is a marked man in breaks, with many falling apart as soon as he joins them, which led to him skipping nationals for a number of years. On the podium, after receiving his maple leaf jersey, he lifted it to his lips and kissed it.