Posted by Editoress on 07/31/05
Tour de Toona Altoona, Pennsylvania
Report courtesy Health Net Presented by Maxxis
Scott Moninger of the Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis is in his 15th year as a professional cyclist. In those years, he's raced on some pretty dominating teams, in particular the Coors Light teams of the early 1990s, and the Mercury teams of 2000-01. But in all those years, he's never seen a team dominate the NRC calendar like this year's Health Net Presented by Maxxis squad.
As if to drive home that point, Moninger wrapped up the overall title of the International Tour de Toona Sunday, while teammate Greg Henderson earned his second stage win of the seven-stage tour. In the process, Henderson, the three-time Olympian and former track world champion from New Zealand, also earned enough points and time bonuses to win the points competition and move up to sixth place in the final general classification. Right behind teammates Justin England and Chris Wherry (4th and 5th respectively). The high finishes also gave the team yet another overall win in the team classification.
Today's final stage, a 50-minute criterium in downtown Altoona, went exactly according to plan. "We wanted to try to get me the points jersey today," Henderson said. "We set up on Colavita's train for the intermediate sprint at the mid-point of the race and I was able to come around and get the time bonus and sprint points."
The finish followed a similar script. Health Net Presented by Maxxis had set a strong tempo on the front from the outset of the stage, and except for a lap before the intermediate sprint, only gave up the front of the race with about five laps to go. Colavita/Sutter Home took over, trying to set up Jonathan Page, with Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada along side trying to set up Dan Schmatz. With three to go, it was all Colavita, trying for their fourth stage win of the tour. But Henderson had glued himself to Page's wheel, and in the sprint to the line, Henderson showed off his powerful finishing kick in beating Page. The bonus time and points for the win, combined with the time bonus and points for the intermediate sprint, enabled him to take the points leader's jersey away from Brad Huff (Mercy Cycling), while also jump ahead of Andy Bajadali (RMCEF) on GC.
Henderson said that he wasn't really trying for the sprint points during the week, but his consistently high finishes each day not only kept earning him points, but also showed that the "sprinter" tag isn't entirely accurate for him. "I'm not just a sprinter," he pointed out. "I think I surprised a few people (Saturday) on the climbs. People would look around and see me there. Maybe some of them thought that if I could get over the climbs well, they could, too."
He credits his improved climbing to relocating and training at altitude in Boulder, Colorado, as well as not riding on the track for some time now. "I haven't been on the track since March," he said. "I'm more used to the road now."
And while it may not have been a surprise to him or his teammates, some of his rivals might have been a bit astonished to see him there to take the bunch sprint for 5th place out of a select group of 26 riders in the sixth stage Saturday, considered the queen stage because it features three high-category climbs in the last 45 miles of the stage.
Moninger definitely at home in the mountains.
It was much less of a surprise to see Scott Moninger solo in for the Stage 6 victory, though. The win, by 42 seconds over Colavita/Sutter Home's team leader, Mark McCormack, gave Moninger the race lead and an all but insurmountable 53 second lead over Hugh Moran (Aerospace Engineering) going into Sunday's final stage.
After winning the stage Saturday, Moninger said he was actually plan B. Plan A was to send teammate Justin England up the road solo on the first KoM climb to the ski station on top of Blue Knob. "We wanted Justin to be the rabbit early and cause the reaction in the field because he was the farthest down of our top GC guys coming in," Moninger said. "We were hoping that (Andy) Bajadali or Moran would chase and give me and Wherry a free ride up to the top of the first KoM climb."
So England, who came into the stage in 9th place, just 38 seconds behind race leader and teammate Wherry, attacked and got a gap. After a few minutes, Moran, who came into the stage 4th overall, tried to bridge but didn't make it. As soon as he was absorbed by the splintering peloton, Moninger countered and bridged to England.
Moninger, who a week earlier had won his fifth Mt. Evans Hill Climb and second consecutive National FIAC title in the process obviously still had his climbing legs. He even left behind England, another lithe climber, going over the top of Blue Knob. The two came together on the descent and began working toward the second major climb of the day. Behind them, the bunch was starting to reform after the carnage. As the tandem headed for the next major climb, Moninger radioed back to team directeur sportif Jeff Corbett for a bit of help up front. On the next little climb, teammate John Lieswyn jumped out of the main chase group and bridged up to Moninger and England.
Sensing impending doom, Colavita/Sutter Home's McCormack, who at the time was 6th on GC at 27 seconds, knew he had to bridge to the three Health Net Presented by Maxxis riders or else. "I think when J-Lo got up here, McCormack saw the writing on the wall," Moninger said. "If he didn't get up here, that would be it for the stage."
McCormack powered away from the chase group and succeeded in joining the Health Net Presented by Maxxis trio before the beginning of the second KoM climb, ruining any plans of a three-man team time trial to the finish.
"When he got up to us, I basically stopped working," Moninger said. "Justin and J-Lo were doing the bulk of the work."
But it also led to Colavita shutting down the chase behind, and the gap to the pack quickly grew to over a minute. On the second KoM climb, a Category 2 run up the dirt-and-gravel Maple Hollow Rd., Moninger once again rode away from his companions, but on the descent they reformed and rode together to the final KoM climb up Sugar Run. At the bottom of the climb, Lieswyn sold out to try to soften up McCormack. Once Lieswyn blew, it was England's turn to set a strong tempo at the front.
"I attacked a couple times and got a gap, but each time I came back to the group. My legs just weren't there," England said. "Even though I didn't get away, it was enough to soften things up for Scott."
Things had gotten further complicated at the front of the race when Moran and Davide Frattini (Colavita/Sutter Home) bridged to the leaders on the last climb. While the plan for Health Net Presented by Maxxis coming into the stage was to protect Wherry's race lead, when Moran and Frattini joined the group and Wherry wasn't there, Moninger said, "I knew it fell to me to make sure I finished in the lead."
Which meant that he had to avoid taking McCormack, who is a better sprinter, with him to the finish.
So with 1.5 miles to go until the summit, after England successfully tenderized the small group, Moninger once again attacked and rode away. He came over the summit with a 40-second gap. This time, there was no reforming on the descent. With 10 miles remaining from the summit to the stage finish, Moninger never looked back.
He navigated the descent and immediately went into time trial mode, extending his lead to over a minute. "Every time I looked back, no one was there," he said. He popped out of the single-lane tunnel on aptly named Tunnel Hill Road and kept driving to the finish. Over the last few miles, Moran and McCormack worked together to cut some of the lead, while England got a free ride. But the gap to his chasers was still 42 seconds in the end. The margin left Moninger with a big enough cushion over Moran and McCormack that the team could relax a bit in the final stage criterium.
Close call for England
Unfortunately for England, he nearly crashed out of the race in the final kilometer when police were unable to clear an SUV from the course quickly enough. "I almost swung around it," England said. But not quite, and he ended up going over the vehicle's hood, hitting it heavily with his thigh. "I'm a lucky guy," he said. "I can't figure out how I didn't break my femur." Amazingly, England suffered only minor injuries, though his Giant ended up in pieces. While he never actually finished the stage, because the crash occurred in the final kilometer, and it happened in what was supposed to be a controlled intersection, he was awarded 4th place, and given the same finishing time as McCormack and Moran, who also hit the SUV but was able to get back on and finish. Despite his mishap, England jumped up to 4th overall. Wherry, who was suffering from leg cramps in the final 20 miles, dropped to 5th after finishing in the main chase group of 26 riders at 1:31 behind Moninger. Henderson won the sprint for 5th place out of the group.
Playing pass the jersey.
After narrowly missing the win in the Stage 1 prologue (by 1.7 seconds to McCormack), Henderson became the first Health Net Presented by Maxxis rider to wear the yellow leader's jersey after winning Stage 2.
"The finish was really crazy and it was hard to organize a lead-out train for Hendy," Health Net Presented by Maxxis directeur sportif Jeff Corbett said of the finish of Stage 2. "It was an easy circuit and everyone in the race was fresh since it's the first road stage. But (Mike) Sayers and Wherry were able to help him out in the final kilometer."
To get the win, Henderson used a tactic similar to the one that propelled Gord Fraser around Fred Rodriguez to win Wachovia Trenton last month. Coming into the final turn 200 meters from the line, Henderson was sitting third wheel behind McCormack and Jeff Hopkins (Jittery Joe's). Henderson backed off just a bit to create a gap to Hopkins' wheel, then took a run at them through the last corner. The three riders came through the turn side-by-side across the road, but Henderson not only got the best line through the turn, he had the momentum to carry him up the finishing straight in front. Hopkins finished second, but McCormack faded a bit and missed out on any time bonuses.
The next day, Henderson handed over the leader's jersey to teammate and race roommate Chris Wherry after the USPRO Champion won the hilly 152.8 km Stage 3. Wherry won the stage out of an elite group of eight riders that included teammates Moninger and England. Henderson won the sprint for ninth place out of a group of about 30 riders that finished 26 seconds behind the stage winner.
The team worked hard over the next two stages to preserve Wherry's 15 second lead over Bajadali. In Stage 4, despite helping with much of the chasing, Henderson earned a third place behind the Colavita duo of J.J. Haedo and Page. Once again, in Stage 5, Health Net Presented by Maxxis kept control of the race and left the sprint to Colavita, which swept the podium with McCormack, Page and Haedo.
But Health Net Presented by Maxxis made sure there were no challenges in Saturday's sixth stage. Moninger, who is one of the winningest American cyclists ever with more than 230 victories, became the team's third stage winner and race leader after Stage 6. "It's a testament to the depth of this team," Moninger said.
With his climbing exploits on Stage 6, Moninger also took over the lead in the competition for the polka dot KoM leader's jersey, narrowly edging Moran on a tie breaker. Though the two riders had the same amount of points, Moninger earned more of them on higher category climbs.
In addition to Moninger's KoM and yellow race leader's jerseys, the team also secured the green points competition jersey for Henderson. Health Net Presented by Maxxis also took home the overall title in the team competition, to go with its four stage wins.
"I didn't want to be the guy to break the streak," Moninger said Sunday. "The streak" is the incredible run that Health Net Presented by Maxxis made in NRC stage races this season. Of the nine races entered, the team won eight overall titles, with the Dodge Tour de Georgia being the only race the team didn't win. However, the overall title wasn't the team's objective there. A stage win and the points jersey were, and the team met that objective with Henderson earning the orange jersey, and Gord Fraser winning the final stage.
Five different riders won those eight overall titles this year, and Moninger accounted for four of them. He also won the overall of the Tour de Nez omnium, another NRC race, which he entered with just two teammates, as well as the overall title in the Rocky Mountain Omnium.
The win at Toona all but wrapped up the 2005 NRC team competition for Health Net Presented by Maxxis. The overall title also put Moninger in a strong position to win the 2005 individual NRC title.
Stage 7: Downtown Criterium
1 Greg Henderson (Health Net pb Maxxis), 1:01:57
2 Jonathan Page (Colavita - Sutter Home)
3 Alejandro Acton (TARGETRAINING)
4 Dan Schmatz (Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada)
5 Mark McCormack (Colavita - Sutter Home)
6 Kevin Lacombe (Equipe Volkswagen Trek)
7 Jackson Stewart (Kodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada)
8 Charles Dionne (Webcor Builders)
9 Brad Huff (Mercy Cycling Team)
10 Robbie King (Louis Garneau Racing) all s.t.
1 Scott Moninger (Health Net pb Maxxis), 15:38.46
2 Mark McCormack (Colavita - Sutter Home), at 0:46
3 Hugh Moran (Aerospace Engineering), 0:52
4 Justin England (Health Net pb Maxxis), 1:20
5 Chris Wherry (Health Net pb Maxxis), 1:29
6 Greg Henderson (Health Net pb Maxxis), 1:44
7 Andy Bajadali (RMCEF), 1:46
8 Philip Wong (Fiordifrutta), 2:01
9 Jonathan Page (Colavita - Sutter Home), 2:03
10 Aaron Olson (Colavita - Sutter Home), 2:11
1 Tina Pic (Quark Cycling Team), 1:09:45
2 Laura Vangilder (Quark Cycling Team)
3 Leigh Hobson (Diet Cheerwine)
4 Meredith Miller (Team Lipton)
5 Kori Seehafer (T-Mobile)
6 Melissa Sanborn (Subway)
7 Katie Mactier (T-Mobile)
8 Genevieve Jeanson (The Bicycle Store)
9 Kristin Armstrong (T-Mobile)
10 Erinne Willock (Webcor Builders Women) all s.t.
1 Genevieve Jeanson (The Bicycle Store), 18:33:50
2 Christine Thorburn (Webcor Builders Women), at 0:01
3 Annette Beutler (Quark Cycling Team), 0:15
4 Kimberly Baldwin (T-Mobile), 0:20
5 Erinne Willock (Webcor Builders Women), 0:35
6 Lyne Bessette (Bianchi/GP/PCW), 0:37
7 Marina Jauantre (MS2R - Honey Stinger), 0:59
8 Kori Seehafer (T-Mobile), 3:18
9 Kristin Armstrong (T-Mobile), 3:28
10 Amy Moore (Victory Brewing), 3:46
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