Posted by Editor on 06/16/00
The Grand Prix Cycliste Oryx de Beauce is full of tough stages, but the Mont Megantic stage always stands out. The stage, ending with a 6 kilometre climb to the highest road in Eastern Canada (1112 metres), has ended the aspirations of many a competitor. This year, it revived the hopes of a rider. Stefano Della Santa, of the Alexia Alluminio team was the surprise winner of this toughest stage in Beauce. He won convincingly, after his team dominated the racing all day, to set him up.
The 169 kilometre stage usually follows a format: multiple attacks until the right combination of teams and riders manages to form a breakaway. The break then speeds away to gain as much as 10 minutes, before the peloton reels it back to a more suitable distance, such as 3-5 minutes. In the final 10 kilometres the gap begins to fall, and in the final 6, as the climb begins in earnest, it is every rider for themselves. Usually, the first few riders stay clear to take the stage victory, and the reminder of the break is caught and spat out by the fastest of the chasers.
Usually that is how Megantic unfolds, but not this year. The day begin with the obligatory early attacks, with a few promising ones suggesting that everything was going according to schedule. But then, something odd happened. Alexia Alluminio, a team that had done very little to distinguish itself thus far in the race, went to the front and set tempo, beginning around the 60 kilometre mark.
Why were these riders consistently at the front, keeping the pace high enough to discourage breaks, and aggressively chasing down any that did develop? Alexia Alluminio's highest placed rider was a sprinter - Andrea Brognara - so he wouldn't be a factor.
Speculation ran rampant. For example, Alexia Alluminio had a deal with ZVVZ; to help ZVVZ control things for the race leader - ZVVZ's Tomas Konecny. That seemed to be the most obvious answer, and everyone was glad that they had sorted it out. So, by the start of the final climb, despite a valiant 22 kilometre solos effort by Jean-Sebastien Beland (Volkswagen), the core of the field was still together.
And then a funny thing happened. As the field started to splinter on the increasingly upward grade, and Alexia Alluminio rider was at the front, riding easily as others struggled. It was the unknown Della Santa, setting the pace as the riders continued upward, shedding such riders as the Yellow Jersey, the leading climber - Petr Bencik (ZVVZ) - Mercury's Scott Moninger, Harm Jansen (Saturn) and the favoured Vincent Cali of Ville Charleroi-New Systems.
Della Santa danced his way up the climb, to claim the stage, while race leader Konecny had the climb of his life to finish second. But what was the secret weapon of Alexia, that allowed them to win the stage and take the leader's jersey by a handful of seconds?
Well, it turns out that the 'secret weapon' was actually a forgotten weapon. Della Santa had just come of three years of injury and bad luck to claim his first victory in five years. In 1994, the Italian rider finished second to Lance Armstrong in the San Sebastian World Cup, a year later he finished third. And then he fell victim to injury.
"I had an operation on my leg in 1997 to correct a problem with the veins. In 1998 I was in a bad crash (his right calf still shows severe scarring), and then in 1999 I had to have the operation on my veins again." All this surgery put him out of the public cycling eye for the better part of three years. But now Della Santa is back, and enjoying the limelight.
His lead over Konecny is a slim 6 seconds, and third place stage finisher Moninger is at only 27 seconds. However, for now, Della Santa will savour the victory and the attention. Tomorrow, we will see if his recovery is enough to hold onto the jersey through a morning time trial and evening criterium.
- The attrition was pretty severe, with 13 abandoning, and 1 disqualification for holding onto a vehicle on the climb (Ludovic Capelle - Ville Charleroi-New Systems). 63 riders are scheduled to start the 15 kilometre time trial in the morning.
- One of those attacking was Canadian National team member Peter Wedge, who jumped just as the riders were exiting the feed zone. Some of the Euro teams objected mightly to his choice of location for an attack, and mistakenly took out their frustrations on an unsuspecting Paul Kelly when the peloton was back together!
The peloton at the start of the stage.
The Alexio Alluminio team setting tempo.
Volkswagen's Jean-Sebastien Beland during his breakaway.
Stefano Della Santa.
Moninger, Della Santa and Konecny.
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