Posted by Editor on 03/26/02
Sea Otter Classic Mountain Bike Race
This report made possible through the sponsorship of FACT Canada
The Sea Otter Classic gave world champions Roland Green (Trek-VW) and Alison Dunlap (Luna Chix) their first chance to show off their new rainbow jerseys and they did not disappoint, taking the men's and women's titles in the four stage mountain bike competition.
The mountain bike pros started their weekend by hitting the road in the Cannery Row Criterium, a 50 minute circuit race held downtown in Monterey. The stage is new for the mountain bikers.
Strong winds discouraged breakaways during the women's race, so it took a last lap attack by Shari Kain (RLX-Polosport) to finally shake up the race. Kain attacked on the uphill back stretch of the 0.6 mile circuit, forcing Dunlap and Alison Sydor (Trek-VW) to chase before the crucial last two corners of the circuit. Kain came oh-so-close to pulling off an upset, with the last year's first and second place world championship finishers only passing her in the final straightaway.
Dunlap: "I knew that to win the stage I had to be no further back then second in the last corner. I passed Shari just after the last turn; I didn't hesitate, because I knew Alison (Sydor) was on my wheel."
Sydor: "My teammate Sue Haywood initiated lots of attacks, but it was so windy that nothing was getting away. I realized that it would come down to a sprint and I got on Alison's (Dunlap) wheel, but she's so good in the sprint that I'm lucky to beat her one time in ten."
The men's race was won by Steve Tilford (Verge), a 42 year old marvel who successfully held off a stellar field containing riders half his age. Tilford attacked repeatedly until the combination up front clicked, at which point five riders motored away to a 20 second gap. Green attempted to make his way across, but the riders up front were working too well together for any one individual to reel them in. Kashi Leuchs (Volvo-Cannondale) set the stage for the finish by attacking in the final half lap. He was passed by Tilford going into the second last corner, who held off a late charge by Paul Rowney (Yeti/Pearl Izumi) to take the stage and leader's jersey.
Tilford: "In the first five laps I saw that it was so windy that if something got away it was going to stick. I attacked just as an earlier break was getting caught and some riders started coming up to me. Once I saw that Paul (Rowney) had caught on, I knew we were good. We heard that Roland was coming up, and he is better then all of us, but no one guy was going to catch the 5 of us."
Stage 2 saw Dunlap solidify her position at the top of the women's standings, while defending overall champion Bart Brentjens (Giant) vaulted into the overall lead of the men's event after winning the stage. The stage was an 8 kilometre individual race against the clock, with riders facing steep, rough climbs and bone jarring descents. As each rider launched themselves down the starting ramp, the goal was to complete the circuit in the shortest time possible.
Defending women's champion Caroline Alexander (Great Britain) posted the quickest result for the women, her time of 21:28 one second ahead Dunlap and six seconds ahead of Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher). Dunlap's win in the first stage, combined with the 20 second time bonus she took as a result of her victory, kept the Colorado Springs resident in the lead, 18 seconds in front of Alexander, and 24 seconds ahead of Redden.
Brentjens dominated the men's stage, finishing 11 seconds ahead of Green, and 14 seconds in front of Seamus McGrath (Haro-Lee Dungarees). The final 30 men raced in rain, but the conditions had little effect on the results, with all the top finishers coming from this group. Brentjens' victory vaulted him into the overall lead, a bare two seconds in front of Rowney. Rowney finished 6th on the stage, but his second place finish in the first stage keep him in close contention.
Day 3 was Canada Day, with Canadian pros finishing one-two in the men's Short Track race, and first and third in the women's event.
Ryder Hesjedal (Subaru-Gary Fisher) held off his regular training partner Green by mere inches at the conclusion of the fast, 7 lap men's race, while Brentjens finished third. Hesjedal almost lost the race at the line, when he sat up too early to celebrate, and Green continued to sprint, finishing only inches behind. Brentjens continued to hold onto the leader's jersey, however, Green was only 7 seconds behind him, and Hesjedal was 13 seconds in arrears.
Three time world champion Alison Sydor used her superior descending skills to blow by overall race leader Dunlap in the final metres and moved into second place in the combined standings, 25 seconds back. Chrissy Redden held off Alexander for third place. Redden moved into third place overall.
Hesjedal: "I attacked early in the final lap because other riders were coming up behind our lead group. When I jumped, I looked back and there was no one close to me. This win is pretty special because it is not to often that you get to beat the world champion."
Sydor: "The race was fairly tactical because it was so windy. Chrissy (Redden) and I were definitely the fastest, but we would hit the wind whenever we tried to get away, so it was better to wait until the final climb. Alison (Dunlap) attacked, but I was confident that I could come by her on the descent, and I was just a little faster there."
Green: "Yeah, if I had caught him (Hesjedal), he would have been hearing about it for a long time!"
The pivotal final stage is a 58 kilometre, two lap cross-country race through the Laguna Seca Recreational Area. Green, Brentjens, Hesjedal, Filip Meirhaeghe (Specialized) and Seamus McGrath were part of a breakaway group in the men's race that dropped the rest of the field early. Green upped the pace in the second lap and shed everyone but Brentjens, and then attacked again on the final climb to solo in to the finish line. His 45 second gap at the finish was more then sufficient to give him the overall victory.. Meirhaeghe was third on the stage, outsprinting Hesjedal. In the final cumulative standings, after four days of racing, Green finished with a 38 second lead over Brentjens, followed by Hesjedal at 2:18.
In the women's event, Dunlap and Alexander were joined by Sydor, Redden and Barbara Blatter (Specialized) in a lead group that quickly distanced themselves from the remainder of the field. Alexander set a strong tempo on the climbs, shedding Sydor and Redden, but was unable to drop Dunlap. At the finish line, Dunlap sat up to savour her victory, letting Alexander take the stage win. Alexander's efforts moved her into second overall, 29 seconds behind Dunlap.
Green: "I had a lot of motivation to win here, especially after finishing second last year to Bart. I knew that it would come down to this stage, and I was just waiting for the climb. My legs felt really good, and so I just launched myself on the last climb. I needed seven seconds (to beat Brentjens), so when I had a gap I just put my head down and time trialled to the finish line."
Hesjedal: "Roland was the strongest guy out there, and once he and Bart (Brentjens) were gone, I concentrated on preserving my third place in the overall (standings). This has been my best race ever here, with the stage win yesterday (Saturday), so I am very satisfied with my race."
Brentjens: "Roland did a good attack on the last climb; he went on the steepest part and I just couldn't stay with him, he was too strong."
Alexander: "I had nothing to lose at the start of the stage, so I attacked from the gun. I was on my own, but it was too hard in the wind, so I waited for other riders to come up to me. Alison Dunlap was just so tenacious that I could not drop her. I had two stage wins, so I feel pretty good about my race."
Dunlap: "Caroline was setting a hard tempo up the climbs; she was the strongest all day. There were a few times that I felt bad, but I pushed through it and was able to get back up to the lead. It is super to win here, and it is especially important for me and my new team to do well."
Sydor: "I knew after the (stage 2) time trial that Caroline Alexander and Alison Dunlap were climbing well, and this course is all climbing. It was a pretty hard day out there, and Chrissy and I came off at about the same time. After that, I just wanted to stay with her to preserve my position in the standings."
Redden: "At the end of the first lap there were five of us at the front, and then Caroline Alexander kicked the pace up a notch and Alison and I came off. It was so windy that once we were behind them it was impossible to catch up. After that we worked together to make sure that we could save our fourth and fifth places."
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