Posted by Editor on 04/23/04
Jason McCartney was brought onto the Health Net team, according to Gord Fraser, to support the team leaders during stage races by setting tempo and chasing breaks. In stage two on Wednesday he did that admirably, spending 145 kilometres at the front of the peloton chasing a breakaway. Yesterday, he still managed to finished seventh in the time trial stage, and today, on what is arguably the hardest stage of the Tour de Georgia he won, after being away in a breakaway for nearly 200 kilometres, the final 35 kilometres on his own. McCartney finished 53 seconds ahead of a small field of 34 riders, and did not affect the top of the general classification, with Lance Armstrong (US Postal) still in Yellow. Salavtore Commesso (Saeco) won the field sprint for second, with Charles Dionne (Webcor) third.
Stage five was the longest of the race, with five ranked climbs - four Cat 2's and one Cat 3. However, according to Armstrong: "The climbs weren't very hard, but it was never flat! The constant undulations and half mile climbs catch up with after fifty of them. Cipo (Mario Cipollini) came up to me at one point and said ' I've never seen a course like this ' , and neither have I."
The attacks began almost as soon as the race rolled eastward out of Dalton (just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee), and a group of 20 formed, which had dwindled by the 25 kilometre mark to six: McCartney and Chris Wherry from Health Net, Jacky Durand (Colnago-Landbouwkredeit), Stefan Adamsson (Barloworld), Henk Vogels (Navigators) and Alex Candelario (Jelly Belly). Wherry did much of the Health net share of the workload, according to McCartney, leaving him relatively fresh. The group opened a of approximately six minutes by the 65 kilometre mark, but the Posties weren't willing to let it go that high, with Wherry only 3:47 behind Armstrong on the GC, Adamsson at 5:20 and the long breakaway specialist Durand at 5:32.
The US Postal squad brought the gap down to a more reasonable 4 minutes by 170 kilometres, and it was at this point that McCartney upped the pace, dropping all of his breakaway companions within 2 kilometres, on the fourth KoM of the day - Wolfpen Gap. His lead was shrinking, even on the final downhill run into Dahlonega, but he held on to take the biggest victory of his career. As a bonus, he also took the Climber's Jersey.
Meanwhile, US Postal was having to do all the work, which became harder after they lost Michael Creed for a while to a puncture at the 130 kilometre point. They waited for him, but eventually finished with only Armstrong and Viatcheslav Ekimov in the front group. George Hincapie and Daniel Rincon were 45 seconds behind, with the other half of the team at least 6:38 in arrears. On the Wolfpen Horner tried an attack on Armstrong, which his team brought back, and then a serious effort was launched by CSC's Bobby Julich and Jens Voight on the final short, steep ascent of Woody Gap, which Armstrong had to cover himself.
Armstrong explained that the team had tried to preserve as many riders for as long as possible. "All day we tried to keep a conservative tempo, to keep as many guys as possible for such a hard race. When Bobby and Jens went, they were playing the team card, with two riders high in GC. I been in that position (on his own) before; the best thing to do is to get on their wheel as soon as possible, and wait for your team mates to come back up. But they were launching some hard efforts."
McCartney, clearly delighted with his victory, declared afterwards "I'm pretty much done now, I think. There was a group of maybe 20 (at the beginning of the break), and the team was saying I should be there. Danny (Pate) took me across. Chris Wherry worked for me all day, so I got a bit more rest. For me, the climbs felt better than the flats. It wasn't until the last 10 kilometres that I really started to feel it. It was really open and hot, and I had no water. I just tried not to think about it and keep going."
Tomorrow's stage ends at Brasstown Bald Mountain, atop the highest peak in Georgia (1460 metres) after 206 kilometres. We can expect another early attack, with the main contenders saving their energy for the final ascent, which tops out at over 20% in places.
- The US Postal team received word today that their title sponsor has formally announced that it will not be renewing its sponsorship after this year. Armstrong addressed the issue in the post-race press conference: "It is always tough when your title sponsor pulls out. But I can't say anything against them; in 1998 they stepped up and gave me a chance to win one Tour. Without them there wouldn't have been any victories. I'm sure someone else will step up. I think it requires a multi-national company; certainly someone with a European focus. But whether it is US-based or European, I think that the team will still be based in America, which is the important thing."
- Ivan Dominguez (Colavita-Bolla Wines), the Points Jersey holder, was the final finisher, actually finishing slightly outside the time cutoff. However, the officials have kept him in the race. Dominguez, who was clearly shattered, said that he expected Gord Fraser (Health Net) would probably take over the Points Jersey from him, effectively announcing that he does not expect to finish tomorrow's stage.
- Rumours are swirling that we could see an appearance of singer Sheryl Crowe within the next day or so, to support Armstrong. If so, expect a whole new crowd of papparazzi photogs to descend on the race.
- Dionne was lamenting his hesitation in the sprint, which began about 200 metres out with a left turn and then a short downhill and a steep little uphill to the line. "It was a long day, a hard day, a real day for the men. I was suffering on the last couple of climbs. In the last corner I started too late. Commesso and Voight had a gap at the corner, I was coming up fast, but I just needed to start 50 metres sooner. The form is good, I just didn't start early enough - I'm just glad that I got something for the team. I also think I proved today that I can climb as well as sprint." Eric Wohlberg (Sierra Nevada) and Dominique Perras (Ofoto) were the other two Canadians to make the front group.
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