Posted by Editor on 06/21/01
The list of potential winners for the Grand Prix Cycliste de Beauce has been reduced to 21 riders from the 118 who started stage 4 Thursday morning. The reason? Only 21 riders were in the break that finished over 33 minutes ahead of the peloton, a margin so great that the entire field was within a couple of minutes of missing the time cut.
David McKenzie (Ficonseils-RCC Conseils Assurance) gave his team their first win of the season by outsprinting Artour Babaitsev (Team Nurnberger) and Eric Wohlberg (Saturn), but every one of the breakaway members is virtually assured of finishing in the money now. Yellow jersey holder Henk Vogels was also in the break, and thus retains the overall lead.
The break went 34 kilometres into the 178 kilometre stage, after a series of aborted attempts to establish something off the front. When the group first formed it looked too good to be true: Vogels, Scott Moninger and Baden Cooke for Mercury; Wohlberg and Michael Barry for Saturn; Chris Baldwin and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators); Elio Aggiano and Patrick Sinkewitz (Mapei-Quick Step); McKenzie and Dominique Perras (Ficonseils-RCC Conseils Assurance); and 3 Mroz riders - Piotr Chmielenski, Eugen Wacker and Zbigniew Piatek. In total, 12 teams represented, most with their top GC riders.
Cantina Tollo and Ville de Charleroi completely missed the boat, and Team Canada had Min Van Velzen marking the group, instead of Svein Tuft, number two on GC. Tuft had a good excuse: he was taken down by another rider and broke both his wheels. By the time he got replacements and chased back up the break was well and truly gone.
"It went on a climb" explained Wohlberg. "The Italians lit it up and I happen to be with them when the first group formed. Then I saw Mike (Barry) come across with another wave and I knew we had a good group. Mroz, Mapei and Mercury were doing the early work to establish the first few minutes (gap), and then pretty much everyone pitched in to make it work."
The gap grew relatively slowly to start with, and then the peloton seemed to give up after chasing for 50-plus kilometres, and the margin went through the roof. The break worked well together until there were approximately 30 kilometres left in the stage, when the knives came out. Dominique Perras was one of the early aggressors, attacking repeatedly, only to be brought back by Mercury and Mroz. The group settled down for a few kilometres and then Wohlberg launched a truly impressive effort with 15 kilometres to go.
The Canadian time trial champion gained 15 seconds on the group, and managed to hold it for 10 kilometres against the combined efforts of 3 Mercury and 3 Mroz riders. "It was a longshot; I was just hoping that Mercury and Mroz would try to bluff each other." Unfortunately for him, they recognized the danger and reeled him in with less than 5 kilometres to go.
Everything appeared to be in place for a sprint finish, when Van Velzen jumped in the last corner, with 800 metres to go. He had hoped to catch the group by surprise, and almost did; getting swarmed in only the final 75 metres.
McKenzie took the stage by choosing the right wheel to follow - Wohlberg's. "I stayed on his wheel until the final 150 metres and then came around him. This is the first win of the year for the team, and for me, so I am very happy."
The result puts an entirely different complexion on Friday's 'Queen stage', which finishes atop Mont Megantic with a 5.5 kilometre climb averaging over 10%. Traditionally, the overall victory has gone to a rider near the front at the end of this stage, but now it is virtually impossible for any rider not in the top 21 to make up sufficient time. Vogels' jersey just became a whole lot more secure on his shoulders.
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