On paper the 350 meter climb to the start/finish line seemed easy, and it was the first or second time around, but the riders faced the same climb over and over again in today’s stage 2 of the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic, the Fitchburg State College Circuit Race – where the women tackled the climb 11 times and the men 24 times. It had rained overnight but by the time the women started the roads had dried but the skies opened up again during the men’s race drenching the riders by the finish.
The men lined up under sunny skies and dry roads for the 75-mile (120 km) stage with BISSELL’s Tom Zirbel in the lead with 22 second on Scott Zwizanski, the first of three Kelly Benefit Strategies riders in the top 10. The goal for the teams was simple, for BISSELL it was to let a non-threatening break go, for KBS, it was to put one of their GC guys in that break and for the other teams, it was to get into the break.
Slightly before the halfway point, just as the rain started to come down, the second significant break of the day went. The seven-rider break included Kirk O’Bee (BISSELL), Zack Bell (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Tony Cruz (BMC), William Dugan (CCB Racing), Tim Johnson (OUCH-Maxxis), Darren Lill (Team Type 1) and Tom Soladay (Mt Khakis).
The break gained time with the majority of the riders rotating through except for O’Bee who sat in, taking advantage of the fact that his teammate was leading the general classification.
Sounds perfect for all involved right? Well almost except that Bell sat in fourth spot on GC at 34 seconds down, and that, according to Paul Mach (via his blog), it took some time for BISSELL to know that Bell was in the break. Once they knew, the chase was on with two of their squad at that front, but the break was still gaining time. Two more BISSELL boys joined in and finally brought the gap down to a more manageable time.
With five laps to go, the Colavita/Sutter Home came to the front to try and reel in the break and set up their sprinters for a bunch sprint but the break made it to the finish line. On the final climb, O’Bee kicked in his afterburners to take the win. Coming in two seconds later were Lill who won the sprint for second ahead of Dugan.
“I normally like uphill sprint finishes, but I wasn’t feeling great, so O’Bee was able to take the sprint at twice the speed as the rest of us,” Cruz explained in the team report. “And the sprint for second was like a slow drag race with the three of us who had been working in the break neck and neck for most of the last 300 meters.”
Zirbel still leads the general classification with 21 seconds on Bell and 23 seconds on Zwizanski.
Tomorrow’s stage, the Wachusett Mountain Road Race which covers 10 laps of a hilly 11-mile circuit, should bring fireworks. Again, there are time bonuses of ten, five and three-seconds on the finish line. The men’s race starts at 12:30 pm EST (9:30am PST).
BMC now has another card to play as Cruz moved up to tenth spot at 48 seconds down making it 3 BMC riders in the top 10 with Jackson Stewart and Ian McKissick. Lill also moved up sitting one second behind his teammate Mike Creed who is in sixth place at 38 seconds down. And, of course KBS still have three riders in the top ten. Expect the OUCH-Maxxis team to come out all guns blazing to try and get a stage win and maybe move up on GC.
“Sunday’s final stage is unlikely to have a significant impact on the GC, so any meaningful gains will have to be made in tomorrow’s stage.” Cruz agreed that the race was certain to get even more aggressive in stage 3. “It’s definitely game-on for tomorrow,” Cruz said. “We’re in a good position and feeling strong so I like our chances.”
With three riders in the top ten including Evelyn Stevens at 4 seconds back in second place on GC and time bonuses at the finish line, Team Lip Smacker came out and attacked non-stop in today’s 33-mile (54 km) stage to try and dislodge the yellow jersey from Team Type 1′s Alison Powers‘s shoulders. Joining them in the aggressive riding were Colavita/Sutter Home and ValueAct, each launching their riders up the road in the hope of creating a break.
“It was an aggressive race today, and the pace on the climb was fast,” commented ValueAct’s Kristin McGrath who finished fifth on the stage. “We were hoping to get in a breakaway, but nothing would stick.”
No group managed to go off the front but the constant accelerations lap after lap dwindled the field down to 54 riders by the final lap where French Champion Jeannie Longo (Vital Plus) – winner of a bazillion* races – made her move but she was brought back before the last time up the climb to the finish.
Then Tina Pic (Colavita/Sutter Home) hit it hard to go for the stage win. Lip Smacker’s Amanda Miller with Stephens on her wheel went after her down and quickly Stevens and Jen McRae (Team Type 1) went around Miller to try and reel Pic in. In the end, Pic crossed the finish line first, 5 seconds ahead of McRae and Stevens.
The field, that included Powers was gapped by a further two seconds and that small amount combined with her three second time bonus was enough to move Stevens into the yellow leader’s jersey with two stages to go. Powers drops down to second spot at 1 second back and Lip Smacker’s Anne Samplonius still sits in third at 10 seconds from her teammate.
“Honestly, I was a little relived to see I’m in second place,” Powers said late Friday night in the team report. “Now I need to race my bike. That’s more fun than sitting in and not doing much. I’m super excited. It’s game on.”
Game on indeed. “Tomorrow’s going to be an interesting day.” said ValueAct Team Director Lisa Hunt.
Saturday’s 64-mile (102 km) Wachusett Mountain Road Race comprises six laps of an 11.4-mile (18.3 km) circuit, but the organizers changed the finish this year. “It’s a different finish this year,” said Hunt. “It no longer finishes at the top of the mountain, so it will make for a challenging race. We’re ready!”
Just as in Friday’s race, it is the ten, five and three-second time bonuses for the first three finishers that have Powers most concerned. Five riders are within 20 seconds of the lead with two stages to go.
“We would prefer that it not come down to a sprint finish because although it might be a great opportunity for Jen (McRae), Evelyn (Stevens) also has the power to get up the climb a little better that I do,” Powers said. “We would much rather take the opportunity to attack or get away solo. We definitely want to be on the offensive.”
Watch for Longo who sits in fourth spot on GC at 15 seconds to go on a rampage. The women’s race starts at 12:42 pm EST (9:42 am PST)
Found photos on flickr from eos40dpete
Complete results here (pdf)
*: Jeannie Longo is a 57-time national champion, five-time world champion, four-time Olympic medalist and winner of more than 1,000 races