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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
The opening stop of the Wachovia Cycling Series has always been known as a strongman’s race. With three punchy climbs on the seven-mile circuit that winds its way in and out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, it’s not a place for pure sprinters or waif climbers. You better have a little bit of both in you if you want to win this one.
Certainly this year’s victor did nothing to dispel that notion. Dutchman Max Van Heeswijk is your classic tough guy, who now has eight wins in 2004 as proof of his diversity. This one, which went down on a mostly sunny Tuesday afternoon in southeast Pennsylvania, came to fruition on the last of 13 laps, when Van Heeswijk launched a counter attack on the race’s final climb, then held off the peloton for a nine-second win.
Spaniard Francisco Ventoso grabbed the field sprint for second, barely nipping American Fred Rodriguez, who settled for third.
The day’s other big story was CSC’s Bobby Julich. The resurgent American flirted with a heroic victory, charging off the front near the end of the 11th lap, and staying there until there were only three miles left in the race. Alas, Julich was reeled in at the top of the feed zone climb in Lancaster County Central Park, then shot out the back, settling for a distant 38th before disappearing into the host hotel.
A year ago the race in Lancaster was a cold and rainy affair, and as the start of this year’s contest approached it looked like the field of 137 riders were in for another tough day. A half hour before the 4:30 p.m. start, the skies opened up, leaving the course running in water. But the bad weather didn’t last and when the gun finally sounded to kick off this year’s Wachovia week, the sun was poking out and things were drying up.
That likely helped keep the race all but intact for most of the first five laps. “It was hard to try much today,” said CSC’s Jakob Piil, who won this race in solo break a year ago, but settled for 10th this time around. “Any time someone would try something the American teams would always put at least one guy at the front to bring it back.”
The only major move of the race’s opening half came during the sixth lap when a six-rider group that included Chris Horner (Webcor), Nathan O’Neill (Colavita Bolla), John Lieswyn (Health Net-Maxxis), Jeff Louder (Navigators), Piotr Chmielewski (Action ATI) and Ben Brooks (Jelly Belly-Aramark) broke away and built a gap that crested near 30 seconds.
But with no representation from CSC or Postal, the move had little chance of surviving and the race was all back together 43 miles into the 91-mile event. That chase didn’t come without a cost, though, as CSC burned through some valuable matches.
“That was a pretty bad moment in the race,” admitted Piil. “I had to work a lot for most of one lap.”
The ninth lap brought the next round of drama when a move originated by Ivan Dominguez (Colavita Bolla) and Aussie David McKenzie (Navigators) morphed into a group of six, with Chris Baldwin (Navigators), Jason McCartney (Health Net-Maxxis), Adam Bergman (Jelly Belly-Aramark) and Gordon McCauley (Monex) latching on.
They managed to put 40 seconds into the peloton by the early portions of the 10th lap, but the move would be short lived, as things regrouped with 14 miles of racing to go.
Many of the fans lining the course probably had little idea who Bobby Julich was, let alone the fact that he actually has a home in nearby Philadelphia. Lancaster is no Liege, and for the majority of spectators the prospect of a crash or maybe a handful of jelly beans held as much allure as the race’s closest thing to a native son.
But when Julich went off the front with two laps to go, the pair of PA announcers did their best to rally some home-state support. Julich would use this to his advantage, growing his margin as the bell for the final lap sounded. But when a Horner-led peloton roared through the start/finish 24 seconds later, it was clear there was lots of racing still to be done.
“For us it was good that Bobby went when he did,” said U.S. Postal team director Laurenzo LaPage. “Maybe if he had gone a little later it would have not been so easy to control.”
Instead Postal got plenty of help reeling the American in, setting the stage for Van Heeswijk’s winning move. With Julich taken care of, Van Heeswijk countered one of a handful of last-lap moves, barreling out of the park and across the Conestoga River bridge, before launching alone to the top of Chesapeake Street.
“To pull that off was amazing,” said Lieswyn, who ended up 20th and won the sprints competition. “We were hauling and Max still stayed away.”
Indeed, Van Heeswijk had plenty of time to zip up his jersey as he cruised down the long finishing stretch on Queen Street, crossing the line in 3:17:27, six minutes ahead of the top time from a year ago. “I really didn’t plan to do that,” the Postal rider admitted. “Normally I go for the sprint because I am also fast, but this was much safer.”
It was straight talk from a strong man, the kind of rider that almost always wins in Lancaster.
The Wachovia Cycling Series now takes a day off, before reconvening on Thursday in Trenton, New Jersey, for the 16th running of that race. Check back to VeloNews.com then for a full report, results and photos.
— Despite great form and a recent Giro stage win, Rodriguez was surprised that he held on to take third. The Acqua y Sapone rider said he was battling stomach problems for much of the race, and all but pulled over and quit at one point.
“I didn’t eat the whole race and I could barely drink,” said Rodriguez, who was in the bathroom before the post-race press conference and went right back there after the Q&A session ended. “I started thinking about dropping out to save something for [Sunday’s USPRO Championships], but I got some stomach stuff from the medical car. I think that helped my head more than anything. I figured I’d just ride in with the group, but when it stayed together I was able to pull off a result.”
— It was a solid debut in America for the Spaniard Ventoso who took second ahead of Rodriguez. This is the 22-year-old’s first season in the pro ranks, and already he’s being tabbed as one to watch after winning a stage win in the early-season Tour of Qatar.
— Van Heeswijk’s winning mark of 3:17:27 was the quickest finishing time since 1995 when Rodriguez set the course record of 3:07:12. This year’s blazing pace also made its mark on the rest of the field, which was trimmed from 137 to 57 by the finish.
.WACHOVIA CYCLING SERIES
RACE NO. 1; LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA, JUNE 1
1. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), U.S. Postal , 3:17:27
2. Francisco Jose Ventoso Alberdi (Sp), Pro
3. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Acqua & Sapone
4. Lars Michaelsen (Dk), CSC
5. Ciaran Power (IRL), Navigators
6. Bo Hamburger (Dk), Acqua & Sapone
7. Gordon Mccauley (NZl), Monex
8. Michael Barry (CAN), U.S. Postal
9. Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), U.S. Postal
10. Jakob Piil (Dk), CSC
11. Tristen Hoffman (Nl), CSC
12. Denis Bertolini (I), Acqua & Sapone
13. Ivan Dominguez (CUB), Colavita
14. Ben Brooks (Aus), Jelly Belly
15. Charles Dionne (CAN), Webcor
16. Gordon Fraser (CAN), Health Net
17. Kirk O’Bee (USA), Navigators
18. Brian Sheedy (USA), Sea
19. Caleb Manion (Aus), Jelly Belly
20. John Lieswyn (USA), Health Net
21. Dennis Kraft (G), Action ATI
22. Kyle Gritters (USA), Monex
23. Davide Frattini (I), Monex
24. Damon Kluck (USA), U.S. Postal
25. Brice Jones (USA), Health Net
26. Kazimierz Stafiej (Pol), Action ATI
27. Lawrence Perera (USA), Sharper Image
28. Eric Wohlberg (CAN), Sierra Nevada
29. Jeff Louder (USA), Navigators
30. Antonio Cruz (USA), U.S. Postal
31. Kirk Albers (USA), Jelly Belly
32. Jakob Erker (CAN), Sea
33. Adam Bergman (USA), Jelly Belly
34. Scottie Weiss (USA), Subway Express
35. Juan Fuentes Angullo (Sp), Saeco
36. David Mc Kenzie (Aus), Navigators
37. Ernesto Lechuga (MEX), Jelly Belly
38. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC
39. Chris Wherry (USA), Health Net
40. Jimmi Madsen (Dk), CSC
41. Christopher Baldwin (USA), Navigators
42. John Hygelund (USA), Sierra Nevada
43. Thomas Bruun Eriksen (Dk), CSC
44. Mark Mccormack (USA), Colavita
45. Chris Horner (USA), Webcor
46. Nathan O’Neill (Aus), Colavita
47. Frank Hoj (Dk), CSC
48. David Zabriskie (USA), U.S. Postal
49. Cameron Hughes (Aus), Subway Express
50. Tim Johnson (USA), Pro, all s.t.
51. Alessandro Donati (I), Acqua & Sapone, 1:21
52. David Richter (USA), Subway Express , 1:59
53. Andrew Bajadali (USA), Ofoto, s.t.
54. Jason Mccartney (USA), Health Net, 3:12
55. Michael Creed (USA), U.S. Postal , 3:58
56. Danny Pate (USA), Health Net
57. David Loosli (Swi), Saeco, both s.t.