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By Joe Zauner
Liza Rachetto (Intermountain) and the Navigators’ Jeff Louder won the second stage of the Montana Ecology Classic Saturday near Missoula, Montana on the demanding and tricky Perma road course. Rachetto’s teammate Becky Broeder and Louder’s fellow Navgator, Burke Swindlehurst, retained their overall leaders’ jerseys.
The Perma course is demanding, due in great part to the two Category 3 climbs that are on this 89-kilometer circuit. The course offers a tricky run-in to the finish, which has in years past played a role in breaking the hearts of many would-be stage winners and general classification hopefuls.
The last 22 kilometers of this scenic course is made up of a shallow descent across an arid valley that provides an unimpeded view for the peloton of any break that might be up the road.
Escapes normally hit the slopes of the run-in with sometimes as much as three minutes in hand only to be tracked down in the closing kilometers by a swiftly moving pack.
On Saturday the Perma course lived up to its reputation in the women’s event but was defined by a three-man break in the elite men’s race.
Women: The power of teamwork
The pace in the women’s race was moderate and mostly even over the first 30km on Highway 200, which runs the banks of the Flathead River. Riders were likely conserving in anticipation of the six-kilometer climb with an average gradient of 4.5 percent that awaited them 20km up the road. Or, they may have considered the heat (83 degrees) and the elevation (3700 feet).
When the peloton hit the lower slopes of the climb, the pace was steady, but being pushed by the Los Gatos team out of the Northern California town for which the club is named. About half way up Katheryn Curi (Los Gatos) began round after round of sharp, though ineffective, attacks that had the peloton of more than 50 women edgy. Riders bridging to the move were greeted by a soft-pedaling Curi who seemed annoyed at the prospects of anyone joining her.
A few meters behind the peloton was regularly over lapping wheels as riders jammed on their brakes. Several minutes of this resulted in the first and only wreck of the day, which took down the race leader, Broeder.
It was exactly at that point that Curi attacked, going out to a lead of 50 seconds over the remaining two kilometers of the climb and into contention for the QOM category at the top. Chasing was Suz Weldon (Ashmead College), who finished fifth on this stage last year as a Category 4 rider, and eventual stage winner Rachetto, who was wearing the points jersey.
Rachetto played it wisely and sat on Weldon as her teammate and race leader Broeder untangled herself from the crash. It wasn’t a high-speed wreck — if fact, Broeder looked no worse for the wear — but getting her bike untangled took some time, and after she remounted she was 35 seconds off Curi’s pace.
Broeder’s teammates shepherded her to the top of the climb, but on the rollers that followed, Broeder began to shoulder much of the workload to bring Curi back. Weldon and Rachetto were reeled back after five kilometers of effort. Rachetto began chipping in to limit Broeder’s losses after being caught.
Meanwhile, Curi was hammering down the road towards the next category-three climb of the day where more QOM points awaited.
“I took it as a 40 K time trial,” she said. “I knew they were probably going to take that time back and with three more stages still to go I didn’t want to bury myself.”
When Curi hit the bottom of the climb she had 2:20 on the bunch. When she tipped over the top and began the 22-kilometer run-in to the finish she had much of that intact. Behind a group of four worked itself free from the remaining pack of 13 riders. They lined up Curi in their cross hairs and began reeling her back. Behind, the bunch was doing much the same but with less effectiveness.
In the bunch was Broeder, who missed the move that developed, at first, as a sprint for QOM points.
“There was a mild acceleration on the hill and a lot of people couldn’t follow it, including the race leader,” said Joy Shaffer (Los Gatos), who was in the group chasing Curi. “I think some riders were feeling fatigue from the day before.”
The chase group, which included Rachetto, Shaffer, Weldon, Renee Eastman (Vitamin Cottage) and 2001 Ecology champion Alison Beall (Wolddiff.com) caught Curi with five kilometers to go. Behind the field was still chasing hard with Broeder doing much of the work.
In the end Curi put in a valiant sprint was no match for Rachetto. Eastman, Beall, Shaffer, and Weldon rolled across five seconds later in that order. Eva Karau (Stampede/Five Valley Velo) led the bunch across with Broeder 52 seconds off the lead pace.
The effect on Broeder’s the overall lead was minimal. She held a 2:06 margin over her teammate Rachetto. Karau was 3:09 back followed by Kneeland (3:12) and Sima Trap (Goldy’s, 4:11).
Thems the breaks
In the elite men’s race, an early break was instigated by Eric Flynn (Sambucca), who soloed out to a 50-second lead. He was joined about 15km later by Steven Williams (Recycled Cycles), Kevin Rowe (Saturn for Seattle), Mark Rodel (First Endurance/Contend), Jamul Hahn (Northern Rockies), Joe Arnone (Hammer Gel) and Jon Baker (Pro Peloton Velo),
These six rolled out to a two-minute lead over Mikkel Bossen (Oregon) and Evan Lawrence (Hammer Gel). At the foot of the first climb the pack was languishing more than five minutes off the leaders’ pace. Going up the climb the Navigators squad — without a rider in the break — began ratcheting up the pace. Ryan Guay, Glen Mitchell and Louder were doing most of the work with their teammate and race leader Swindlehurst tucked in their draft followed closely by Rusty Beall (HealthNet). A crash about halfway up the climb split the field.
Over the next lap the Navigators-led peloton was gradually taking time back from the original break. It absorbed Bossen and Lawrence. The time check at the top of the second climb was almost four minutes. When the break turned onto Highway 200 for the second and last time it was running out of steam with a two-minute lead. When the break hit the climb, Baker was the only rider left with legs to make it to the top before the peloton, which was 20 seconds behind him. It caught Baker one kilometer after the top.
Shortly after Baker’s capture, Marc Bomoff (Ciclismo/Headwinds) instigated a three-man break that included Agnetti Sheldrake (5280/Subaru) and Louder.
“Of course I was dreaming of staying away all day,” said Baker. “But after a while I wanted the KOM points and then make the final selection. I almost got gapped on the last climb.”
Over the last climb the field, which was the biggest group on the road numbering 13, had the break in its sites three minutes down the road on the valley floor below, but the chase never hit full tilt. The Navigators were happy with Louder in the selection, but they had to keep an eye on Bomhoff who was 2:13 off Swindlehurst’s GC lead. In the end Louder took the sprint from Sheldrake and Bomhoff, who finished in that order with the same time.
Pearce led the bunch over 1:20 later. Baker and Swindlehurst finished with the field. Swindlehurst held on to his leader’s jersey with a 40-second lead over Pearce. The big winner on the day was Bomhoff, who moved from seventh to third, 58 seconds off the lead.Ecology Center Classic
Stage Two Perma Road Race – May 24, 2003
1. Jeff Louder (Navigators)
2. Agnetti Sheldrake (5280/Subaru)
3. Marc Bomoff (Ciclismo/Headwinds)
4. Colby Pearce (5280/Subaru)Overall, after two stages
1. Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators)
2. Colby Pearce (5280/Subaru) at 0:40
3. Marc Bomoff (Ciclismo/Headwinds) at 0:58
4. Rusty Beall (HealthNet)
5. Ryan Guay (Navigators)WOMEN
1. Liza Rachetto (Intermountain)
2. Katheryn Curi (Los Gatos)
3. Renee Eastman (Vitamin Cottage) at 0:05
4. Alison Beall (Wolddiff.com) at 0:05
5. Joy Shaffer (Los Gatos) at 0:05
6. Suz Weldon (Ashmead College) at 0:05Overall, after two stages
1. Becky Broeder (Intermountain)
2. Liz Rachetto (Intermountain) at2:06
3. Eva Karau (Stampede/Five Valley Velo) at 3:09
4. Mary Kneeland (Intermountain) at3:12
5. Sima Trapp (Goldy’s)