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He did once say that “it ain’t over till it’s over,” but the Saturn team is putting that old Yogi-ism to the test at the HP Women’s Challenge. Until today, the 12-day Idaho stage race had been a two-woman contest between Saturn’s Lyne Bessette and the venerable French champion Jeannie Longo, competing with a composite team, sponsored by Office Depot. But by the end of today’s flat and wind-blown 80-mile stage – won by Saturn’s Petra Rossner – Longo was knocked back to tenth place overall, more than 11 minutes back and Bessette now enjoys a lead of more than two minutes over second-place Rasa Polikeviciute.
Bessette said the team plan hadn’t really included much but to take advantage of the flat day and “get some rest in” before Monday’s stage to Pommerelle with its 3500-foot altitude gain on its tough finishing climb. But that was before the wind kicked in. An oncoming cold front kicked up winds in southern Idaho and the first half of the stage from Shoshone to Burley would be contested in a strong crosswind.
The opening 30 miles were marked by several attacks, including a pair that included Saturn’s Ina Teutenberg. But the efforts were negated by interested teams not represented in the breaks and by an ever-vigilant Longo.
“I still feel tired,” said Longo as she readied for the noon start of the stage. The first few days had taken their toll on the 42-year-old multiple world champion, but Longo was still putting in a big effort to ensure that no dangerous combination – any that included Bessette – escaped. But the attacks continued and eventually Bessette did escape and did so in the company of teammates. Four of them to be precise.
“I looked around and realized there were five of us (Saturns)here,” Rossner said of the break of 13 that formed at mile 31.
“When we realized that, we knew that this was the chance we needed,” Bessette said.
There in the mix were Bessette, Teutenberg, Rossner, two-time Challenge winner Anna Millward and Kim Bruckner. Indeed the only Saturn missing from the break was Australian Kristy Scrymgeour, who happened to be in the process of getting a wheel change when the group got away.
Longo moved quickly to the front of the field and tried in vain to chase. But in addition to the formidable Saturn contingent, there were also several top GC contenders, including Dutch National team rider, Chantal Beltman (sixth in GC), Acca Due O’ Rasa Polikeviciute (third), Germany’s Judith Arndt (fourth), AutoTrader’s Sarah Ulmer (tenth) along with other powerful riders including Catherine Marsal (Intersports), Brooke Blackwelder (Goldy’s) and another Acca Due O, Vera Hohlfield. All told, it was the best possible for Bessette and the worst imaginable for Longo.
The Saturns clearly had every reason to power the break. The others, perhaps worried about how Longo might do on Monday, offered help early and then, once the gap was good, sat on for the ride.
Longo never got much help at all.
“It’s terrible. If I am in the break,” she said referring to the first stage of this year’s race, “no one helps me. And today, when I am in the back, no one helps me. Yes, Alison (Dunlap) came up, but by the time that happened, it was too late.”
The pace in main field dropped. The pace up front quickened, with Saturn riding a five-woman team time trial at the front. Within 10 miles, they enjoyed an advantage of 1:18. At 50 miles, as the course took a hard right into the wind, the gap was 2:14. The chasers surrendered.
Webcor’s Brenda Black said the speed of the main group became “sooooo slow. None of the big teams seemed at all interested in cutting the gap and Jeannie sure couldn’t do it on her own.”
There was no such sense of discouragement among the leaders. Their advantage continued to grow: 2:50 at 55 miles; 4:27 at 65 miles… the main group drifted toward the finish line, the leaders continued to charge. By the finish line, the lead was an incredible 9:49.
Rossner sprinted to the line, taking a win she said, “Saturn definitely deserved.” But the big prize is what really looked almost certain. Bessette now enjoys a lead of 2:17 over Rasa Polikeviciute and 3:06 over Arndt. A tough climber, Bessette said she was worried about Longo in the hills and was happy to go into to Monday’s stage with as much of an advantage as possible.
She smiled when asked if she thought her 11:18 advantage might just be enough.
Longo, who rolled across the line with the main field, was clearly tired and immensely frustrated.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to continue to do this,” Longo said. “I come here to race and it seems like everyone, everyone just races against me. I try to do well in the hills, but I get teamed up on and killed in the flats. I shall not come back here again.”
Longo declined to say whether that meant she wouldn’t return to the Women’s Challenge next year or on Monday morning.
Though a week from the finish in Boise, the Saturns may prove that this race really is over, long before it’s over.
1. Petra Rossner (G),Saturn, 2:55:54; 2. Judith Arndt (G), German National; 3.
Catherine Marsal (F), Intersports; 4. Brooke Blackwelder (USA), Goldy’s-Grove Street Place; 5. Vera Hohlfeld (G), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 6. Chantal Beltman (Nl), Dutch National; 7. Sarah Ulmer (NZ), AutoTrader.com; 8. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 9. Angela Hillenga (Nl), Dutch National; 10. Lyne Bessette (Can), Saturn; 11. Kimberly Bruckner (USA), Saturn 12. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (G), Saturn; 13. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn, all s.t.; 14. Mirella van Melis (Nl), Dutch National, at 9:49; 15.Angela Brodtka (G), German National; 16. Nicole Demars (Can), 800.com; 17. Amber Neben (USA), Earthlink; 18. Pam Schuster (USA), AutoTrader.com; 19. Melanie Sears (GB), British National; 20. Brenda Black (USA), Webcor-AV/TALGO; 21. Marielle van Scheppingen (Nl), Dutch National; 22. Mary McLaurin (USA), Contender Bicycles; 23. Cathy Moncassin (F), Canadian/French Composite; 24. Jennifer Stevens (USA), Earthlink; 25. Helen Kelly (Aus), Office Depot; 26. Ghita Beltman (Nl), Dutch National; 27. Katia Longhin (I), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard; 28. Catherine Cardwell (USA), 800.com; 29. Pia Sundstedt (Fin),
Intersports; 30. Letizia Giardinelli (I), Acca Due O Hewlett – Packard, all s.t.
Overall after six stages
1. Bessette, 12:01:55; 2. Rasa Polikeviciute, at 2:17; 3. Arndt, at 3:06; 4. Bruckner, at 3:18; 5. Chantal Beltman, at 3:37; 6. Rossner, at 4:51; 6. Millward, at 4:57; 7. Ulmer, at 5:05; 9. Hohlfeld, at 5:41; 10. Longo, at 11:30.