cycling utah July 2000
By Andrea Foster
The year 2000 has seen faster, more aggressive bike racing as athletes strive for a spot on national teams headed for the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Henny Top, U.S. Olympic Women's Road Cycling Coach, stated that the 2000 Hewlett Packard LaserJet Women's Challenge performances would be considered in selecting Olympic candidates.
Atop the podium, 2000 HP Women's Challenge champion Anna Wilson (Australia) claimed that she had never raced such a difficult Women's Challenge - and she won this race during the last Olympic year!
Olympic hopes must have the same effect on cycling in other nations, as well. The international contingent at this year's HP event drove the peloton into the gutter at leg-breaking speeds for miles on end.
June 8-18, 2000 saw the toughest Women's Challenge ever blow through 630 miles of southern Idaho. Powerhouse teams, high speeds and harsh winds reduced the starting 120-rider field to 80 racers by race's end. Only half of the eight Utah and Idaho women entered in the event finished. I was thankful to be one of them, even as I eagerly counted the days until the end. This was by far the most difficult race I have ever done.
Unlike the 1999 Women's Challenge - when Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France) handily won the race by significant time gains- the 2000 title exchanged hands almost every day of the race. Anna Wilson took the blue leader's jersey after stage one, winning the sprint into Idaho City (69.5 miles from Birds of Prey), and kept it within close reach while Diana Ziliute (Lithuania) and Longo-Ciprelli played tug-of-war with it for the next nine days. With the title and $125,000 total purse up for grabs - and with Olympic selections pending - top racers and their teams rode much more aggressively than usual. Saturn, Timex, HP Lithuania-France and Master Team/Carpe Diem either strung out and broke up the field nearly every day from the gun.
Gnarly crosswinds in combination with the speed and aggression slaughtered much of this year's field. Thirty-five mile-per-hour cross and head winds cracked a major portion of the field on the longest stage, the Stage Six Burley to Buhl (84.2 miles). Winds split the field into several groups as a gutter-line chase futilely went after an 8-woman break that stayed away. Twelve riders did not finish or were time cut this day. Similarly gusty conditions battered the field on Stage One (groups were established even before arriving at the four-mile climb!), Stage Seven (Twin Falls to Glenns Ferry, 76.7 miles) and Stage Eight (Letha to Firebird Raceway, 79.4 miles).
The best features of the Women's Challenge were the variety of courses and the world-class athletes that contended for its title. Racers representing various specialties held the spotlight: Longo-Ciprelli in the mountains and in the T.T., Petra Rossner and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (both of Germany) in flat, power-driven stages, Wilson in sprint finishes, and former world champion Ziliute as an overall strong contender. Mari Holden (USA) was in the mix for the mountain jersey, and current national champion Nicole Freedman (USA) took the sprints jersey from Karen Dunne (USA) and lost it to Sarah Ulmer (New Zealand) in the final days.
One of my season goals was a podium spot during the faster, flatter stages of this year's Challenge. But achieving that proved much more difficult than I expected. Riding at the front and working for my three teammates in the top 45 took a lot out of me, especially as I helped them fight the winds. I finally rolled the dice on Stage Nine (71.5 miles in Mountain Home) and threw down five or six attacks. I got decent gaps, and I briefly got away with a couple groups, but the field let nothing get away that day. I tried again on Stage 11 (58.5 miles Middleton-Hyde Park), breaking away from the field for approximately two minutes through the orchards. Next time I'll be conspiring with at least a couple strong riders to make a move that sticks.
Daphne Wilhelm, Michelle Weidner, and Allison Bergeson (all from Utah), Kristin Armstrong, Brooke Blackwelder, Becky Bjork, Theresa Korn (all of Idaho), and I (caught between both states) seized the chance to take part in North America's biggest, richest race for women. Blackwelder, an accomplished veteran of cycling, brought this opportunity to Weidner, Bergeson, Armstrong, and Bjork by putting together the Goldy's team on which they all raced. Bergeson had the best overall standing (48th) until Stage Seven, which she did not finish due to a recurring back injury. The difficulty of this year's Women's Challenge saw only Armstrong, Bjork, Blackwelder, and myself finish, but it was great to see such a high number of local racers prepare for and enter this world-class event in our own "backyard."