Race Report by your ever intrepid Locutus and Crazy Jane
This year's T-Mobile International, presented by BMC has once again cemented this race's status as the premiere race in North America, with bewilderingly large crowds, a talent-dripping field, and exciting racing from the opening gun. The course was just plain cruel, with three short laps around the Embarcadero, eight big laps around the city (with vicious climbs up both Fillmore and Taylor streets), and four smaller laps that also took in the Taylor street climb. The steep inclines had several of the world's best climbers grimacing in agony as they fought wind and lactic acid in their attempts to chase down breaks and launch themselves to glory. European squads Saeco, Vini Caldirola, Telekom, Domina Vacanze-Elitron, and Formaggi Pinzolo sent some of their best men to face off with American teams like US Postal, Saturn, Navigators, 7Up-Maxxis, Prime Alliance, and a number of others. It was glorious.
There were a flurry of attacks at the beginning, including a big one that contained Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) and Matteo Cappe (Vini Caldirola/Formaggi Pinzolo) that was chased down by US Postal and Prime Alliance. Then there was a large attack of twenty men, that was eventually whittled down to five hard men. It contained eventual King of the Mountains winner Cesar Grajales (Jittery Joe's Coffee), Jason Lokkesmoe and Gord Fraser (Health Net), Chris Wherry (Navigators), and Rolf Aldag (Telekom). They built up a lead of 5' 20" at one point, and were chased by a large group including Matt "Gunslinger" Decanio and David Clinger (Prime Alliance), Kai Hundertmarck (Telekom), David Garbelli (Domina Vacanze), Chad Hartley (Jittery Joe's Coffee), and Tim Johnson (Saturn). A third group chasing included Ofoto-Lombardi Sports' Eric Saunders, Prime Alliance's Jonas Carney, and a hard driving Trent Klasna (Saturn); this group had a number of riders yo-yoing off and on, and eventually was swallowed back up by the peloton. Carney, who told the Daily Peloton before the race that he would be fetching bottles and working for his team until he dropped dead, was zig-zagging back and forth up the steepest parts of Fillmore hill. He and Klasna pulled out at the top of the Taylor climb on lap nine, while in the peloton climbers like Giuseppe Guerini (Telekom) and Stefano "Blue Eyes" Garzelli (Vini Caldirola/Formaggi Pinzolo) grimaced in pain at the top. At that point, Vinokourov was in the pack looking calm and Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal) was looking strong.
On lap nine the same five riders were still away, with Fraser gapped off the back while in the second group Decanio was driving it over about 1' 20" back. In the peloton, which was 3' back, Ruben Elvira Lobato (Domina Vacanze-Elitron) drove it hard and Lance Armstrong (US Postal) hit the showers. By lap ten, Aldag and Lokkesmoe had dropped their companions and had a gap of 1' 40" over a second group led by Wherry, Grajales, Clinger, and Hundertmarck. On the Taylor climb, Giro d'Italia champion Gilberto Simoni put his Saeco boys on the front to chase, and they drove it so hard they blew the remnants of the peloton to bits. On lap eleven, some serious counterattacks from the field had a group of five in the lead, which consisted of Aldag, Lokkesmoe, Clinger, Uros Murn (Vini Caldirola/Formaggi Pinzolo), and USPRO Champion Mark McCormack; chasing about a minute behind were Ben Brooks (Jelly Belly) and U.S. cycling's hardest man, Chris Horner (Saturn). The remaining field, by now decimated by the constant attacks and high pace, was chasing hard led by Domina Vacanze at 1' 30".
On the first of the final four smaller laps, Horner flatted. Fortunately, he got a fast wheel change from the Mavic neutral service men that helped him to quickly rejoin Brooks. Clinger and Aldag were fading, and McCormack sat up at the back of the five man lead group to wait for Horner. Once Horner caught on, McCormack attacked. With their superior numbers in the break, Saturn knew that attacks would soften the legs of their compadres. In the pack, New Zealand Road and Time-Trial Champion Gordon McCauley (Schroeder Iron) was attacking constantly in his usual aggressive style.
When McCormack was caught in the lead group, Horner attacked solo and got an impressive gap. Lokkesmoe and Aldag were spent from their long time off the front, and so McCormack saw his opportunity to attack as well. With only two short laps to go, Horner was alone with a 47" lead over his teammate McCormack, with the peloton 1' 20" behind. And that was all she wrote…the fat lady starting stretching her tonsils. As Horner crossed the finish line to victory, he didn't give any sort of celebration, as it was crystal clear in his mind that he one lap left to go. It wasn't until the race motos caught him and slowed him down that he realized he had won and the race was over. Horner, laughing in the press conference, said "No one had told me, 'Horner, this is the last lap.' And I didn't want to take any chances with a race like this." McCormack came through in 2nd. Ekimov took a flyer to come across in 3rd, rounding out the podium and another beautiful race on the streets of San Francisco.
- Chris Horner (Saturn) @ 4h 24' 33"
- Mark McCormack (Saturn) @ 49"
- Viatcheslav Ekimov (US Postal Service) @ 1' 02"
- Danilo Hondo (Telekom) @ 1' 04"
- Uros Murn (Vini Caldirola/Formaggi Pinzolo) @ 1' 04"
- Vassili Davidenko (Navigators) @ 1' 04"
- Massimo Guinti (Domina Vacanze-Elitron) @ 1' 04"
- Massimiliano Mori (Vini Caldirola/Formaggi Pinzolo) @ 1' 04"
- Lorenzo Cardellini (Domine Vacanze-Elitron) @ 1' 04"
- Eric Wohlberg (Saturn) @ 1' 04"
Of the big-name Euro rockstars, only Gilberto Simoni hung tough for the finish, coming across in 36th @ 1' 04". Tune in over the next few days for more coverage of the biggest weekend in American cycling. Keep your eyes out for a post-race interview with Gilberto Simoni, excerpts from the winners' press conference, and a full Ham-centric analysis by Crazy Jane and Locutus.