Cool and overcast weather greeted the 40 (or so) women who lined up for the 2012 Mt. Hamilton Classic. This year, the unique point-to-point NorCal testpiece also served as the NCNCA District RR Championship, and as a qualifier for the Nature Valley Pro Chase. As a result, it pitted some familiar in-district hardwomen against a few out-of-district unknows.
For the first 3 miles the group stayed almost entirely together. But then Amy Thornquist (Stevens) welcomed the big leagues to herself, by driving the pace, stringing out the group, and eventually heading out on her own. Attentive observers may have noticed how Thornquist dominated the Cat 4 field at the Topsport Stage Race, and then the Cat. 3 field at the Mariposa Stage Race. Climbing is one obvious forte of Thornquist’s (she put a minute into the Cat 1,2, field in the Mariposa hill climb!).
With Thornquist off on her own, Ellen Sherrill and Julie Bellerose (Metromint) managed the gap over the first two pitches of Hamilton. Brianna Walle (an Oregonian interloper from Ironclad) jumping into it on the second pitch. As the group reached the final 7 miles, Kristina Seley (Cynergy) put in an attack that shattered the field, brought back Walle, and left a group of around 12 riders chasing Thornquist. Walle and her teammate Anna Christiansen went to the front and set a comfortable pace, as the field rose above the clouds and made its way toward the observatory. At the top, this group learned than Thornquist had gained over 4 minutes on them!
Could they catch her? An even more attentive observer of Topsport and Mariposa would have reason for skepticism. Not only can Thornquist climb, but her TT performances in both stage races were second only to those of Molly Van Houweling (Metromint). Speaking of Van Houweling, she led the descent, it dropped a few more riders, and the chase began in earnest. At this point the chase group of 7 also included veteran Felicia Gomez (Pinacle Women’s Racing), Walle, Christiansen, Seley, Nicole Justice (Stevens) and Heather Van Sickle (Stevens). As per their pre-race plan, the Stevens riders sat-in with teammate Thornquist up the road. With the coaching of Gomez, the rest shared the workload with reasonable efficiency over the difficult remainder of the course.
The gap had dropped to 1:25 by the second feedzone, but the post-feedzone climb stretched it back out to over 2:00 minutes. On the 20 mile, mostly downhill, run-in to the finish, the group continued to cooperate, with Van Houweling putting in a number of monster pulls when she hit the front. Nevertheless, with no time gap updates and the twisty roads concealing Thornquist, it seemed like she was gone for good. But when the chasers came around a corner with about 2 miles to go she came into sight.
Van Houweling brought her back as the descent to the finish began, and then drove it through the final sweepers. Coming around the last one at over 40mph, the entire group encountered an unwelcome surprise. Stopped in their lane was a HUGE pickup. Stopped in the opposite lane was another pretty big one (were they chatting?). Van Houweling slipped between them without touching her brakes. Others in line behind her slowed, some fish-tailed a little, but all miraculously made it past.
As the traumatized riders hit the bottom of the descent, Van Houweling had a 50 meter gap. It looked like she might TT to the line, but Walle drove hard to her wheel and brought the group along. They rolled ahead toward the finish at a moderate pace, and left the sprint until very late. They seemed surprised when it arrived. Walle came across the line first (good for points in the Pro Chase), Justice rolled across in second (good for a District RR championship). Gomez was caught unaware by the arrival of the line, but finished third. Van Houweling was 4th, Seley 5th, Van Sickle 6th, Thornquist 7th, and Christainsen 8th. Rounding out the top 10 were Lucia Mokres (Los Gatos) and Erin Lamb (Helen’s).
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