April 30, 2006 – The last stage of the La Vuelta de Bisbee was a cooker, not only from the heat of the day, but with just over a minute separating the top 3 in the overall the final climb of 8kms to the finish was a hotly contested affair. The race started out slow so Anne Samplonius of Team Biovail went to the front to bring the tempo up for the next 30 kms. The goal was to keep the pace high and make everyone’s legs tired leading into the finishing climb.
With some riders feeling the effects of back to back days of racing the main field started to dwindle early. The first half of the race was relatively uneventful. As the morning grew warmer more riders faded. Just after the feed zone Rebecca Much of T-Mobile called it a day leaving her team mate and the yellow jersey clad Mari Holden on her own to do battle with Felicia Gomez of Webcor and Anne of Biovail. The only action before the final climb was the sprint bonus seconds at kilometer 63. Anne was just a bit early in launching her sprint and found herself grabbing a 3 second time bonus, not the 5 she was hoping for, as Gomez nipped her at the line. Team High-Tech rider Gonzelez-Ferat was 3rd.
As the race moved toward the home stretch, Stephanie Bourbeau of Team Biovail bridged up to a solo attack, hoping the two riders could hold off the peloton in the last 10kms. However, they were quickly brought back into the main group as no one was willing to let a gap open as the fight for the overall began. A group of 5 riders went down in a crash as the 2 riders were absorbed, just as the pace increased and the real climbing began. Gomez went to the front and her effort whittled down the group so only 4 riders remained. With only Samplonius, Gonzalez-Ferrat and Marks-Marino able to follow the hard tempo of the Webcor rider, and the yellow jersey struggling behind, Gomez sensed the race was within her grasp and upped the tempo until finally she was alone at the front. Gonzelez-Ferrat moved to the lead of the chase to help Samplonius close the gap which Anne was able to do on the short downhill before the final steep 2km ascent to the finish. It was Gomez and Samplonius leading into the final sweeping corner before the final kick upwards, and the overall was to be decided between the two as the yellow jersey was no where in sight.
The two worked together swapping the lead until 500 meters to go Felicia launched the final racing winning attack and powered her way to a stage win and back into the yellow jersey. Anne finished second on the stage 7 seconds behind Gomez and secured second overall in the general classification (GC). Stephanie Bourbeau, working hard for Anne this weekend, finished 10th in GC and Gabriela Gonzelez-Ferrat, who will be guest riding with us next week at Gila, finished 4th.
This was a great tune up for the Tour of Gila that starts on Wednesday of this week, see you all then.