June 11, 2005 (Minneapolis, Minn.) — Navigator Insurance’s Shawn Milne was not the most elated rider to sit at the finish line waiting for the awards of the Minneapolis Downtown Classic, the third stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
Still, the rookie rider for Navigators did have smiles, having won the stage by several bike lengths over last year’s stage winner Dave McCook of Jelly Belly-Pool Gel. The win was not just the first USA Cycling National Racing Calendar victory for Milne, it also meant he pulled on the leader’s jersey for the grand prix.
And it meant he got dinner Friday night.
“Before we came here, [Navigator’s director] Ray had a talk with us,” Milne said. “The motivation he gave us is we get a team dinner if we win.” Then he turned to Ray Cipollini and said the team should get two dinners, because he passed the finish line first twice.That was just one of the problems that seemed to dull the excitement around the finish line, as McCook sat and wondered what had happened that had them race the last lap twice. “There’s no way he would have won if they had counted [the laps] correctly,” McCook said.
Frank Pipp, of Advantage Benefits/Endeavor Cycling Team, took third in the bell lap, but he recognized something went wrong in the last two laps.
“They gave us two laps to go twice,” said Pipp, who did not cross the finish third in the previous lap. Milne knew it, too, although he thought he made the right move at the right time for the win.
“I came around the corner and Ray is screaming for me to sprint,” he said. “I went for it, but I didn’t see anyone jump with me. I have seen too many times riders sprinting for what they think is the last lap and lose it,”
Instead of throwing up his hands and claiming victory too early, Milne continued through the finish line trying to hold his advantage. Milne’s mistake and correction turned into his advantage, while the confusion over the last lap left McCook and his teammate Danny Pate, Pipp, and Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home’s Jonathan Page to chase instead of contesting for the win.
“I am pretty confident that I would have won,” McCook said as he voiced passionate concern over the quality of the officiating he witnessed Friday. “It’s just frustrating when things that aren’t in your control don’t go right.” Officials did not have any comment about the mistake.
Still, it was not the first thing to go wrong for Jelly Belly and McCook coming into the last laps. There was no question the team was lining up to see McCook repeat his victory here as they brought five riders together in the last four laps, with Pate pushing the pace. With a solo rider, McGuire Real Estate/Laugdale Cycling Team’s Matt Dubberley, just dangling seconds in front, the showdown was building between Jelly Belly and a surging Health Net/Maxxis squad that was trying to form its own train.
But as Dubberley pedaled through the first turn with three laps to go, his pedal hit the ground, sending him across the street and into the barriers. Milne, who was sitting behind the Jelly Belly train, said it was just a mad dash between Jelly Belly and Health Net to find the line that would avoid the crash.
McCook said he and his team checked up and hit the breaks to avoid the wreck as it went in front of them, and that sent riders behind him flying forward. “It screwed up everything,” he said of the lost momentum.
The ensuing pile up took downtown sprint leader Tyler Farrar of Health Net along with his teammates Gord Fraser and GC leader John Lieswyn, among others. Farrar seemed to take the worst of the crash, not finishing the race, while Lieswyn was left chasing to catch back onto the pack that missed the wreck. “I’ve pulled muscles in my legs and back,” he said. “I’m pretty scratched up.”
The wreck not only left him with wounds, it left him a gap to overcome to McCook, Milne, Pate, Pip, and Page. For McCook, it meant the end of his sprint train, and for Lieswyn, the wreck meant the end of his hold on the leader’s jersey, as Milne came into the day second overall at 17 seconds behind.
Lieswyn had no words of praise for Milne and his victory, calling into question Milne’s respect for the leader’s jersey and his motivation for the win. “It was hard to lose the lead that way,” he said. “If I was Shawn Milne, I wouldn’t want to get the lead that way. Evidently, Shawn has no respect for the jersey.”
Milne said he knows that the wreck contributed to his victory, especially since he was not aiming for the win but rather pulling for his teammate, Siro Camponogara. But rather than attacking the GC leader while he was down, Milne said he was just following the wheels of the riders in front of him who continued to move ahead with the race.
“I wasn’t going for time,” said Milne, who finished more than 20 seconds ahead of Lieswyn and earned bonus time for the win. “If I could, I would have waited.
He made no apologies for winning and taking the leader’s jersey, though. “I’ll take a win this way,” he said without any emphasis or elation. “I wouldn’t have preferred it this way, though. I had some friends go down in the wreck.”
Cipollini also came to Milne’s defense. “None of our riders would take advantage of the race leader going down,” he said. “It’s just the way the race turned out.”
Even Health Net’s director Jeff Corbett said in a criterium, it is hard for a rider near the front to know what is happening behind him, especially in the last few laps. “It’s a lot easier to do that in a road race,” he said. But he still did not fully excuse Milne from all implications of using the wreck to his advantage.
More of a concern for Health Net was the condition of Farrar, who went into the day as the top sprinter and top espoire and came out of the day with neither jersey and scratches and bruises. Later, after the finish, team officials said he physically would be able to continue the stage race.
The Nature Valley Grand Prix continues on Saturday with the Red Wing Road Race in Red Wing, Minn., about 55 miles southeast of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River.
Results will be added when they are available.