April 28, 2006 – Fiordifrutta’s Josh Dillion’s face began to show panic a few minutes before Stage 4’s 9:00 a.m. start. All the other riders started to line up in the start area in front of the magnificent entrance of the Homestead resort in Hot Spring’s , Virginia. Dillon stood and waited for a car full of his Fiordifrutta teammates.
“I don’t even have my bike,” Dillon said anxiously watching the resort’s driveway for any sign of his team’s car. Dillon’s teammates called a half hour earlier saying the car had a flat tire about four miles from the start, and they might be late. Dillon’s teammates finally arrived, unloaded bikes, quickly saddled up, and were off with the rest of the group, just in the nick of time.
“That sure got us up the first hill,” Dillon explained how the pre-race excitement helped kick start the team’s energy level. The close call may have sparked Dillon to burn past Priority Health’s Eddy Hilger more than a hundred miles later with a sizzling sprint in the last 200 meters to win stage 4:39:31. “There was no way I was getting another second [place],” said Dillon, dissatisfied with a recent stretch of second place sprints at other races.
Dillon’s all-out sprint closed a punishing 108-mile stage which included two cat. 3 climbs, an arduous cat. 1 on the region’s famed Mt. Vesuvius, and a relentless cat. 2 haul up the aptly-named Long’s Mountain near the end of the race. “I tried, but I knew I couldn’t get him [Hilger] on the hill,” Dillon described his ascent of Long’s Mountain and decision to hold back until the final sprint. “This is my first year on the team, but I love the professionalism,” Dillon complimented his fellow Fiordifrutta teammates. “Their efforts took so much pressure off Dan [Timmerman] and I,” said Dillon.
Priority Health’s Eddy Hilger crossed the line second, a few yards behind Dillon. “I don’t know where Josh came from, he was like a bombshell,” Hilger said. “Three-fourths the way up the last climb, he came out of nowhere. I did everything I could to keep up with him. I didn’t have a big enough gear to get by him,” Hilger gave full credit to Dillon.
ItalPasta’s Cameron Hughes finished third. The Australian said he was surprised by his stage 4 result, an almost opposite performance from yesterday “Yesterday was a bad day for me,” Hughes explained how he bonked with 20K to go in stage 3. “It’s still early in the season for me,” said Hughes. “I’ll take every day as it comes,” smiled the Aussie who only recently joined the Canada-based team.
In the GC hunt, Eddy Hilger remained atop the GC 10:11:32. Prior to stage 4, the team still intended to support time trial specialist Tom Zirbel’s bid for GC leader. An unfortunate spill rendered the decision making moot. Zirbel “flatted out” and suffered a high speed crash on the descent of Vesuvius, according to Eddy Hilger. Zirbel did not finish stage 4. According to his Priority Health teammates, Zirbel hit his head and was taken off the course to an emergency room. Zirbel was given a CT scan, but his injuries are not serious, team members said. Zirbel’s failure to finish the stage meant his race was over.
Dillon’s stage 4 performance positioned him 2nd in the GC, a mere five seconds behind Hilger. Fiorifrutta’s next fastest rider, Dan Timmerman sits 7th in 10:15:26. Dillon insisted that the team’s GC focus remained Timmerman, but Timmerman questioned that strategy. “We’ll talk about the GC tonight,” said Timmerman who said he still aims to keep the points jersey.
Byvik Financial Services – Trek/VW’s Jeremiah Bishop finished stage 4 13th in 4:41:53. “I led with the group up the mountain, but I’m not 100%,” said the pro mountain biker from Harrisonburg, Virginia. Bishop, the local favorite, ended the day 12th in the GC with 10:15:58, five minutes and 26 seconds behind the overall leader.
Top rider in the Under 23 Classification after Stage 4 is Brent Brookwalter, 22, a resident of Rockford, MI.
Brookwalter finished the stage in 8th place, in the leading bunch that came in at 2:22 behind Dillon.
Brookwalter might be feeling at home in the mountains – according to VeloBios.com, he is already a 7-time collegiate mountain bike national champion and was a member of the 2002 U.S. world championship teams for mountain biking and cyclo-cross.
In 2005 he placed 9th in the Under-23 national road race championship. Brookwalter is eighth in the General Classification, at 3:59.
Another rider with extensive mountain bike experience is Sam Schultz, riding for the Byvik Financial Services/TrekVW team. Schultz, out of Missoula MT, is only 20 years old, and is lying 10th in the GC at 4:10, only 11 seconds behind Brookwalter.
Third place in the U-23 competition is held by another 20 year-old, James Camut, (Watchung Wheelmen/High Gear Cyclery), from Johnstown, PA. Camut is 11th in the GC, at 4:25.
With three hard stages to go, the race is far from over.
1 Josh Dillon (Fiordifrutta cycling team) 4.39.31
2 Eddy Hilger (Priority Health Cycling Team)
3 Cameron Hughes (ItalPasta) 0.35
4 Predrag Prokic (AEG-TOSHIBA-JetNetwork Pro Cycling Team)
5 Matt Cooke (LSV/Kelly Benefit Strategies) 1.08
6 Ian Ayers (Byvik Financial Services presents Trek/VW) 1.53
7 Dan Timmerman (Fiordifrutta cycling team) 2.22
8 Brent Bookwalter (Priority Health Cycling Team)
9 Sean Barrie (Rockville Harley-Davidson/Silver Cycles)
10 Ben King (Hot Tubes Development Team – TRI DIM)
1 Eddy Hilger (Priority Health Cycling Team) 10.11.32
2 Josh Dillon (Fiordifrutta cycling team) 0.15
3 Predrag Prokic (AEG-TOSHIBA-JetNetwork Pro Cycling Team) 2.31
4 Matt Cooke (LSV/Kelly Benefit Strategies) 2.59
5 Bruno Langlois (AEG-TOSHIBA-JetNetwork Pro Cycling Team) 3.206 Ian Ayers (Byvik Financial Services presents Trek/VW) 3.42
7 Dan Timmerman (Fiordifrutta cycling team) 3.54
8 Brent Bookwalter (Priority Health Cycling Team) 3.59
9 Justin Spinelli (Team Nerac/Outdoorlights.com Pro Cycling) 4.08
10 Sam Schultz (Byvik Financial Services presents Trek/VW) 4.10