May 21, 2005 (Russellville, AR) – Kiwi Greg Henderson of the Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis opened the three-day Tri Peaks Challenge by winning a three-up sprint to take the Stage 1 criterium on the campus of Arkansas Tech University.
The three-man break went away fairly early in the 60-minute criterium, which was run over a 2 Km course in warm, windy conditions. The break started innocuously enough, when Henderson’s teammate, Mike Jones, marked an attack by a member of the Advantage Benefits/Endeavour squad. Sensing an opportunity, Henderson, the former track world champion, hit the gas and bridged to the duo. Working together, the three riders quickly opened a gap of 20 seconds.
With two riders up the road, Health Net Presented by Maxxis was content to sit in and leave the chase to everyone else. Jelly Belly/PoolGel, Aerospace Engineering and Monex all tried to organize, but with little success. In the meantime, the break extended its gap to 40 seconds, and the three-man move was beginning to look like it would stick.
Finally, almost three-quarters of the way through the race, a small chase group got away from the peloton in pursuit of the leaders. But again, Health Net Presented by Maxxis was very well represented, with four riders in this group, including John Lieswyn, Gord Fraser, Mike Sayers and Scott Moninger, fresh off his overall win at last weekend’s Joe Martin Stage Race.
The chase group made some headway, but with the four members of Health Net Presented by Maxxis doing as little work as possible, the chasers were only able to get within 30 seconds of the leaders by the race’s end.
In the field, Jelly Belly made one more attempt to bring back both groups, but they left it too late. Coming into the finish, Jones set up Henderson for the sprint, and the winner of this year’s Orange Maxxis sprint jersey at the Tour de Georgia showed his sprinting power once again. Jones finished third after leading out Henderson.
Ivan Dominguez of Health Net Presented by Maxxis won the field sprint for 11th place, 12 seconds behind the chase group and 42 seconds behind Henderson.
“It was a very good start for us,” Health Net Presented by Maxxis directeur sportif Jeff Corbett said. Along with winning the stage, he noted, “We have three of our GC guys in the top ten (Jones, Lieswyn and Moninger) and they all picked up time on their main rivals, including (Danny) Pate (Jelly Belly/PoolGel) and (Karl) Menzies (Advantage Benefits/Endeavour).”
They will need the extra time, with two difficult stages to follow, including the 95-mile finale Sunday, which goes over 2,750-foot Mt. Magazine, and ends with a climb up to Mt. Nebo featuring pitches as steep at 18 percent – a finish which Corbett compares to the Brasstown Bald finish in the Tour de Georgia.