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North Carolina Grand Prix - Race 2 - C2
Hendersonville, North Carolina, USA, November 23, 2008
Race 1 - November 23: Elite Women
Swartz goes two for two
By Peter Hymas in Hendersonville, North Carolina
Only 24 hours after winning her first UCI cyclo-cross race, Melanie Swartz (Velo Bella-Kona) repeated the victory in dramatic fashion at Sunday's North Carolina Grand Prix through a combination of tactical nuance and sheer power. Swartz emerged first from the final 180-degree turn and out-sprinted Saturday's protagonist AnnaJean Dallaire over the circuit's closing 100 meter section of pavement. Catherine Walberg (Trek) finished seconds later in third place ahead of race-animator Cara Applegate (BMW-Bianchi) who crossed the line in fourth place.
The finish uncannily replicated the four-rider endgame of Saturday's elite men's event with Swartz, Dallaire, Walberg and Applegate all together with 500 meters to go, each possessing a similar plan of handling the "The Wall" 300 meters before the finish line.
"As far as the race was going to play out, I knew that whoever was first over 'The Wall' was going to take the win," said Swartz. "So that was my push to be there on that last lap. I had to edge out AnnaJean for that top spot and I was able to hold it to the finish. I'm happy that my wins were here in North Carolina at one of my favorite races in the United States."
Also reminiscent of Saturday's elite men's race in which Russell Stevenson made a serious challenge for victory half way through the closing lap, Applegate, too, made a similar effort. "It wasn't doing me any good to be sitting on the back of everybody so I figured I might as well go to the front and try to break it up," said Applegate. "We shed one [Kuliecza], but that was it. It got me fourth instead of fifth."
Applegate's attack definitely worried Swartz, who was concerned that her chance of victory was slipping away. "On the last lap, when Cara Applegate attacked on the straightaway stretch going into the woods that looked to be the race right there," said Swartz. "The group definitely strung out. Catherine Walberg jumped around me to go take the line into the woods and then climbing it was an all out battle, side-by-side, attacking for the first spot out of the woods. In the end, AnnaJean came out first and then she led through the corners but I was able to attack her on 'The Wall' for the finish."
While Dallaire's second place finish replicated Saturday's result, the manner in which she raced on Sunday reflected a re-evaluation of tactics and a plan to play to her strengths. "Yesterday, being out front kind of blew me up," said Dallaire. "I didn't have a really smart race. I'm really bad at tactics so [today] I just concentrated on having the smartest race I've ever had and it played out pretty well."
Part of her strategy involved pushing the pace every lap up the rooty, slippery climb in the woods in the latter portion of Jackson Park's circuit.
"I like hills," said Dallaire. "I used the hill to try to break it up."
Swartz noticed Dallaire's efforts on the climb throughout the race but wasn't too concerned. "She [Dallaire] was always leading in the woods," said Swartz. "She would always attack that part of the course, but I was content to sit back because I knew you couldn't really gain that much ground. Being a stronger rider on the corners, I could pass her in the zigzags before 'The Wall'. I knew that was my better spot. If I had to pass anyone I could do it there so I didn't care about the hill too much."
Walberg shared a Swartz's assessment of Dallaire's climbing prowess and also tried to utilize the quick series of turns preceding 'The Wall' to her benefit. "AnnaJean put in a good attack on the climb. I tried to attack right around that snaky stuff [preceding 'The Wall'] on the final lap but Melanie's savvy. She put in a nice move and that's what makes these races so much fun.
"I think we all realized to be first up 'The Wall' [was key] and we kind of had a little duel over in the woods there as we tried to position ourselves," continued Walberg. "Cyclo-cross has really come up a level so it's really racing and not just riding around."
Unlike Saturday's race, in which a chase group of five seemed content to race for second place while Dallaire attempted a lengthy solo effort, Sunday's race reflected an increase in aggression with a lead group of six emerging early in the second lap of the five lap race. Present in this group were Swartz, Dallaire, Walberg, Applegate, Julie Kuliecza (Alan North America Cycling) and Applegate's teammate Deb Sweeney Whitmore (BMW-Bianchi).
Members of this group continued to force the pace for the remainder of the 40 minute event. "It was one of the toughest races I've ever raced with the constant attacks," said Swartz. "Cara Applegate definitely animated it. She's really strong and attacked at several spots around the course. That definitely changed the dynamics of the group we were riding with." The constantly changing pace did have an effect on the leading group, shedding Whitmore on the penultimate lap and then Kuliecza on the final lap.
Missing from Sunday's front group was Ally Stacher, the third place finisher on Saturday, as she fell victim to a crash early in the second lap while leading the race and never re-gained contact. "I attacked going around those corners but just ate it over the barriers," said Stacher. "I just watched everybody go by. It's bike racing. You can't be mad about it."
1 Melanie Swartz (USA) Velo Bella - Kona 39.43 2 AnnaJean Dallaire (USA) SoBe-Cannondale 0.01 3 Catherine Walberg (USA) TREK 0.03 4 Cara Applegate (USA) BMW-Bianchi 0.07 5 Julie Kuliecza (USA) ALAN North America Cycling 0.20 6 Deb Sweeney Whitmore (USA) BMW-Bianchi 0.58 7 Ally Stacher (USA) Lees-McRae College 1.07 8 Kimberly Flynn (USA) Vantaggio/ Specialzied/ SCV 9 Kristin Jo Markham (USA) Lees-McRae College 2.01 10 Lauren Franges (USA) Team Tibco 3.21 11 Melanie Black (USA) Moots 3.22 12 Natasha Cowie (USA) Sycamore Cycles 8.36 DNF Haley Beann (USA) Bolt Brothers Cycles DNF Elizabeth Frye (USA) Boone Velo DNF Samantha Williams (USA) Sorella Cycling p/b BVM Engineering