Vogels' Stage 2 win Friday propels him to Longsjo Classic victory

FITCHBURG, Mass. — In the spirit of the Longsjo Classic's namesake, Arthur Longsjo, an Olympian whose life was cut short in 1958, Australian Henk Vogels, the son of an Olympian, won this years overall General Classification in 9:19.44 due to a solid win in Fridays circuit stage.

Vogels' father, also named Henk, was an Olympian in 1964. Vogels' win Friday was enough to offset Eddy Gragus 104-mile mountain stage win on Saturday. Gragus finished six seconds back overall.

Sundays final stage of the 41st Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic had that familiar feel to it, as cyclists in the mens and womens Pro/1/2 categories took their turns readying themselves on the start line in front of Fitchburg City Hall.

Indeed, it was do-or-die time for several of them — particularly the teams — as day four of the stage race lived up to all its hard-hitting, high-action and high-drama hype. After all, this is the way it's supposed to be.

The 13th stop on the this years Saturn USPRO Cycling Tour, the Longsjo tends to bring out the best in all the riders who venture from all over the world to compete in whats the second-oldest cycling event in the United States.

Since becoming a stage race 31 years ago, the Longsjo hasn't Disappointed. Team Mercury only added to its already-huge lead over Team Saturn in the Tours overall team points standings heading into the Longsjo, with a 1:52.12 win from Australias Baden Cooke in Sundays 55-lap, 50-mile Fitchburg-Longsjo Downtown Criterium.

Cookes performance helped secure the win for Vogels, who posted a circuit stage win Friday for the leaders jersey. He retained it for Sundays race, despite an eighth-place finish in Saturdays mountain stage.

Meanwhile, on the womens side, after Quebecs Lyne Bessette pedaled to the win in Saturdays grueling road race/mountain stage — vaulting Team Saturn back into the thick of things Team Timex came up just short in its bid for the upset in Sundays 28-lap, 25-mile criterium, where Australian favorite Tracey Gaudry of Timex finished fourth.

Team Mercurys top sprinter, Vogels went right to work picking his way through the mens field, fending off the likes of Team Jelly Bellys Gragus of Fort Collins, Colo., and Saturn veterans Bart Bowen of New Mexico, and Trent Klasna of Ohio.

But it was last-minute replacement Cooke — added to the team days before the Longsjos opening time trial — who saved the day for the 26-year-old Vogels and Mercury, overcoming Navigators Franky Van Haesebroucke (1:52.15, second) and Klasna (1:52.18, third) at the finish.

Hats off to my team, they did an awesome job, Vogels said. I really didnt have to do a thing today. I just did my best to chase every single break.

Making his first-ever appearance in the Longsjo, Vogels claimed the top spot in Fridays controversial 78-mile circuit race for the leaders jersey — a spot he would never relinquish, even though the tough-as-nails Gragus was right there on Vogels doorstep heading into Sundays final. Gragus trailed just six seconds off the lead, while Shaklees Eric Wohlberg and Klasna were a combined 19 seconds off the pace.

After winning the mountain stage Saturday, however, the six seconds Gragus had to make up on Vogels proved too much, and he settled for second (9:19.50) in the GC. Wohlberg — Thursdays time trial winner — was third (9:19.51).

Gragus later claimed that a member of the Team Saturn hit and checked him during Friday's race, which he said cost him the race.

I was better (Friday), and (Gragus) was better (Saturday), but I think I still had the leaders jersey and thats all I was worried about, Vogels said. Eddy won impressively; Im a sprinter, not a climber."

Indeed, Mercurys sprinters made the difference Sunday, with the young upstart Cooke coming seemingly out of nowhere to nudge Van Haesebroucke and Klasna at the wire.

Coming around the final corner I was probably six or seven back, and the front guys just stalled and were looking at each other; so I just went for it and went straight past them," Cooke said. All of a sudden I crossed the line first.

After Gaudry lost the leaders jersey following her second place finish to Bessette in Saturdays mountain stage, the Timex star knew shed have to step things up a notch Sunday if she wanted to fend off not only Bessette, but also AutoTrader.coms Tina Mayolo and Team Elitas Sarah Ulmer.

While Gaudry did rise to the occasion to place fourth (1:03.32) in the criterium — five places ahead of Bessette — it still wouldnt be enough.

Instead, Ulmer, Mayolo and Saturns Nicole Reinhart wound up getting the best of Gaudry, as the trio claimed the top three spots, respectively, making the 16-second buffer Bessette had claimed on Gaudry heading into the race more than enough for her second-straight Longsjo GC crown (5:28.17). Gaudry settled for second in the overall (5:28.33), and Ulmer was third (5:28.46).

"Its good to win against (Gaudry), shes a world class racer; shes strong and experienced, Bessette said. This is good to get my confidence up heading into Nationals, too.

According to Gaudry, though winning the event outright was on her mind, she couldnt help ignore some preceding factors that, after posting the winning time in Thursdays time trials for the leaders jersey, saw her barely holding onto it following Ulmers impressive circuit win Friday and eventually lose it on Saturday.

I was sick after the road race (Saturday), it was tough for me, Gaudry said. I came here to try and regain form, but I really wanted to win, I like the race and the courses so much.

Which is why the same field of riders keep coming back year after year.

Following the Longsjo, Mercurys Gord Fraser remained in the individual points leader on the Saturn USPRO Tour, while Mayolo took over the Tour lead among the women. The Tours next stop will be July 7 - 9, at the Dayton Pro/Am Cycling Sport in Ohio.

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