John McConnochie overcame an early breakaway, some strategic moves by Sitka riders and a corner that seemed to munch half the field's tires to claim his third straight Tour of Juneau bicycle race on Sunday.
McConnochie, a 51-year-old former Olympic swimmer from New Zealand, held a commanding 212-minute lead over Juneau's Chris Scholes after the first two stages. After holding off a few challenges in Sunday's 50-mile Auke Rec Circuit Course Road Race, McConnochie extended his overall advantage by taking the lead himself for the final two laps. McConnochie won the stage in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 57 seconds and claimed the overall title by 312 minutes over Sitka's Gary Smith with a three-day time of 3:29:45.
"This year, after buying a business (Cycle Alaska), it's taken a bit away from my training," McConnochie said.
Smith, the 2001 champion, took second place in the stage with a time of 2:17:20, which allowed him to move ahead of Scholes in the overall standings with a three-day time of 3:33:18. Scholes flatted midway through Sunday's stage and, even though he eventually caught up to the lead pack, finished 14th in the stage with a time of 2:19:59. Scholes still held onto third place in the overall standings with a total time of 3:35:35.
Jerome McIntyre of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory took third place in Sunday's stage with a time of 2:18:06.
During Sunday's final stage, the Sitka riders tried to shake things up by launching Dan Kelliher and Juneau's John Bursell (who was wearing a Sitka jersey) on an early breakaway. With Kelliher and Bursell out in front, the other Sitka riders (including Smith) tried to keep the main pack from chasing down the breakaway.
Kelliher said he and Bursell took off in an effort to see if they could help Bursell, who was in fifth place entering Sunday's stage, move ahead of fourth-place Scott Fischer.
"We had the team today," Kelliher said.
"Dan and John (Bursell) did get out in front, and our crew tried to hold the rest of them back," Smith said. "We had a lot of team tactics. He (McConnochie) actually did most of the work to catch back up to the breakaway when the other Juneau guys weren't that aggressive in pursuing the breakaway."
McConnochie said he appreciated the tactics, even if they were aimed at stopping him and shaking things up in the middle of the field.
"There was definitely some strategy going on," McConnochie said. "That's what makes it interesting, when you aren't just sitting on the wheel of the guy in front of you. You make the riders start thinking about how many seconds they're getting and what that's doing to the standings. My dad used to say if you sit back and don't take any shots, then you miss every one of the chances that you don't take."
McConnochie reeled in the breakaway during the fifth lap and the lead pack stayed together, even when Scholes flatted late in that lap on a corner that claimed several victims. Scholes was able to change his wheel and catch back up with the lead pack, but McConnochie took off late in the sixth lap and Smith also pulled ahead of the main pack on the eighth lap. Scholes faded to the back of the pack when the tempo picked up over the last two laps.
"It's hard for me to be in shape for three days," Scholes said.
In the women's expert division, Janice Sheufelt was the only female racer on Sunday and posted a stage time of 2:19:57. Sheufelt, who faced two other riders in Friday's and Saturday's stages, had an overall time of 3:43:13.
"I had fun racing with the guys," Sheufelt said. "I don't know how we can get more women out. There were weekly women's rides this year, but a lot of women like to ride and not racing. We did a women's-only race on Mother's Day and had about 30 women out."
In the men's sport division, which raced for five laps on Sunday (about 32 miles), John Bilderbeck claimed top honors with a time of 1:31:20. Lewis Brooks took second in 1:35:10 and Eric Olsen was third in 1:35:10. Jennifer Wardell was the only woman in Sunday's stage, her only stage of the race, and posted a time of 1:35:12.
Bilderbeck won the overall title in the sport division with a three-day total time of 2:21:43. Brooks took second in 2:32:29, followed by 14-year-old Chris Hartman in 2:45:35.
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