Things came together perfectly for John McConnochie in Sunday's final stage of the three-day Tour of Juneau cycling race as he became the first Juneau rider in three years to win the overall title.
McConnochie trailed Mike McCann of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, by one minute in the overall standings entering the stage. But McConnochie caught the slipstream of an inadvertent breakaway just past the turnaround of Sunday's 52.5-mile Auke Rec Long Course Road Race - and at the same time, McCann had some mechanical difficulty.
Even though McConnochie lost the sprint for Sunday's stage victory to Juneau's Scott Fischer, he picked up enough time bonuses along the way to claim the overall title by 31 seconds over Steve Williams of Haines. Chris Chiles of Juneau took third place and McCann finished fourth in the overall standings.
"I saw Dan Kelliher (of Sitka) and Chris Chiles and they just sort of rode up in the front as we hit the turnaround," McConnochie said. "I figured this might be a good place to go, so I hit that first hill pretty hard. Chris Scholes, Steve Williams and Scott Fischer were able to pick us up and we had a pretty good group there."
Michelle Boisvert of Haines won the women's title and finished 10th overall. Betsy Fischer was the only other female rider to compete in all three stages, but she rode a shorter sport course (25.25 miles) in Sunday's stage.
"I had a great ride, it was wonderful," said Boisvert, who eighth in Sunday's stage. "I like the long races. Oh, yeah, for sure I'll be back. But we need more females."
For the first half of Sunday's road race, the main pack of 20 cyclists rode as if they were connected by a long rubber band.
There were times when the rubber band would stretch - whenever riders such as Hans Moser, Kelliher and Dave Harju tried to break away from the field. But after awhile, the rubber band would contract and the 20 cyclists were pulled back together into the same pack.
That was the way the race went until the turnaround near Echo Cove, when Kelliher and Chiles made their breakaway as some of the other riders grabbed fresh water bottles and snacks. Kelliher and Chiles said they weren't trying to make a clean breakaway at the time, but when they pulled away the pack's rubber band snapped into three groups.
"That was not the way that was planned," said Chiles, who said that earlier in the race the Juneau cyclists worked to make sure the local riders earned all the time bonuses for special sprints along the course. "We just turned around and we were not pedaling all that hard. But we got a gap and went with it. If the lead group had known about Mike's chain, we wouldn't have attacked there."
Kelliher and Chiles were joined by McConnochie, Fischer, Scholes and Williams in the first group. Meanwhile, McCann's chain fell off twice just past the turnaround and he wound up in the third group with Terry Ward, Harju, Dave Bartlett and Jerome McIntyre (of Whitehorse). The other nine riders, including Boisvert, were in the middle group, although McCann made the group 10 strong once he got his mechanical problem taken care of.
"I dropped a chain, got it back on and dropped it again," McCann said. "They were going pretty fast. I was talking to Chris Chiles and he said that breakaway just kind of happened. It was real nice of Dave Bartlett and Dave Harju to help Jerome bring me back up to the second pack."
The lead pack of six gradually built its margin until four members of the group were ahead of McCann in the overall standings. McConnochie only led Williams by four seconds entering the stage, while Scholes and Chiles were another minute or so behind.
The lead six stayed together until just before they hit the turnoff for the Lena Beach Recreation Area, when Kelliher and Scholes both fell off the pace. Fischer beat McConnochie by the width of a tire in the final sprint, with Chiles and Williams finishing a second behind them. Kelliher was a minute behind the first four, while Scholes got caught by the second pack three minutes later.
"It took us awhile to realize those other two guys were gone," Fischer said. "Then we started thinking about getting the three Juneau guys up in the standings. Steve started to sprint about a half-mile from the finish and I went with him. John was behind me, and I think he was calculating the points. He was yelling, 'No, no,' then, 'Go, go,' and he pulled up at the end."
"It felt good to work hard," Williams said. "I just tried to stay with John. We really worked well together."
The decision to create a sport division with a shorter course didn't happen until just before the start of Sunday's stage. But it was a popular decision, especially for some of the recreational riders who weren't sure if they wanted to ride 52.5 miles. The sport division may become a fixture in future Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club events.
"I am a very happy camper right now," said Betsy Fischer, who finished second to Lewis Brooks in the sport division race. "I would have done the 52 miles, but I was so happy to hear we were going to do the sport division. This is really in line with what we did in Whitehorse (at the Tour of Whitehorse). I heard from a couple of people, like Bernie Sorenson, who said they would have raced if they'd known we were going to do it. It was fun for us to feel like we're a part of the race."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.