BEAUMONT, Calif. (VN) — Alison Powers’ victory in stage 2 of the Redlands Bicycle Classic on Friday survived a protest from runner-up Jo Kiesanowski, who complained that the race leader shut the door on her in their sprint to the finish.
Powers (NOW and Novartis) opened up her sprint early, and crossed the finish line ahead of Tibco’s Kiesanowski. It looked as though Powers had won the stage and successfully defended her overall lead. Certainly, Powers thought so.
But just short of the finish, Kiesanowski threw up her hand in protest. The Tibco rider tried to come around Powers on the barricade side, but could not make it through the gap and said she felt the race leader left her “nowhere to go.”
After reviewing the finish, the judges ruled to confirm the result. Powers took the stage victory, and Kiesanowski received second. Brianne Walle (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) finished third.
The Beaumont circuit race finish follows a classic sweeper-turn-to-straightaway pattern. A wide, straight road leads to the final corner. It’s a 90-degree right-hander, but the roads are relatively wide.
In Friday’s race, NOW’s Robin Farina attacked to speed up the bunch as the corner approached. Teammate Lex Albrecht countered. Race leader Powers rode the momentum from Albrecht’s countermove into the corner.
“The team, I thought they were going to be exploded after all the work they did,” said Powers. “And then, Robin attacked and that kind of strung it out, and Lex countered.”
Kiesanowski, meanwhile, moved up on the wheel of teammate Claudia Häusler until she sat just behind Powers.
With the wind rushing down the finishing straight, which runs slightly uphill, Powers decided to try to win the stage.
“I was third wheel, and thought, you know what? I’m going to go,” said Powers. “I gassed it right out of the last corner and just kept going and going and going.”
Powers slalomed wide to the left. Then, sprinting from the front, she arced toward the right-hand barricade.
“We were just coming around the last corner and Alison Powers had to lead it out from a long way,” said Kiesanowski. “It’s a really hard finish, and I was just waiting, and waiting and waiting, just knowing that I wanted to wait until the last moment to come around.”
After waiting until just before the finish line, Kiesanowski tried to come around Powers on the barricade side.
“I started to come around, maybe at 50 meters to go, or 100 meters to go, and she just started to close me in on the right-hand side,” said Kiesanowski. “I just had nowhere to go with the barriers there.”
For Powers, Tibco’s protest came as a complete surprise. She was overjoyed to take the stage victory, especially while wearing the race leader’s jersey. Powers does not typically win races from a sprint, so crossing the line first in Beaumont after her team worked all day to protect her lead was especially sweet.
“The team rode at the front, they suffered, they died a thousand deaths. To be able to pull of the win is like textbook teamwork. To win, a sprint! I can’t believe it!” said Powers. “I didn’t know I did anything wrong.”
From Powers’ perspective, the sprint was smooth and she did not slow ahead of the finish line. In her view, the momentum of the corner sent her wide to the left and forced her to correct back to the right.
“I moved to the right, because I swung way left and I had to go back right to get to the finish,” she said. “And the protected side was the right side, but I was never like, not going fast. I wasn’t swinging right to crash someone. No.”
Because the team cars turned off the course before the finish, neither team director saw the finish, but each supported his rider.
“It’s my job, you know?” said Tibco’s Manel Lacambra.
Added NOW’s Kurt Stockton: “All I could do was listen to everyone’s version, because everyone has a version. Manel, he didn’t see the finish either, but he has to go by the word of his rider, and I have to go by the word of my rider.”
Stockton found it surprising that Kiesanowski had tried to come around along the barricades. In his view, it’s almost a given that the gate will close.
“Jo, she’s such an experienced rider,” he said. “Why would she come around on the protected side like that, when you know the door is not going to be open for you?”
Following the protest, a three-member panel of national- and international-level commissaires reviewed the finish. They looked at videotape and a series of images from one of the photographers at the finish line. And they listened to both riders’ stories.
After deliberating, the judges confirmed the result.
“The jury believes that there was plenty of room on the ride side for [Kiesanowski] to get by,” said chief referee Dot Abbott in a brief announcement. “The result stands.”
“The door was open for her,” said Stockton after hearing the decision. “But it’s the oldest trick in the book when you’re coming around someone like that, and you’re not going to beat them, yet you’re close, you throw your arm up. I had to kind of laugh at that, because it’s the oldest trick in the book.”
Kiesanowski was visibly disappointed by the decision. For Powers, it was a relief to know that her team’s work had not gone to waste. Powers kept her stage victory and her commanding overall lead.
On Saturday, the women head to downtown Redlands for the famously difficult criterium stage.
“We’ve got to defend again,” said Powers. “It’s a hard crit. It’s technical. It’s a lot of corners. I just want to be happy that we won today.”