In this day when bike races are more likely to be shortened or canceled than extended,* the Mt. Evans Hill Climb endures. Close to 1,000 Gran Fondo and competitive cyclists aiming for the state hill climb championship prize took on the 14,265 foot summit in the 49th edition last Saturday, July 26.
The event has been called the Bob Cook Memorial Mt. Evans Hill Climb since 1981 in recognition of Bob Cook who died from cancer at age 23. Cook was an amateur cyclist who could tangle with the best professional uphill specialists; he won the ascent five times and made the 1980 US Olympic team.
Past winners of the men’s elite race include Alexi Grewal, Ned Overend, Jonathan Vaughters, Scott Moninger, Peter Stetina, Tom Danielson, and Todd Gogulski. Tammy Jacques-Grewal, Kimberly Bruckner, Jeannie Longo, and Mara Abbott have claimed first for the elite women.
Days after Cook’s death the New York Times published a biographical story about him. It describes a humble man whose dedication to training and a top athlete’s nutrition plan kept the scale tipped at 140 pounds while he stood 6’1” tall.
From the start in Idaho Springs cyclists would cover 27 miles and climb 6,915 feet to reach to top of Mt. Evans. Riders in each class, including the Gran Fondo with 400 participants, soon spread out along the road as they found the rhythm that suited their fitness and ambition.
With twelve uphill miles remaining the trees disappear and riders face a landscape of rock-strewn slopes dotted with green under a wide open sky. If they’re lucky, a chipmunk or marmot might skitter across the road ahead or a breeze might ripple a clutch of low lying yellow wildflowers and remind them that yes, despite the barren vistas, life does exist there. It’s a small but important consolation during a challenge they must face alone.
In the New York Times story about Cook, Steve Tesich, the screenplay writer for the movie Breaking Away, describes that challenge well.
”When you become as good as Bob was,” Tesich said, ”it’s that ability to do things alone, to suffer alone, to come through alone, that stands out. You get formed by it or you drop off. It’s so much easier to go on a football field with 40 guys and get a group feeling to pump you up. There’s something very fitting about the West, the mountains and being alone. It’s a quiet form of heroism, and Bob symbolized that.”
The 2014 heroes
On Saturday the thermometer registered 45 degrees Fahrenheit at the top. While storm clouds gathered in gray clumps to the west, by some miracle the wind didn’t howl. Riders of different ages and sizes arrived in a steady stream.
The fastest Gran Fondo rider, Gregory Dobbin, crossed the line after 2 hours 12 minutes. Men who hauled ten or even twenty extra pounds into the thin air hung over their bikes, breathing rapidly. Some rolled in on knobbies. Several shared the journey with a partner on a tandem. Lean super-fit masters riders stood on the pedals into the final stretch to the finish line. Many hooted and hollered as they reached the summit. Older juniors appeared, one curious to know if she had bested the record in her 17-18 age category.
Everyone seemed happy to be there, even those who had walked bikes around the final bend on the highest paved road in the US. Elite riders crossed the finish line next.
Fortunato Ferrara from New Mexico, 10 minutes off the record still held by Tom Danielson of 1 hour 41 minutes, escaped early from the men’s pack and stayed away until the end. Ferrara, second overall at this year’s Tour of the Gila in the cat 1-2 group, celebrated his first win on Mt. Evans. In a sprint to the line Howard Grotts (Specialized) edged out Bissell Development Team’s Keegan Swirbul for second, leaving the young rider with third.
Abbott, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team member and former Giro Donne winner, took the women’s race after speeding away from her partner on the road, last year’s champion Annie Toth (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports), in the final kilometer. This was Abbott’s third victory on the peak. Toth came in second and Lindsey Knast (Primal/Audi Denver Women’s Racing) third.
As the elite riders descended they passed the last Gran Fondo rider. He finished after 6 hours 37 minutes and likely more alone than anyone else. By the time he reached the top race staff were packing up early due to the proximity of the storms.
Like Cook, he needed to finish what he’d begun.
*One notable exception is the Redlands Bicycle Classic which expanded from four to five days with the 2014 edition.
[Gallery - more photos to come]
Front Range fans love to cheer at races for the professional athletes they share roads and trails with on the bike. So when they heard that Meredith Miller, third at cyclocross nationals last January in Valmont, would retire after the 2013-14 cyclocross season concluded, they begged her to change her mind. And when they learned that Allen Krughoff, a member of team USA at 2014 ‘cross worlds who funded his trip there in part by selling tee-shirts adorned with his signature gopher, was at the moment team-less, they held their breath and crossed their fingers that his search for a new family would yield results.
Now those fans can celebrate because Miller will race this coming fall and so will Krughoff. And they’ll be on the same team. In a press release issued today Krughoff and Miller announced that they have signed Bellvue, Colorado-based Noosa Finest Yoghurt as title sponsor for the newest cyclocross program in professional cycling. Krughoff, formerly of Raleigh-Clement, and Miller, formerly of California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized, will function as team co-owners and team co-managers while racing a domestic schedule for the 2014/2015 cyclocross season.
“Having been with Cal Giant since I first started racing ‘cross, this is all a really big change – but it’s an exciting one,” said Miller. “I’m stepping into unknown territory in owning and running a team, and it definitely comes with a new sense of responsibility to our partners and the sport. We’ve only signed Noosa for one year, but it’s my hope that we’re laying the foundations for a program that will grow. I’d love to see us add more riders to the program as early as next season.”
“As part of an established program, you have much less to worry about but also much less control,” said Krughoff, echoing Miller’s sentiments. “It’d be far easier to join an established program and be told where to be and when to be there, but this has been much more exciting as everything has started to come together. Both Meredith and I are going to take a lot of satisfaction in making our partners happy and racing fast this year, knowing we made it all happen.”
Krughoff and Miller considered Noosa an obvious choice when searching for a title sponsor for their program. The young company, a collective of Aussie ex-pats and Colorado natives who have brought the best tasting Aussie style yoghurt to the U.S., has been involved with the sport on the local level for several years.
“Noosa has a history of sponsorship in the cycling world with a local team and local races up in Fort Collins,” explained Krughoff. “Last year, they were involved with the National Championships here in Boulder. Their brand manager has worked for IZZE and EVOL in the past. Both companies have had programs that support and value partnerships in cycling, specifically cyclocross. The partnership with them made sense, so we reached out. They didn’t need much convincing.”
“Noosa Yogurt has always been a supporter of cycling,” said Koel Thomae, Co-Founder of Noosa Yoghurt. “We’re thrilled to be taking our support of cycling up a notch with the sponsorship of Allen and Meredith. The fun and spectator friendly sport of cyclocross is a great fit for our brand and we’re excited for the upcoming season.”
— Mike Heenan (@mywifeinc) July 28, 2014
The co-owners of Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team also represent the new squad’s entire roster. The duo will be supported by two team mechanics Daimeon Shanks and Erik Maresjo. The team will be riding Focus Mares equipped with SRAM, ENVE and Clement tires throughout the 2014/15 season.
“For me, this is an across the board change except for SRAM,” said Miller. I’ve been on the same equipment for the last six years. This is a new frame, new wheels and new tires. It’s a big change. Any hesitations I might have about making such a major switch have been completely put to rest by our budding relationships with Focus, ENVE and Clement. Allen and I approached all three companies fairly late in the game, and they stepped up to support us in a huge way. It’s extremely humbling to know that these companies are committed to supporting what we do and are excited to see what we can do for them in return.”
Castelli will supply the team with the full range of clothing necessary for the vast range of conditions encountered during the fall and winter cyclocross season.
“I was really impressed with the quality of clothing I had from Castelli last season,” said Krughoff. “Sticking with them for another year is great. I place a big focus on social media engagement with the cyclocross community, and Castelli is fantastic about embracing what I do. They reached out to me recently to check in on my plans for the season, and we signed them up. We plan to deliver high quality content to all our sponsors throughout the season, and it’s great to hear how much this matters.”
Miller’s cycling career spans 15+ years. The lifelong athlete made a name for herself as a super domestique on the road and has been amongst the top-ranked American women in cyclocross for the last five seasons. Her career highlights include winning the 2009 USA Cycling Road National Championships, representing the U.S. at the UCI Road World Championships and the UCI Cyclocross World Championships within a four month period (2009-2010), and cracking the top ten at the Tabor World Cup last year. Miller announced her retirement from road racing in August 2013 following a five-year stint with Team TIBCO, four as road captain.
“For the last six years, I’ve gone straight from the ‘cross season into the road season and from the road season right into the ‘cross season,” said Miller. “It’s been different this year. I didn’t touch a bike for nearly the entire month of February, and I’ve been riding a ton since March but without a training plan. This has been my first big break in seven years.”
“Rather than racing full-time on the road, I’ve been able to ride for myself,” Miller added. “Riding has been about having fun instead of preparing for some sort of race-related goal. Some weeks that means I’m on my ‘cross bike, my road bike and my mountain bike all in the same week. I’ve gone on short rides, long rides and epic adventures. This has allowed me to mentally reset and refocus. I just started working with my coach Neal Henderson again two weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing what a more laid back approach this spring and summer will mean for me this fall.”
Krughoff has enjoyed a quick rise to the top of the sport that began when he won a professional contract with Raleigh-Clement two years ago. He finished in fifth place at the 2014 USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships. The result secured his spot on the six-rider team that represented the U.S. at the 2014 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in the Netherlands last February. Krughoff is an accomplished commercial photographer and film producer and uses the skills he’s honed behind the camera to create exceptional digital content for his cycling season partners.
“My goal this year is to break into the top five consistently at national level races,” said Krughoff. “I’ve seen big improvements from myself every year. Last season, I wanted to consistently score top-ten results. This year that bar will be set even higher. I also plan to contend for a spot on the world’s team again. With the type of support we’ve put together with our partners and staff, I think it’s completely realistic to expect that Meredith and I will be competitive against the other top professional teams.”
Miller and Krughoff will debut their new colors at CrossVegas in September. Their race calendar includes nine race weekends nationwide in the build-up to the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships in Austin, Texas. While partnerships with Noosa, Focus, SRAM, ENVE, Clement, Castelli and Kinetic support this schedule, Krughoff and Miller continue to seek additional sponsorship.
“We’re both very excited about the incredible program we’ve put together,” said Krughoff. “We still have opportunities available for other companies or even individuals looking to partner with us. We’ve done our best to identify interested parties, but we know that we’re probably missing some. If that’s you, reach out and let us know. It’s not too late to get involved.”
About Noosa Finest Yoghurt
Noosa Finest Yoghurt was founded in 2009 by a collective of Aussie ex-pats and Colorado natives who set out to bring the best tasting Aussie style yoghurt to the U.S. Noosa Finest Yoghurt is sold in more than 5,000 grocery, natural and specialty stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Target, Safeway, Kroger and The Fresh Market. Noosa is available in 13 flavors and is sold in 4-ounce variety packs and in individual 8- and 16-ounce cups.
How did a dozen women, among them professional and amateur cyclists, a triathlete, a sister, and a friend end up in a one-night contest of cookies, ball slinging, and evasive maneuvers?
More than likely the idea emerged from a rash of organic silliness on the part of one or more of the participants.
For example, a dispute that arose between amateur trackie Amanda Cyr and track ace and UnitedHealthcare rider Cari Higgins during a shopping trip. “You can’t wear that.” And why not? “Because you look like you’re going to play dodgeball.”
Or, perhaps it all started with cookie-making moms bent on seeking revenge and unable to come to terms with Katie Compton’s baking confidence and prior string of bake-off wins?
— Katie Compton (@KatieFnCompton) June 6, 2014
Or maybe Tijuana had something to do with it?
Actually, to precisely define how it all started would be contrary to the spirit of the event – its exuberance, spontaneity, and the simple joys of cookies and rubber balls that call to mind field day in elementary school.
So on to the action.
The showdown took place at the Golden Recreation Center on a Monday evening. Festivities began with the cookie competition. The main competitors in the chocolate chip category were Compton and amateur cyclist and mom Katie Macarelli. Higgins and Flora Duffy registered late and entered the event with their best monkey and chocolate chip concoctions.
Three tasters circled the modest sample table at the Rec Center venue while the women huddled in two dodgeball teams and some began their warm-ups.
The tasters were instructed to score one of the four as best of the bunch. To prevent bias and unbridled attacking the bakers concealed the identity of their cookies. However, those in the room who had glanced at the pre-event smack-tweets could easily identify the sample provided by Compton; uniformly circular and sized, plump, with a crackled surface.
Tension escalated as the tasters revealed the results: a three way tie. Children and Rec Center staff were recruited as additional tasters, though some of the latter returned to their work stations with the loot and didn’t vote.
In the end, Compton prevailed with her gluten-free recipe.
Macarelli’s “Ho” dodgeball team consoled her.
“I’ve been preparing for this my last three ‘cross seasons,” Macarelli said, as she struggled to hold back tears, and referred to an empty win column. “I will keep shining and baking with gluten,” she added.
Compton high-fived her “Pro” dodgeball mates. How did it feel to beat a mom at the cookie-game? Compton shrugged. “I guess I have more time to bake,” she said.
The fine-tuned athletes had waited long enough. They made a bee-line to the start line in the gym where Tim Madden, USA Cycling official now in his inaugural debut as dodgeball referee, lined up the blue, green, and red balls on the centerline.
Unanswered questions hung in the air as the Pro’s and Ho’s took their places on opposite sides of the grid. They appeared fit enough in spandex and tank tops with cut biceps, but were the Ho’s out of their league? Had the Pro’s come into the event overtrained and under-recovered from the last US Cup mountain bike race? Did Madden know the rules?
With a countdown and drop of an arm by Madden women on both sides commenced elimination game one with the rush. They zoomed to the balls, collecting as many as possible for their respective teams. Then they retreated to the end zones. Assessing each other’s ammunition and potential weaknesses, players hurled and rolled balls at the opposing team. Catch a ball and the thrower is out. Get tagged by a ball and you’re out.
But never, ever, give up.
Game one fell quickly to the Pro’s. The Ho’s regrouped to review strategy. They engaged a coach from the sidelines. They got smarter and learned from mistakes like overcooking the dash to the line.
Still, the Pro’s emerged victorious from game two – or even three. No one was really counting.
The Ho’s finally notched a win in the next game. They hooted and hollered. They jumped. They could have touched the ceiling. Over in the Pro’s camp, the women seemed unruffled. Afterall, it was just a race – uh, game.
The Ho’s joy was short-lived.
Subsequent games fell to the Pro’s. After one last round, team captains Macarelli and Compton called it a night.
“At least it wasn’t a shut-out,” Macarelli said, as her soigneur toweled the moisture off her neck. “I’ll actually have to train next time.”
It turns out Compton knew how it would all play out. She’d traveled from Colorado Springs to recon the gym a week prior and been practicing her throw with husband Mark Legg, a.k.a. @MrKatieCompton. But she wouldn’t admit she’d meticulously prepared.
“We knew we were going to win two weeks ago,” Compton stated. “We didn’t have to train. We’re just that good.”
In the ensuing days the smack talk continued.
Apparently the stakes have been raised.
• Katie Compton, 10 time national cyclocross champion and twice World Cup queen. Trek Cyclocross Collective rider and bike designer.
• Abby Mickey, TWENTY16 team member. Road racer who can really climb.
• Crystal Anthony, dirt diva. Cyclocrosser with Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies and mountain biker with Riverside Racing. Visiting from Massachusetts.
• Cari Higgins, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling rider. Track star. Seventeen-time national champion.
• Caroline Mani, French and living in Colorado Springs. Raleigh-Clement crosser and MTBer. Previous French cyclocross champion.
• Flora Duffy, triathlete born in Bermuda, Commonwealth Games competitor, XTERRA Asia-Pacific Champ.
• Allie Dragoo, collegiate road racer with criterium and time trial wins, and newly crowned dodgeball MVP.
•Katie Macarelli, cyclocross and criterium racer, sometimes triathlete, contributor to 303cycling.
• Lisa Hudson, totally ripped Feedback Sports bike racer and employee, runner.
• Jen Barbour, BRAC board member, Naked Women’s Racing rider in road, ‘cross, and MTB, promoter, and intimidation factor.
• Lynnette, really good with a dodgeball and sister of Macarelli.
• Dawn, really good at dodgeball.
• Amanda Cyr, Naked Women’s Racing trackie, knows how to transform life through cycling.
• Cristienne Beam, creative professional, Tough Girl cyclist, foodie, artist, cyclocross fanatic.
• Tim Madden
• Chris McGee
• Assorted kids
• Golden Recreation Center staff
Note: This story is mostly true, and part fiction.
Even riders with scores of wins search for that elusive accomplishment, the prize that somehow has slipped through their fingers.
On Saturday Luna Pro Team’s Katerina Nash scooped up the one that had eluded her, the final overall lead of a US cross-country series. She won the last race of the USA Cycling US Cup Pro Series, in north Colorado Springs, which handed her the overall series mountain bike victory.
Speaking after crossing the finish line Saturday, Nash said, “This is actually a really cool moment for me because I raced in the US for a really, really long time and this is the very first time I won the series overall for cross-country.
“It’s a little bit humbling to start in early 2000 with all the local heroes like Alison Dunlap, and chasing those guys and being inspired all those years and hoping I can make it out there one day. I’ve definitely had a lot, a lot of success, but the overall cross-country series is something I’ve never done before so this is a special day for me.”
The last 2014 Pro Series US Cup / Kenda Cup event took place in the Pulpit Rock Open Space at an elevation of about 6,300 feet.
Dirt portions of the course looked like classic high desert country after a dry spell: dusty single track with loose rock through fields of Prickly Pear cactus, spiky yucca, and tall native grasses overlooked by massive creamy gray rock formations. The land rose to the east away from the start line; juniper and pine shaded rare portions of the higher elevations, but almost never the trails.
The pro women completed seven laps of the 3.4 mile circuit in a fast time of one hour 43 minutes. Course surfaces also included pavement, double track, and wide gravelly path.
Nash came to Colorado Springs as the series leader, but teammate Catherine Pendrel and Trek Factory Racing’s Emily Batty had accumulated enough points to jump over Nash if she had a bad day.
Mid-way into the race, after aggressive riding by Georgia Gould, Batty rode in the middle of a Luna Pro Team sandwich anchored by Pendrel and Gould with Nash on Pendrel’s wheel.
“Halfway through the race it was kind of obvious that Emily [Batty] was going to sit in and not really try to lead because she is from a different team,” Nash said. “So we sort of slowed down a lot.” Realizing their lead might fizzle out if they just played tactics, the group sped up. Erin Huck (Tokyo Joe’s-VCGraphix), Daniela Campuzano on the Mexico national team, and Chloe Woodruff (Backcountry.com) each chased alone ahead of the rest of the field.
Then Gould attacked again.
Pendrel took responsibility for carrying Nash and Batty after her teammate. Evelyn Dong was moving up and would join her Backcountry.com teammate, Woodruff.
Feeling strong with about one lap to go, Nash took off. She passed Gould who held on but couldn’t pull the series leader back. Nash won by just under two seconds ahead of her Colorado teammate, Gould.
Gould salvaged her day with another prize. The race doubled as the Colorado state championship. She was the first Colorado rider to finish, which earned her the state title.
Batty and Pendrel placed third and fourth which secured top three for both in the overall series competition. Daniela Campuzano completed a strong day with fifth.
Gallery (more to come)
[See part one of this story.]
Given the potential for a windy day on the high open plains, it seemed likely the winner of the men’s elite race at Deer Trail on Saturday would emerge from the shelter and help of a sizeable team. Team Rio Grande had eight riders scheduled to start. Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels team registered six as did Natural Grocers. The winner, if he met the eligibility rules, would don the Colorado road race champion’s vest.
The question was, which rider would fare best on the rolling, exposed terrain east of Denver and finesse the relentless wind if it decided to unleash its fury?
Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels team’s strength, depth, and recent success singled out its men as favorites.
- Would it be veteran Chris Winn, a guy with several wins already this season? He’s a three-time master of the storied Superior Morgul Classic’s road race which concludes with a climb, albeit it longer than the approach in Deer Trail.
- Fabio Calabria showed his strength and versatility during all three days of Superior Morgul. The wily Aussie also has experience riding in the wind in Europe.
- And then the young Emerson Oronte deserved consideration. He’s fared well this year with fourth overall in the Joe Martin Stage Race and a criterium win in May.
With a disappointing start to the road season, Team Rio Grande would be hungry for a win.
- Jim Peterman is a powerhouse, consistently strong in time trials with hills, and a man of enough watts to drill it up the Deer Trail’s rollers.
- Nick Bax placed 5th at the same venue in 2013. Though the distance measured just 58 miles then, he knew the course. He’s raced internationally. In 2012 he won the Pennsylvania state road race championship, but wasn’t eligible to claim the title.
- With his consistency and experience, Jon Tarkington just can never be counted out of any race. Ever.
- And what about Ian Holt? He finds the top 3 several times a season.
The favorite list wouldn’t be complete without Tom Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), a former national time trial champion powerful enough to single-handedly defend against any force of nature.
According to Calabria, who spoke after the Deer Trail winner had been decided, his guys didn’t start the day with a plan to support a particular rider.
“We just wanted to come here and race and the best way for us to do that is to be aggressive…I think the best form of defense is offense, so that’s the way we like to race.”
The team accomplished that mission from the opening moments of the 87 mile race, folding two riders into the early break, Mac Cassin and Kit Recca. Tarkington (Natural Grocers) and Matthew Gates (Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Masters Team) joined the Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels teammates.
By the time this foursome had gained an advantage of almost two minutes, the wind made things more interesting.
In a team meeting a few days earlier, the Rio Grande men had discussed how they might take advantage of the wind, Bax said. “But the forecast on the morning of the race said it wouldn’t be that strong (max speed of 8 mph) so I think most of the field didn’t really anticipate it.
“About an hour into the race, the wind shifted and somewhat unexpectedly got a lot stronger and my team immediately knew what to do which gave us a big advantage.”
Mid-way into the race the strongest riders peeled off the front with the early break nearly caught. Riders too fatigued to hang on splintered off the back into groups, pushed on alone, or pulled over to the roadside to watch the remainder of the contest.
The ten or so strong men included Calabria and Oronte with a third Horizon teammate, Andrew Clemence (Team Cycleton), Kevin Selker (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports), Michael Dessau (Hagens Berman), Zirbel, and Tarkington. Rio Grande didn’t miss this group; Bax and a teammate made the split.
At that point, according to Oronte, a plan emerged to help Calabria whom he had assessed as “definitely the fastest,” among the leaders.
“With less than one lap to go I told Fabio to sit on the group and conserve,” Oronte later explained, “in case he needed to follow moves later, and I would keep rolling through.”
As he told it, with 15 kilometers remaining Zirbel attacked. Calabria and Bax responded, forming a lead group of three. Giving it all he had to bring Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels the win, Oronte bridged up to the group and worked to keep Zirbel and Bax in check.
“While they did try a few times to get away, they couldn’t shake Fabio…” Oronte recalled.
Calabria said Zirbel “backed me out with one kilometer to go,” trying to distance him from his teammate and Bax.
So the Aussie attacked with about 700 meters to go. He bested Zirbel by a second for the victory, smiling broadly as he enjoyed his first win in what he estimated to be about two and a half years. Bax placed third.
As Bax approached the finish, he knew Zirbel wasn’t eligible for the state title and didn’t believe Calabria qualified either.
“As soon as we shook Emerson I knew I had it [the championship],” Bax said. “It was a bit of an anti-climactic finish because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to outsprint either of the guys I was with and I was disappointed I didn’t have the opportunity to post up on the finish line but nevertheless winning the state championship was really gratifying, not just for me but for the whole team.”
Saturday’s result was Bax’s first Colorado state championship. As a junior in Maryland, he estimates he earned about twenty state championships. Bax attended college and resumed “serious racing” in 2012.
“I can say for sure that the level of competition in Colorado is higher than on the East Coast,” Bax noted, “and I’m definitely really proud of this championship.”
Like the women’s elite winner and champion, Calabria and Bax both benefited from the self-sacrificing efforts of their teammates. They were quick to acknowledge that.
That evening Bax wrote on the team’s Facebook page, “I want to publicly thank all of my teammates for riding like bosses today. There’s no way I would’ve gotten the championship if they hadn’t laid it all out on the road for me.”
For Calabria’s part, he said, “It’s exciting. It’s always nice to come away with the win. We’re a local team, from Boulder, so it’s nice to show the team jersey coming across the line first and repay all the boys for helping me out earlier on in the race and bring it home for them.”
Of further note
Colby Lange, a junior from Edwards near Vail, won the men’s cat 4 race out of a field of fifty-six with thirty-three finishers. Lange’s road racing age is 15.
For full results see the Bicycle Association of Colorado website.
Gallery (more to come)
Cycling borrowed from ball sports terminology Saturday when both men’s and women’s elite Colorado state road championships came down to a finish between the final four.
In the men’s race Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros teammates Fabio Calabria and Emerson Oronte, Tom Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), and Nick Bax (Team Rio Grande) neared the climb to the finish in rural Deer Trail together. In a tight competition for the top three, Calabria bested Zirbel by one second to win. Third place Bax came across right after Zirbel. Oronte, spent from his effort from one kilometer to go to assist Calabria, followed for fourth several heartbeats later.
A state champ must be a US citizen and Colorado resident; Australian Calabria doesn’t meet the first criteria. Members of a UCI registered team can’t qualify, so that excluded Zirbel. The state champ gold medal, therefore, went to Bax. The Rio Grande man, whose road racing age is 24, hasn’t missed a year of bike racing since 2003 when he competed with junior gears. In the past month he’s placed second in three challenging local hill climbs.
Similarly, the women’s championship title passed not to the day’s winner from the four strongest riders, Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling), but to second place Gwen Inglis (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports). Inglis’ teammate Annie Toth placed third, and Heather McWilliams (Boulder Orthopedics) fourth.
With the original Westcliffe venue cancelled, the Deer Trail event supplied a fitting proving ground for earning the 2014 road laurels. A melange of relentless hills, hot sun, and cross-winds progressively diminished both fields as the races played out on the rural, wide-open high plains countryside east of Denver.
Riders in all categories abandoned due to the conditions; some suffered from excruciating cramps with at least one rider screaming in pain, alone on the road with only a course marshal and prairie birds to hear his cries.
By the time the elite winners crossed the line, about 50% of the men’s field had called it a day early and pulled out; non-finishers among the women were fewer, perhaps 10% of the starters.
Making the final four in those conditions required a combination of cooperation and the strength to take on the wind.
“I think the wind was so brutal, that if you weren’t in good position and anybody made an effort, it was easy to pop off the back,” Inglis said. “So every few minutes it seemed like we were dropping more people.”
After a short neutral start the riders headed north with a tailwind onto the first leg of the L-shaped circuit. About eight miles later they took a tight U-turn into the wind.
“Once we turned around in a headwind I did push the pace a little bit more,” Rivera said. The UnitedHealthcare rider is currently spending time at altitude in Boulder to prepare for July European races. Rivera has enjoyed a handful of wins already this month on top of a dozen others this year.
Turning east onto the second out-and-back portion of the circuit, also a distance of eight miles, the field encountered strong cross winds.
When asked whether others in the lead group shared the workload during Saturday’s 57 mile race, Rivera indicated the local women didn’t expect a free ride on her professional form.
“I went to the front and started rotating and it seemed like people respected that and started rotating, and everyone who was there rotating pretty much made that split. And those who weren’t wanting to pull through, they got pinched off the back,” she said.
“I think that’s the beauty of cross winds and echelon is that, if you are willing to work and put your wheel there, you will definitely make the echelon.”
Eight riders made the split in the first lap: Kate Powlison (Natural Grocers), Abby Mickey (Twenty16), Ann Donley, Jennifer Triplett (Boulder Orthopedics), and the final four.
According to Inglis that number reduced to six as the group began their last pass on the east-west section of the course.
Toth, a strong climber who last weekend won the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, subsequently put in an effort that shelled two more women. “She kept the effort just right. She tired us all out but didn’t drop me,” Inglis said about her teammate’s work.
That brought the leaders to the circuit’s other U-turn before the final stretch to the finish. Inglis attacked but couldn’t shake Rivera. Behind them, Toth waited and sacrificed herself for Inglis, not wanting to jeopardize Groove Subaru’s chances for a championship by bridging up to her teammate.
“If the four of us came in together, we (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports) could have ended up with third and fourth,” Toth explained. “So I let Gwen go.”
Inglis described the last moments of the race. “So then Coryn and I had a gap – she’s a fifty-some time national champion – so I knew what I was up against and figured my only chance was to attack her and maybe get a gap.
“I attacked her a couple times in the two miles or so that we were away. I got a little bit of a gap. But she caught me and with 300 meters to go she went and I just couldn’t go with her.”
A strong second earned Inglis the championship title, an outcome she had not expected when the riders had pushed off the line in the quiet town center of Deer Trail.
“I was hoping one of us on our team – I didn’t care who – made the top step. We managed to do that so it was a good team effort and it’s exciting,” she said during the podium presentation.
“I’ve been Colorado state criterium champion but never a road race [champion]. That’s something new for me, so that’s exciting. And I think it’s exciting for our team because it’s a first year women’s team, so to get out there and win a road race championship is pretty cool.”
Rivera’s result was also a victory for a first year women’s team, as UnitedHealthcare launched the ladies’ squad this season. The Deer Trail women’s winner said the race figured into her preparation for the Giro d’Italia Femminile where she’ll help Mara Abbott defend her crown.
“I definitely wanted to get a race in before I head off to Europe and start tapering next week…luckily there was a race here and I had a lot of fun racing with the locals here in Colorado and spending some time in Boulder.”
Rivera enjoyed more fun on Sunday. She won a local criterium in Wheat Ridge, a community north of Denver in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
For full results from Deer Trail see the Bicycle Association of Colorado website.
Photo Gallery (more to come)
[updated 6/3/2014 with video]
Is Beti Bike Bash about mountain bike racing or community support for women on fat tires?
Riders who started Sunday’s pro/open competition included well-known ladies like Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective), Luna Pro Team’s Teal Stetson-Lee, Heather Irmiger (Trek Factory Enduro), and Nicole Duke (Marin/Spy), all current or former national champions in a cycling discipline. The group battled for a $4,000 purse. The pace? Fast for a mountain bike race. Twenty miles in 75 minutes for the top finishers.
“I wasn’t under threshold at any time,” said Deirdre York (Red Ace Organics) about the pro/open race effort.
Smells like a race.
They competed on a four-mile undulating circuit consisting predominantly of beginner’s singletrack: smooth, packed surface with short climbs and descents. In fact, York summarized the track in total as “flat.” She explained: “The climbs aren’t long enough to make a difference and there aren’t any technical sections to separate the riders.”
There’s a reason for the course selection at the Bear Creek Lake Park venue in Morrison, Colorado. It’s designed to attract any level of rider so even the “never-evers” can enter a race in a low pressure environment.
“I specifically asked my team to be at this race,” Stetson-Lee said, after signing another jersey on the back of a Little Bella girl.
“I wanted Luna to have a presence here. It’s great for all women. Just look at all these girls.” Steps away from where she stood in the park after the day’s racing was done, a flotilla of Little Bellas adorned in sparkly face paint, helmets secure, readied their bikes for a ride.
Little Bellas is a mountain bike program which aims to help young women realize their potential through cycling. The Beti formed part of a two-day camp for the girls.
Ask one of the men present under the intense sunshine on Sunday if it would make sense to add a token men’s race to the Beti Bike Bash. He’d vigorously shake his head “no.” He’d say it’s a day for the men to support the women. They filled water bottles. They shepherded the children. Wigman cheered everyone up the last hill into the finish line.
Sounds like support for women on fat tires. Or any bike tire, really.
In fact, the Beti Bike Bash succeeded on all accounts. Race director Amy Thomas said registered riders numbered about 400, the largest in a now five-year history. Most sponsors have continued to support the event since year one; Stan’s NoTubes joined in year two. The event’s website claims it’s the largest women’s mountain bike event in the country.
Here the definition of women embraces all age groups. The latest races on the schedule belonged not to the headliner adults, but the junior girls. Even after cheering for their favorite women who raced earlier in the day – including mom, aunt, and sister, they sped off the mini-circuit start line with mouths set in straight lines.
Several braved short interviews with race announcer Larry Grossman. “What’s the best thing about today?” he asked one girl who had just completed her race.
“It’s fun,” she replied.
Grossman had his hands full as one after another the young ladies arrived under the finish line. An hour earlier Grossman kept busy commentating on the pro/open race; while short on time at 75 minutes, it was long on action at the front.
Pro/open race action
Over twenty riders took the start. In the front row Jenny Smith (Stan’s NoTubes) enjoyed the luxury of an escort shading her with an umbrella. That would be the only relief from the sun during five laps on a nearly treeless course flush with tall grass thanks to recent rain.
Stetson-Lee and Amy Beisel (Giant Tuff Shed) took the early lead in lap one and gained about twenty seconds on a large chase group. Those pursers included Compton – who had worked her way to fourth on the trail after starting in the back of the grid, Alexis Skarda (Bicycle Outfitters), Tough Girl’s Rebecca Gross, Rebecca Dussault (Mass Start), Smith, and Megan Carrington (Naked Women’s Racing).
“I knew if we rode around slow the first lap then we would be battling with 15 or 20 women instead of like five or six,” Stetson-Lee said after the race. “So I drilled it super-hard on the first lap and it paid off because I won the prime but then I also was really tired after that.”
Beisel and the Luna rider worked well together. In the second lap Beisel took over at the front while Stetson-Lee recovered and began to think the pair could stay away. However, as she later recounted, by the third lap several chasers were gaining ground.
“And then Katie Compton made a pass – she was holding onto our wheel – and blew by us. And I could tell she was just trying to ride off the front, doing her solo cyclocross-style thing. And so Amy [Beisel] and I were like, ‘Don’t let that wheel go, hold on!’”
Carrington reached them and the lead group became a foursome that built an unbridgeable gap with two laps remaining.
“Going into the fourth lap Katie looked over her shoulder and full on pulled over to the side to let us by because she realized that she couldn’t ride us off,” the Luna rider said. “So then she got real tactical and held onto all of us for the next lap and a half.”
Compton and Stetson-Lee peeled away from their companions in the final lap.
“And then Katie just put the hammer down on the flats and popped me off the back,” Stetson-Lee recalled.
In the meantime Carrington surged. She passed the Luna rider on one of the last climbs and moved into second on course.
“It was one of those things where I was like, I know I should dig and try to get that wheel up there, but I was pretty blown up by that point,” Stetson-Lee said.
Ahead Compton prepared to celebrate with a victory salute at the line. Just seconds behind Carrington tried to catch the national cyclocross champion on the final punchy ascent. She fell short by only four seconds. Stetson-Lee arrived 21 seconds later for third.
Before the podium ceremonies – which recognized all classes of competitors together, Compton commented on her result.
“It felt really good because I haven’t won a mountain bike race in a while. I definitely suffered today because it’s warmer than I like, so I think the heat bothered me. But I managed and I actually felt better I think than everybody else in the last lap. It all came together.
“I’m pretty happy with winning simply because I’ve struggled here a couple of times. It’s an early season mountain bike race and it’s warmer.” She laughed as she added, “And I haven’t gone really hard, yet.”
Since ‘cross season ended, Compton’s been riding but not at intensity race effort. She wasn’t sure how the Beti race would go. “But apparently some endurance riding and just pedaling helped me out. It worked.”
She loves riding the mountain bike; racing it, though, is another matter.
“I just like riding at a comfortable pace and going hard on the downhills. Whereas, mountain bike racing, you kind of have to go hard the whole time…you have to go hard in all the places I want to go easy,” she said, speaking about the flats and the climbs.
“So I struggle with the mental part, just sucking up and doing it.”
Many of the 400 Beti participants would likely nod their heads in agreement, thinking of whatever they struggled with across the dry track on Sunday. Even so, they showed up, perhaps because they knew they’d struggle in good company.
After Beisel finished in fourth place, she shared her view on the Beti’s vibe. “Super-friendly, girls to the world. We’re all super-supportive of each other. It’s a great, great event to get women cycling.”
For full results, see the Beti Bike Bash website.
Pro/open race video with special guests
Beti photo gallery (more to come)