First the lesson, with Tim Allen of Feedback Sports, winner of yesterday’s men’s open race at the Feedback Cup in Golden, Colorado.
Now for the bunny-hop prizes in the men’s open race.
And then prizes in the male single speed cyclocross category from the Feedback Cup.
In the minutes prior to setting off on a sixty minute race effort that meant fending off the Colorado Cross Cup leader and a strong junior who knew the course like the back of his hand, Tim Allen yawned.
“That’s a good sign, actually,” the Feedback Sports rider said as he waited alongside the start grid for the men’s open race at Sunday’s Zombie Cross.
Allen was right. He sped away from the other hopefuls and maintained a pace that earned him a win after sixth place the day before at Cyclo-X Xilinx. How did he pull off the victory on Sunday?
“I think I really just wanted redemption from yesterday because I got outsmarted on a very roadie course yesterday,” he said. “So today I felt like if I just went for it that I could hold it. I was worried though – Gage [Hecht] was coming for me and he was riding really well today.”
After the whistle the field took a U-turn off the start/finish pavement and onto single track through a stand of pine trees.
With Allen leading the group flew down course into open fields. The track then narrowed into turns in a thicket of leafless trees that left the riders at the base of a short steep pitch dubbed the “run-up from hell.” The riders summited without dismounting to the cheers of a crowd of rowdy spectators.
A descent guided the pack into a maze back in the trees. When asked later about how the course separated riders, Cross Cup leader Ken Benesh (Evol Foods) mentioned that spot.
“The real tight area down in the trees just allows yo-yoing gaps to form and then it’s hard to close down the gaps again. For bigger guys like Pete [Webber] and myself through those trees is a little more difficult,” Benesh said as he ducked to demonstrate how he had avoided some of the lower branches.
Near the end of the first lap a front group of four emerged: Allen, Benesh, fifteen year-old Gage Hecht (Specialized Racing Team), and Boulder Cycle Sport’s Pete Webber. They had gained about a ten second gap to chaser Joseph Clemenzi (Sports Garage Cycling) who had pulled away from the rest of the field.
Allen opened a gap of 15 seconds by the end of the next lap to the other three who chased together. Clemenzi followed ahead of Princess Leia a.k.a. Nic Handy (Alpha Bicycle Company – All City) on a single speed steed and then a group containing Greg Krause (Groove Subaru – Alpha Bicycle Company), Josh Yeaton (Horizon Organic – Panache) and Brett Pirie (Groove Subaru – Alpha Bicycle Company). Pee Wee Herman a.k.a. Drew Christopher of Groove-Alpha hung on at the back and would finish the race.
Blame a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for a turning point that materialized in lap three when the riders cleared the “run-up from hell.” With PBR clutched tantalizingly close in the hands of many among the festive group camped at the top, Webber took a risk in the moment. He grabbed for a can. When the surprised spectator held on the Boulder Cycle Sport rider touched dirt.
“It was bad judgment,” Webber later said. The accident cost him time. He was unable to catch Benesh and Hecht but in the end held on for fourth place.
With Webber out of the picture, Hecht locked his eyes on Allen and dropped Benesh. The Feedback Sports rider had decided to recover a bit in that lap, but didn’t rest for long. “I seemed to catch him a little bit but I could tell that he saw that I was coming,” Hecht said after the race. “And so he sped up quite a bit.”
The final three laps left spectators and pit crew turning over the same questions again and again. Could Allen and Hecht each hold on for twenty-five more minutes? How much does each have left in the tank? Will one of them pick up a goathead and flat?
Consistent answers arrived. Allen stayed out front. Hecht powered away alone in second. Benesh managed to limit the space between himself and the junior. The changes emerged behind them where Handy eclipsed Clemenzi to gain fifth.
Allen crossed the finish line with a big smile while Hecht turned the last corner twelve seconds back. As he leaned over the handlebars to catch his breath, Allen shook his head and said, “Gage [Hecht] had me on the rivet.”
“I feel like I did awesome,” the Specialized junior said about his second place result. “I don’t think I could have done much better.”
Benesh ended the day with a solid lead in the Cross Cup competition.
Find full results for the men’s open race on the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado website.
Frites en Mayo Velo Club and the Happy Coffee ‘cross team presented the event.
Gallery (with SM3 riders)
“What are you?”
At a race just days before Halloween, and Zombie Cross in particular in Parker, Colorado, riders responded to that question with a number of storybook answers. Princess Leia. The bride of Frankenstein. Lori Grimes, surviving mom and wife of the zombie apocalypse.
When Judy Freeman (Crankbrothers Race Club) raised her arms skyward as she claimed her second victory in as many days, she wore no costume other than that of bike racer. Her win at Zombie Cross on Sunday followed Saturday’s first place at Cyclo-X Xilinx.
The momentum she built on course counted as much - if not more than – Sunday’s result on the finish line.
“…it felt really good to be able to come in first, to roll in first,” Freeman said after her win at Zombie Cross, “but I guess most importantly I felt really good on the bike, and sometimes when you’re riding and you feel good about how you’re riding that’s the best thing to walk away with.”
Caitlyn Vestal (Feedback Sports) sped away on the pavement ahead of the field followed by Margell Abel of Tough Girls, Feeback Sports’ Lisa Hudson, Laurel Rathbun (Exergy Twenty16), and then Freeman.
Before the riders entered some tight turns early in the lap, Freeman attacked.
Then the field dealt with the “the run-up from hell,” which Freeman later described as one of the most challenging parts of a course that included sand, barriers, and short climbs and descents connected by S-turns and straightaways. The blinding angle of the sun at the time of the women’s open race made it difficult to pick out the best line on the steep run-up. Freeman cleared it on the bike more laps than not.
By the second lap Freeman had moved into first on course and quickly built a lead of fifteen seconds.
Behind her Vestal and Rathbun rode as a twosome in that order until the next to last lap when Rathbun moved into second. But Rathbun’s claim on the number two spot was short-lived. She crashed early in the bell lap.
Trying to gain speed on the start-finish pavement, Rathbun put her head down. She looked up just in time to see course tape but without enough time to negotiate the corner where she slid out in the sand, she explained post-race.
Vestal seized the opportunity and flashed by. No one could catch Freeman, who zoomed on to a solo finish. Vestal placed second. Rathbun held onto third.
When she spoke after the race, the Crankbrothers Race Club rider sounded determined to put together a strong cyclocross season. If this weekend and the UCI races in Boulder earlier this month are any indication, that goal is becoming a reality. She placed eighth at the Colorado Cross Classic and tenth in the Boulder Cup.
“I didn’t have the best cross country season because I was dealing with a back injury and so I’m starting to figure that out, starting to get back to where I where I can ride and train really well,” Freeman said. “I want to get into a season where I can actually race, so I’m excited about that.”
The Valmont Bike Park venue for cyclocross nationals is fueling this Boulder resident’s season as well.
“My biggest motivator is, nationals are in Boulder this year, and I think that’s incredible. I’m so happy that Boulder brought it to town,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be such a great vibe and I really want to be a part of it.” She intends to enter the women’s elite race.
Find full results for the women’s open race on the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado website.
At a glance the men’s open race at Cross of the North #3 might have looked like a slap-stick comedy.
Riders made progress in slow motion over and through heavy, peanut butter mud. Unable to gain purchase going uphill on the slick oozing mess, they ran. More than usual. Riders slipped and fell, sometimes twice, three times in a single spot. Some like Skyler Trujillo (Boo Bicycles) spent lots of time up close and personal with the goo.
“You can point to any part of this course and I was lying on it at some point,” he said, after finishing with a respectable sixth place.
But a closer look revealed the cost of the conditions. Spencer Powlison (Evol Foods) led the race early on with form to match ambition, but had to pull out when his rear derailleur broke. Gage Hecht (Specialized Racing Team) broke his rear derailleur too and also did not finish.
A rider needed more than great legs, a “B” bike, and luck to win this cyclocross race.
In those gunky conditions the guys relied on gripping course poles for stability around sharp turns, the power to drive a bike twice its normal weight, and a pit crew. Pit crews labored to make mud-laden bikes functional even as the power-washer ran out of gas. Feeble streams of water from hoses were no match for glop that clogged everything and clung for dear life to every surface. Mixed with dried vegetation, the mud could have been used to build adobe houses.
With lap times running about eleven minutes, pit crews worked at a frenzied pace against the clock to deliver cleaned-up bikes twice a lap. When asked how long it was taking to ready a bike, Erinn Benesh, sister and crew to racer Ken Benesh (Evol Foods), replied with bucket and brush in hand, “We’re almost five minutes with this one and we’re not done.”
Erinn Benesh worked alongside her husband to get Ken’s bikes ready ten times during the hour-long race. And then the reward. After that tenth turnaround Ken Benesh won his first race of the season and first ever open race.
After the race the Evol Foods rider downplayed his part in earning the victory.
“I had a taste of it getting second a bunch lately and so it’s nice to finally get a win,” Benesh said. “But really when it comes down to today it was having the best pit crew.”
The conditions helped him and he relied on his strength: “I tend to do better in power courses anyways, and this was just power.” It was fun on course, he said, then clarifying, “when you’re not falling. I think I only went down twice, I kind of caught myself. So it was just staying smooth, picking good lines, and taking your time through things. When you try to rush stuff that’s when you end up crashing.”
Tim Allen of Feedback Sports, who had won the day before, took the holeshot and escaped unscathed through thick mud on an off-camber slope early in the lap that laid several riders sideways.
Powlison, Hecht, Mitch Hoke (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), Allen Krughoff (Raleigh-Clement), Steven Stefko (First City Cycling), Benesh, Rotem Ishay and teammate Trujillo emerged next.
The scene changed with the advent of lap two. Powlison took over first on course with a twenty second lead. Hoke passed Allen who held third. Gaps lengthened between riders.
After more than twenty minutes of riding and going into lap three, Hoke moved into first with Powlison second. Krughoff, Benesh, and Stefko churned by Allen when he stopped to clear mud off his bike. Trujillo found his pace not far behind.
Riders swapped out bikes with each pass by the pit – except for Powlison and Hoke. When Powlison’s rear derailleur snapped he was forced to end his ride and Benesh passed Krughoff with Hoke his target.
Hoke brought one bike, an Orbea Terra T105. As others pitted, he rode serenely by, turning over the pedals with some magic formula to make the mud obey that worked until Benesh and then Stefko slid by him with one lap to go.
Benesh won with a gap of nearly a minute to Stefko. Hoke held on for third. Eight of the eighteen starters weren’t able to finish.
For full results see the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado website.
Twelve year-old Katie Clouse (Canyon Bicycles) can easily hide among the adults in the women’s open start grid. She is tiny in stature compared to the women in their 30’s and 40’s who blew into their hands to stay warm before their Sunday morning race at Cross of the North #3 just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado.
Easy to spot at the front were Rebecca Gross (Raleigh-Clement), hungry for a win after a solid block of racing and top five results, and Karen Hogan (Team Kappius) who recently won Frisco Cross.
The whistle blew and the field sped away from the gravely grid. Gross won the holeshot and would stay out front to enjoy a solo win.
Kristin Weber (Boulder Cycle Sport) maintained a steady second with Gross in sight on an exposed course that packed some short but steep sandy uphills and keyhole turns past the start line.
After traversing the start area ridge the riders descended into a grassy bowl which they exited, rode alongside, and the re-entered to negotiate two sets of uphill railroad tie barriers.
Hogan disputed the remaining podium step with Clouse and Melissa Barker (GS Boulder/Studio 1 Dental). Their fitness similar, what separated these three riders was time, but not on the course. When the 48 year-old Hogan glanced back and saw the 12 year-old behind her, it was bit disconcerting.
“I started to calculate, ‘OK, I’m 48, so [I’m] her times four.’ It was like experience has got to be worth something, right? That’s what I kept saying to myself…I kept going through the calculation of years,” Hogan recalled after the race, smiling.
And so Hogan and Clouse ticked off the laps under a gray sky with Barker. Hogan, mother of three and a former masters national champion. Clouse, still growing and with a few years to go before she walks the halls in high school.
Up ahead Weber pushed to catch Gross. She came close. But the Raleigh-Clement rider had found her day and ideal dry conditions and said she likely gained seconds through the challenging section just after the start.
“Someone went in there and tamped down some of the ridges that had built up and it was like a rocket if you just relaxed through everything and let it rip,” Gross said after the race. “So I think I had a little bit of an advantage there.” A full day of racing had taken place the previous day in the same location.
It was near that section that Clouse dropped her chain in the bell lap. Appearing frustrated but calm, she re-engaged the chain. Then the sparks flew. She focused on Hogan and Barker and closed the gap caused by her mechanical.
“She was incredible,” Hogan later said about the junior. “The only reason I think that I still beat her – which was just barely – was because she dropped her chain; otherwise I think she would have had me.” Hogan continued, joking and playful as the women marveled over Clouse, “How did she get so good in 12 years? It took me 48 years…”
In the end Barker slipped past Hogan for third after second-placed Weber. Clouse claimed fifth behind Hogan.
The riders congratulated Gross as she talked about her result.
“I’m stoked. These women are so strong,” she said. “I don’t think you could live anywhere else and have such a competitive local field. So getting in the front and keeping that is a pretty legit accomplishment.”
The local win boosted her confidence. Speaking about last weekend’s UCI Boulder Cup and Colorado Cross Classic events where she placed in the top twenty, she added, “And I think last weekend in Boulder was a good confidence builder too. It’s just great to have all the fans there, screaming, and all the juniors that I know from working with here and there were cheering and that really, really makes you want to push harder, show them that you can do it too, set the example…”
It’s not unusual in Front Range cyclocross for juniors to race in the open field. Fourteen year-old Ashley Zoerner (Groove Subaru-Alpha Bicycle Co) and teammate Allison Moorhead also competed in Sunday’s race. So did 16 year-old Ksenia Lepikhina (BMC XC Racing Team). Fifteen year-old Gage Hecht (Team Specialized Juniors) and other juniors regularly enter the men’s open races.
Juniors also wrangle against adults in the category 3 races. In fact that’s how Clouse and Zoerner spent 45 minutes after an hour’s break from the women’s open race at Cross of the North #3. The two pulled away from the rest of the women’s category 3 field early and smashed it. Zoerner finished second and Clouse, first.
For full results see the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website.
Last weekend two UCI cyclocross races visited the Boulder area. Here’s three take-aways from studying the elite women’s and men’s races.
C is for composure
A rider’s reaction to bad luck or a mistake can make a big difference in his or her final result.
Colorado Cross Classic onlookers who thought a minute’s delay in the opening turns would cost Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus) the podium received a big surprise. Seemingly unruffled, Powers dismounted, waited for the traffic behind him to clear – he had won the holeshot – pulled over next to the course tape, and nudged the chain back onto its teeth. Then he rode off and picked his way through all but one of 67 riders to finish second.
Powers wasn’t the only one with first lap troubles at the Colorado Cross Classic.
Katie Compton (Trek Cyclocross Collective) crashed not long after the start. She crashed not once but twice in the Boulder Cup the next day. In both races, like Powers, she did what helps her win races. She kept her cool and focused on the next task: hit the apex of the next turn, stay supple in the sand, and don’t let up on the gas even if you’ve got what looks like a winning gap.
Staying calm in the moment can make all the difference.
C is for champion
After both days of Boulder UCI cyclocross racing Compton mentioned what she hadn’t done right – she’d crashed, braking in the corners wasn’t dialed in, and she didn’t always find the fastest line. As of early October she was still building up after an unhealthy summer and yet she won both Boulder contests handily and alone.
Barring illness or injury, it looks like a tenth national cyclocross championship for Compton is taking shape on the January horizon.
C is for catch me if you can
Remember last January how Jonathan Page (ENGVT) and Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) surprised many with their first and second places respectively at ‘cross nationals? Wilcoxson hadn’t raced ‘cross for five years before last year’s season.
Who expected Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers Race Club), a mountain biker first and foremost and a previous national champion in that discipline, to outdistance every female elite rider except for Compton at both the Colorado Cross Classic and the Boulder Cup after starting in one of the back rows? Woodruff, who rode a considerable number of ‘cross races in 2011, said on Sunday she plans to enter 2014 nationals.
It will be worth the time to check the start lists prior to the elite races at nationals and speculate about which riders with little or no UCI points or those who have been off the radar racing regionally or in Europe could come away with a top five result.
On Saturday Gage Hecht (Specialized Racing Team) won the junior men’s 15-16 category at the Colorado Cross Classic on the Boulder Reservoir. He took his prize on the podium and then he waited.
A few hours later he took a look into his future as he watched the elite men’s race, taking notes on what he saw. Then at 9 p.m. he took a break from homework in constitutional literacy and shared some of his observations.
“In the beginning it looked like a normal start. They stayed together because of how dry and smooth the course was.” The 3.5 kilometer course didn’t require a lot of dismounting. It had a set of barriers, a log almost all of the elite men bounced over, and a sandpit that forced some riders to run.
“It was amazing how Jeremy Powers made it up to second. I don’t think any of us expected that,” Gage said.
Powers slid out in one of the next turns after the holeshot and dropped his chain. By the time it caught back onto the chainring the entire field had waved goodbye. But he steadily moved up and finished second.
“They stayed together. It was pretty tactical compared to most cross races,” Gage said. ”The top 7 were together most of the race, worrying about who was up front and attacking more so than regularly.”
As the guy at the front of the lead group switched from Danny Summerhill (K Edge/Felt) to Ryan Trebon ( Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld.com), or Ben Berden (Raleigh-Clement) or Todd Wells (Specialized Factory Racing) and back to Summerhill again, they had to keep an eye on each other.
“Berden’s move was smart, he knew he had to sprint. But it backfired, he crashed in sandpit.”
“It was pretty cool for Ryan to win. I saw him win at Boulder Cup last year. He had a great ride, really deserved it.” What Gage felt Trebon did right – “He was composed. He let everyone fight out their places, waiting until he knew he could get away and stay away.”
“It was really cool how the top 17-18 [and U23] from last year are now top 5-6 in pros — guys like Zach McDonald (Rapha Focus) and Logan Owen (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized).”
What did Gage find surprising? Aside from Berden not winning, “It was pretty surprising where local riders like Robin Eckmann placed. It’s not like he was far from the leaders, just that he’s been doing so well in local Colorado races.”
The UCI field rode more strongly than local riders in general, and it was odd to see them out of the running for the podium they typically stand on most weekends. They were not contacted to determine if they experienced mechanicals.
A big thanks to Gage Hecht for sharing his wisdom.