Despite late push, Mesa's Horbach takes 2nd in national championships
Strategy, strategy, strategy — that’s what the bike racing is all about.
Colorado Mesa had a good strategy on Sunday, but the result wasn’t quite what the Mavericks wanted.
As the women’s Varsity riders at the USA Cycling Collegiate Nationals hit the homestretch, it came down to a frantic sprint for the criterium national title.
As the first two clipped the finish line, one was smiling while the other dropped her head in disappointment.
For the second consecutive day, Erica Allar threw her arms into the air and smiled as she crossed the finish line for the victory. The Piedmont College (Georgia) rider also won Friday’s road race.
Ariane Horbach’s final collegiate race for CMU was good for second place but she wanted to end her career the way she started it — with a national title.
“I’m still very happy with my second place. Erica is such a strong rider. I have a lot of respect for her,” Horbach said. “I put it all in at the sprint but I just couldn’t catch Erica.”
With her mother coming all the way from Germany to watch, Horbach said her final CMU race was still a special day.
“It was the first time she’s been here since she’s so far away,” said Horbach, who is from Bucholz, Germany. “I was so happy that she was here.”
The race unfolded pretty much like it was expected.
Teams tried to push the pace and some tried to break away from the pack but no rider could get a gap.
Mesa had riders working hard at the front for most of the race, which was in downtown Grand Junction.
“We wanted to make (the race) active and be present at the front, so that worked out really well. Natalia (Franco) really helped me a lot keeping me at the front and then in the sprint,” Horbach said.
The CMU strategy was to set up the final sprint for Horbach, the team’s best sprinter and most experienced rider.
The last lap started with Franco pushing the pace, but most knew it was going to come down to four or five riders with Horbach and Allar at the top of that list.
Most in the field knew if Allar was still in the lead group, she would be hard to beat.
CMU’s team got Horbach into the correct position in the final half lap, so she could try and win the race with a sprint.
She was in perfect position as the riders came around the final corner and headed for the finish on White Avenue.
“I knew Erica has a strong sprint so I stayed with her and on her wheel,” Horbach said. “That was the best possible position I could be at. I just didn’t have enough strength in the last few meters to take her.”
Allar won by about a bike length.
Horbach won a criterium national title for Mesa in 2014 but has had some tough luck since then.
Sunday’s second-place finish was her fourth in her career, which includes three runner-up finishes at track cycling nationals.
She said it’s been a rewarding time with the CMU cycling team.
“It makes me sad, I had such a good time with the team, I don’t want to miss any memories,” she said.
She will be headed to France for graduate school in the fall.
In the men’s race, Mesa’s plan crumbled fairly early in the race.
When three of their six riders were knocked out of the race due to crashes and mechanical issues, it was up to Brannan Fix, Mauro Rato and Arne Egner to try and battle a number of good teams.
In the end, Fix powered down the final stretch to claim fifth place and make the podium.
“I think we did the best we could with three riders and I think we just ran out of steam the last couple of laps,” Fix said. “And being the host school, there was a little extra pressure.”
The race was up for grabs until the final lap, and it looked like it was headed for a sprint finish. But when Evan Hartig of Lindenwood University emerged from the final corner with a large gap, there was no doubt he would cruise home with the win.
It was the second consecutive year a Lindenwood rider won a national criterium title. Last year’s champ, Jonah Mead van Cort, finished third.
Fix said Hartig was the strongest rider at the finish.
“He held about a two-bike length lead the entire last lap and he held it,” Fix said.
Fix has been in some big races with large fields, but he said this one was as feisty as any he’s raced in.
“In terms of chances guys were willing to take this was pretty high. With this being nationals and the last race of the year, a lot of people were going gonzo and taking lines that otherwise you wouldn’t take,” he said.
The Fort Collins rider admitted that he was hoping for a higher finish in the criterium, his specialty.
“You always want something more. I was really gunning for the win,” he said.
As a freshman, he’s looking forward to the future.
“We’ll see what happens next year, but this was a good start,” he said.
In the men’s Club criterium, Noah Granigan from the University of Colorado won the national title. The women’s Club national title went to Heidi Franz of Seattle University.
As a team, CMU finished second in the overall Division I Varsity road racing omnium (overall team standings). The team standings are determined by the points won by teams in the team time trial, road race and criterium with both men and women’s results factoring into the result.
Marian University out of Indianapolis won the overall Varsity title. For Division II Varsity, Milligan College won the title.
Palisade High graduate Marta Morris, racing for Marian, placed 20th in the women’s Varsity race.
The University of Colorado won the Division I Club omnium with the University of Wisconsin in second. Massachusetts Institute of Technology won the Division II Club title.