Mixed-up mad dash makes for wild criterium finish
The final sprint usually decides the criterium, but this finish was a messy mass of riders.
The mass finish at Saturday’s Maverick Classic Criterium in downtown Grand Junction was rare because it was a mix of lapped riders and leaders.
When the confusion geared down, Colorado Mesa University’s Morgan Ryan was in second place behind Fort Lewis College rider Zack Noonan.
“It was very confusing with all that traffic at the end of the race,” Ryan said. “That threw a wrench into everybody’s plan, including Fort Lewis.”
Teams usually set up an organized effort for the final sprint finish, but with the lapped riders in the mix, it was every cyclist for himself.
Noonan, who called the finish “interesting,” said the strategy was for him to help his teammate win the sprint, but with all the traffic, he powered to the line.
It was a tough finish for the Mavericks, because they came into the race with the Rocky Mountain Cycling Conference points leader in Spencer Oswald, and they lost another rider to a crash on the final lap. Last week Oswald lapped the field to win the Fort Lewis race.
On Saturday, the Skyhawks turned the race into a high-speed, take-no-prisoners act of aggression from the start.
“It was a lot of motivation,” Noonan said. “We came here with all our top riders. It was a team effort.”
About 20 riders broke away and split the field early in the 60-minute race.
Ryan, along with teammates Cullen Easter and Sam Phillips, who finished eighth, attacked at the front throughout.
In many cases, race officials will pull the trailing group of riders off the course so they don’t interfere with the finish, but the leaders didn’t catch them until the last lap, causing the confusing and cluttered finish.
Easter was in position to contend for a top-five finish when he crashed on one of the final turns.
“One of our guys went down, which was really unfortunate, because he was going to be up there with me,” Ryan said about Easter.
Riders agreed the race was one of the most aggressive criteriums they’ve ever ridden. With the tight, 10-turn technical course and an endless series of attacks, there was no room for error.
“It was aggressive, with all the turns, and there was a constant shifting of riders at the front,” Ryan said. “We were launching attacks one after another.”
Oswald, who was disappointed in his subpar performance, agreed: “This is one of the most aggressive crits I’ve ever been part of because of the technical (course) and the intensity of the riders.”
Oswald, who launched a failed attack with three laps to go, didn’t give any excuses for his 16th-place finish.
“I just didn’t have it today, and that happens to the best of us sometimes,” he said.
In the morning team time trial, Fort Lewis beat CMU by 24.41 seconds.
It was a rough day for the CMU men, with two riders going to the hospital after crashes and Easter getting scraped up after hitting the pavement in the criterium.
Quint Berkemeier crashed on a corner, which was slick from rain, during the team time trial and fractured his left clavicle in the morning. He was just making his return after a concussion two weeks ago. Peter Davis had a nasty spill at the corner of Seventh and Main streets in the criterium and went to the hospital with a possible concussion. Easter was checked out by medical staff, but besides some road rash he said he will be ready for today’s road race.
Horbach wins women’s race
When a trio of women broke free of the pack, there was still little doubt who would win the women’s criterium.
CMU coach Patric Rostel’s grin was a bit on the evil side. He knew who was going to win. The opposing coaches knew, and Ariane Horbach knew.
“I was actually pretty confident that she would win,” Rostel said with that grin.
He said the other coaches said if they had to bet, they would put their money on “the German rider,” which is how they referred to Horbach, who is from Germany.
As the three lead riders hit the final straightaway, Horbach put the hammer down and crushed the field like she has all season.
Horbach’s smile was humble but confident.
“I knew when it comes to a smaller group at the front, I have a pretty good chance in the sprint,” she said.
When the three riders hit the final stretch, Horbach’s acceleration was jaw-dropping as she powered to the win, easily pulling away from the University of Colorado’s Sabrina David, who finished second.
The CMU women completed another strong day with Lexie Millard finishing fifth and Ariana Dittmer in seventh.
The race quickly became a three-woman race after they opened a substantial gap early in the 45-minute criterium.
Horbach tested the two to see if she could take off on a solo breakaway.
“In the beginning, I tried to increase the pace to try and make the race faster,” she said. “I tried to make the gap bigger, but then I just waited for the sprint.”
With each passing lap, Horbach was in perfect position. When David tried to attack, Horbach never let her break free, and there was never a gap between the trio until the final sprint.
In the morning, the three CMU women won the team time trial with a time of 29:41.37, a 32.67-second win over the Air Force Academy.
With large crowds in downtown Grand Junction, Horbach said the criterium was a great atmosphere for a bike race.
“It’s amazing. There are so many people here,” she said. “Grand Junction is just awesome. I love to race here, and the course was pretty awesome, too.”
Horbach, Millard and Dittmer will go for the road-racing title today in Palisade. Rostel said there’s no doubt Horbach is the favorite to pick up another victory.