TAKIN’ IT TO THE STREETS
Maverick Classic takes over downtown
The Colorado Mesa University cycling team’s quest to be the best in road racing will be on full display this weekend.
The Maverick Classic, which also serves as the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference Regional Championships, will take place Friday through Sunday in the Grand Valley.
CMU won an overall Division II cycling championship last year, but came up just short of the road-racing title last May, finishing second.
This year, the Mavericks have more depth and more talent as they prepare to host the best cycling teams in the Rocky Mountain region. This also will be the final race before the national championships, which will take place May 2-4 in Richmond, Va.
“We have a very strong team this year, we should do well,” CMU head coach Patric Rostel said.
After last weekend’s performance in Durango, where the Mavs won four of the six races, CMU is clearly one of the best Division II cycling teams in the nation.
The premier event of the weekend will be Saturday evening’s criterium in which riders zip around downtown Grand Junction, including down Main Street, making laps at high speed. The criterium begins at 1 p.m. with lower-level riders racing, and runs all afternoon, with the professional riders going at 7:15 p.m.
The bulk of downtown will be closed to traffic for most of the day, but downtown businesses will be open, and parking will be available in other areas nearby. All of the races Saturday and Sunday will have collegiate and recreational categories.
For the men, CMU is looking for a third straight victory in the criterium, but the two-time defending champ will not be in the saddle. Rostel’s collegiate cycling career came to an end last year. Now he’s focusing on coaching full-time.
The Mavericks have several riders who have a shot at winning the criterium, including Morgan Ryan, who finished third in last year’s national championship race. Other contenders include Spencer Oswald, who has two wins for CMU this season, and Cullen Easter, who has had a number of high finishes.
The women’s race has one clear favorite, and she will be wearing the maroon and gold of CMU.
Ariane Horbach has dominated the race season this year, collecting nine wins — four criteriums and five road races.
She will be supported in the criterium by Lexie Milliard and Ariana Dittmer. Both have had strong seasons.
The criterium is a unique race in which riders race around a 0.95-mile circuit for a set time (60 minutes for men, 45 minutes for women), and then the bell sounds for the final lap.
Riders jockey for position with teams riding together as well as trying to get select riders to break away from the pack.
Spectators should look for one or two CMU riders who might break away in the race in hopes of holding on for a win. If the breakaway strategy doesn’t work for teams, then it’s a race for the finish in the final lap. Teams will look to align their riders in a slip-stream, single-file formation in hopes of catapulting its best sprinter to the finish line for the victory.
Elite riders will hit speeds of more than 40 mph, and they’ll encounter tight turns and ride elbow to elbow with a tightly grouped pack of riders.
Milliard is coming off the first win of her career in the criterium last weekend, when the Mavs swept the top three places with Horbach in second and Dittmer in third.
“The criterium is going to be the most exciting, not just for the riders but for the fans as well. It’s a very spectator friendly race,” Ryan said.
Dittmer said the “crit” is a fun race.
“I’m looking forward to the crit, because it’s flat,” she said with a laugh. “I think it will be fun, and there will be a good turnout because last year was really good.”
Saturday morning, collegiate teams will take part in a team time trial, starting at 8:30 a.m. The 11.6-mile course is on rolling back roads north of Fruita with the start-finish line at 17 Road and Roberson Drive in Fruita. Teams will ride single file, trying to maintain the most aerodynamic position with riders taking turns as the lead rider. Professional riders will ride an individual time trial.
Road race contenders
In past years, CMU has fielded a strong criterium team but hasn’t done well in the road-racing discipline. This year, Rostel thinks the Mavericks will contend for a title in Sunday’s road race.
Last year, Rostel took over in December as a rider-coach for his final collegiate season. This year, he’s the full-time coach, and that constancy has made a difference.
“Probably what has changed the most is we have a lot better training schedule this year,” he said.
The men’s course is 96 miles, the women’s course 72 miles, running along a 24-mile loop that starts and finishes in Palisade. Riders will go up East Orchard Mesa into Grand Junction before making their way back to Palisade.
Racing starts at 8:30 a.m. with different categories taking off at different times up until 9:35 a.m.
Ryan said this year’s road racing team is strong and deep.
“We have a much more substantial team this year as far as talent and numbers,” he said. “That gives us a good chance to win the road race.”
More than college racers
On Friday, downtown Fruita will host a Fat Tire Criterium, which will begin at 2:30 p.m., with the professional riders starting at 6:20. There is no collegiate race Friday.
Even though the Maverick Classic spotlights the best collegiate cyclists in the Rocky Mountain region, the weekend also will showcase some high-level professional riders.
The lineup includes Tom Zirbel, who is the current U.S. professional time trial national champion. Zirbel recently had an overall fourth-place finish at the Redlands Classic in California.
Zirbel rides for the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team, which is considered to be one of the top teams in the United States.
The professional part of the Maverick Classic is a four-event stage race with an individual overall winner being crowned after Sunday’s road race.