Zirbel wins ‘race of truth’ time trial in rain

It’s called the race of truth.

One cyclist riding against the clock. No drafting, no help from teammates, no false hopes.

The cold, rainy, hard truth in Saturday morning’s Maverick Classic individual time trial was this was a race for second place.

Tom Zirbel averaged nearly 30 mph to crush the 11.6-mile time trial in 23 minutes, 52.4 seconds. He won the race by 38 seconds.

Riding for the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies team, Zirbel came to Grand Junction to continue training for major races like the Tour of California in mid-May.

Zirbel, who lives in Boulder, isn’t your average kind of cyclist. First of all, he’s huge by cycling standards. At a little over 6-foot-4 and weighing 195 pounds, the time trial is his specialty, and he loves that it is the race of truth.

“There’s no hiding, there’s no drafting, there’s no real tactics other than pacing. It’s the race that you find out who is the strongest,” he said.

He’s the current U.S. National Time Trial champion and will look to repeat in late May.

Later Saturday in the downtown criterium, Zirbel finished ninth, and he was happy with the result.

He smiled when he talked about his love-hate relationship with criteriums. With his two main goals of the weekend — to win the time trial and claim the overall stage race title — he had a priority list for the criterium.

“A, I have to stay healthy, that’s the number-one priority,” he said before the criterium. “B is getting fitness, and C is winning the race.

“The most important event for me was the TT. It’s kind of my job to time trial,” he said.

But the criterium race is an important event for the sport, he admitted.

“For me, there’s usually a lot of anxiety, but the crit is a necessarily evil, and if we want to grow the sport ... It’s the most exciting to watch from a spectator point of view.”

While the time trial is all about the individual, the criterium and road-race disciplines embrace a team concept with strategy being an important component.

But this weekend, Zirbel is a team of one.

“I’m the only one. We had three guys set to go, and two of them got sick,” he said, smiling.

His goal is to win the overall four-stage Maverick Classic professional title, but winning today’s road race will be a challenge.

A strong, well-organized team could easily keep him from winning.

“The road race is a lot more difficult to control with one guy,” he said.

He now holds a 93-second lead in the overall standings after riding a safe, tactical criterium.

He laughs about being the big guy on a cycling team.

“My teammates love me,” he said about him riding on the front and providing the wind shield for the rest of the team.

At 35 years old, Zirbel took a while to get into bike racing. A successful collegiate runner in Iowa, a knee injury pushed into cycling.

“I love there’s so much to it,” he said about bike racing. “In running, the fastest guy is almost always going to win, but in bike racing that’s seldom the case.”

Time trials are the exception, he said, but with so many factors in the other events, such as strategic tactics, team aspects, drafting, conserving energy, possible mishaps and bad luck, virtually everyone has a shot at winning. And that will be the case in today’s 96-mile pro road race.

After getting into cycling in 2003, Zirbel admits he’s still learning every time he races. He fell in love with cycling, and now he and his knees are thankful for the sport.

“It’s just fun to ride a bike. You can see so much that you can’t see running. You cover so much ground on a bike,” he said.


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