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Chris Case takes first at Flatirons and the Cyclo-X series lead

October 1, 2013
Chris Case never seemed under pressure at Cyclo-X Flatirons

Chris Case never seemed under pressure at Cyclo-X Flatirons

[updated 10/1/2013]

Circumstances have a way of overturning expectations in a bike race and true to form a collection of nixed “supposed-to’s” dished out disappointment and opportunity in Sunday’s Cyclo-X men’s open contest.

A rescheduled date forced by heavy rain earlier in the month placed the start on the heels of the series’ second race which ended Saturday evening. Consequently, some worked-over bodies showed up for Sunday’s start. Chris Case (Boulder Cycle Sport) arrived early to warm-up so he could assess the knee that bothered him on Saturday and decide whether to race. His victory hours later on the hillside at the edge of Flatirons Crossing Mall would come as “a huge surprise.” Robin Eckmann (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized) started with a bandaged left hand, another Saturday evening casualty.

Robin Eckmann

Robin Eckmann

The new date also rearranged Sunday’s start times. Expecting the usual later line-up for the men’s open race, Eckmann missed call-ups. He would work his way through a field of thirty on a sub-six minute lap course with lots of off-camber sections and short climbs and descents.

Ken Benesh (Evol Foods) watched a chance for his first win in the series evaporate when his chain dropped on the final ascent, providing an opening for Case to surge past him and take his first win in two years.

It was a frustrating loss for Benesh. Clearly one of the strongest on Sunday, he animated the race with Case and Taylor Carrington (Feedback Sports) who had made his way quickly to the front after lining up at the back of the start grid. Together they engaged in a three-way fight for first in the final laps while Eckmann rode a 60 minute ‘cross time trial behind.

Ken Benesh took first position on course early in lap 3. Chris Case and Gage Hecht follow.

Ken Benesh took first position on course early in lap 3. Chris Case and Gage Hecht follow.

Race action

Gage Hecht (Team Specialized Juniors) assumed the lead in the first lap followed by the Clif Bar Devo Team’s Ian McPherson. A sharp dip that funneled into a ditch on one side jolted McPherson off his bike and slowed the following riders as he crossed to higher ground to collect himself.

Case and Benesh made their way past McPherson and formed the first group of leaders with Hecht. They created a small gap to Boulder Cycle Sport’s Peter Webber and Brandon Dwight, Carrington, and Michael Burleigh (Primal Wear / McDonald / Audi). The next set of chasers included Spencer Downing (Clif Bar Devo Team) who later pulled out of the race.

Lower section of the Flatirons hillside grass and pavement course

Lower section of the Flatirons hillside grass and pavement course

By the beginning of lap three on the flat paved section under the finish line Benesh took first position among the three leaders. Carrington joined them as well as Burleigh, Webber, and Dwight. But that large group divided mid-way into the ten-lap contest as Benesh, Case, and Carrington proved strongest ahead of just two chasers, Webber and Dwight.

Natural Grocers’ Jon Tarkington picked his way to sixth place on the day by passing Mike Friedberg (Service Course), Andrew Clemence (Cycleton), Horizon Organic/Panache’s Josh Yeaton, and then Hecht and Burleigh who had dropped off the fastest pace.

Meanwhile Eckmann continued to make his way through the field. On the final lap the announcer would say he completed laps 25 seconds faster than the guys he passed, on a “cruel and usual course.”  After the race Eckmann said, “I was just trying to have a good push at it and see where I can go with the amount of time I have left…” His left thumb wasn’t 100 percent and sometimes hampered braking in descents, he said, adding, “But who brakes loses.”

Taylor Carrington works ahead of Chris Case in lap 6

Taylor Carrington works ahead of Chris Case in lap 6

While Eckmann careened around corners, with one lap to go the lead threesome became two as Carrington struggled to maintain contact and a fresh-looking Case worked in first position on course with Benesh on his wheel.

“Taylor [Carrington] did a ton of work,” Case explained post-race. “I had Pete [Webber] and Brandon [Dwight] behind me so for a little while I stretched out the lead but then Taylor took over, sat on the front, and I was happy for him to sit on the front. If Pete and Brandon came back that would be good for us…”

When Case crossed the line to win he defeated his former teammate by less than a second. He and Benesh both rode for Feedback Sports last year and moved to new teams this season. Feedback’s new recruit Carrington came in third six seconds later.

Benesh couldn’t hide his disappointment; he slammed his fist hard onto his handlebars as Case won less than a second ahead of him.

He recounted what happened in the last lap after dropping his chain. “I was sitting there spinning for 20 seconds on the downhill and then finally caught [the chain]. I bridged back up on the run-up and then I just knew he’d [Case] be able to get into his pedals faster and he’d outsprint me. But I was bummed because I was leading into that first section. I thought I had it but you can only do so much.”

Eckmann finished three minutes off the winning time in tenth. While he didn’t expect to catch the leaders on a course like Sunday’s, he later said he raced a fraction below his limit, capturing enough points to stay in contention for the overall series lead and turning a foiled start into “a good workout on a closed course. Even though you can train you never go so hard for so long in training.”

Sure thing

One thing’s certain. With several stand-out riders and others improving as the season matures or returning from other race commitments, the Shimano Cyclo-X series should deliver more exciting racing.

With lap speeds about the same as Case and Benesh, Eckmann showed he’s still one of the strongest in the eight-series event which Case now leads overall by just one point over Benesh. Webber holds third and Eckmann fourth.

The Cal Giant rider leads the Colorado Cross Cup, a season-long competition of the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado that includes two dozen races. He said he’s focusing more on ‘cross this year and aims to collect UCI points at the Boulder Cup and Colorado Cross Classic to carry into nationals at Valmont.

Benesh’s efforts last year earned him the overall lead in the Boulder Cyclocross five-race series. This year’s Cyclo-X series is an important goal for him. He’s juggling that ambition with work and his first child who is not quite four months old. Case described the new Evol Foods rider as consistently “super strong;” Benesh will be a tough adversary when the series continues with race four later in October.

The men’s open field will likely see a super strong Case as well. Teammate Dwight said Sunday’s winner put in lots of miles over the summer, taking on 100 mile “epic rides” on gravely roads. “With so many miles in his legs he’ll be strong as he builds intensity,” Dwight noted, “and will only get stronger.”

Shimano Cyclo-X – Flatirons Powered by Boa top ten men’s open race

  1. Chris Case (Boulder Cycle Sport)
  2. Ken Benesh (Evol Foods)
  3. Taylor Carrington (Feedback Sports)
  4. Pete Webber (Boulder Cycle Sport)
  5. Brandon Dwight (Boulder Cycle Sport)
  6. Jon Tarkington (Natural Grocers Cycling Team)
  7. Michael Burleigh (Primal Wear – McDonald – Audi)
  8. Gage Hecht (Specialized Racing Juniors)
  9. Josh Yeaton (Horizon Organic/Panache)
  10. Robin Eckmann (California Giant Berry Farms/Specialized)

Full results with lap times are available via the Without Limits Productions website.

One of two sets of uphill barriers at Cyclo-X Flatirons

One of two sets of uphill barriers at Cyclo-X Flatirons

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