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Two high plains cross wind contests yield four winners – part one

June 23, 2014
Deer Trail women's elite race early leaders with a tailwind  out of the south

Deer Trail women’s elite race early leaders with a tailwind out of the south

[updated 6/25/2014]

Cycling borrowed from ball sports terminology Saturday when both men’s and women’s elite Colorado state road championships came down to a finish between the final four.

In the men’s race Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros teammates Fabio Calabria and Emerson Oronte, Tom Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), and Nick Bax (Team Rio Grande) neared the climb to the finish in rural Deer Trail together. In a tight competition for the top three, Calabria bested Zirbel by one second to win. Third place Bax came across right after Zirbel. Oronte, spent from his effort from one kilometer to go to assist Calabria, followed for fourth several heartbeats later.

Deer Trail elite men's podium (l-r): Tom Zirbel 2nd, Fabio Calabria 1st, Nick Bax 3rd & state champ

Deer Trail elite men’s podium (l-r): Tom Zirbel 2nd, Fabio Calabria 1st, Nick Bax 3rd & state champ

A state champ must be a US citizen and Colorado resident; Australian Calabria doesn’t meet the first criteria. Members of a UCI registered team can’t qualify, so that excluded Zirbel. The state champ gold medal, therefore, went to Bax. The Rio Grande man, whose road racing age is 24, hasn’t missed a year of bike racing since 2003 when he competed with junior gears. In the past month he’s placed second in three challenging local hill climbs.

Similarly, the women’s championship title passed not to the day’s winner from the four strongest riders, Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling), but to second place Gwen Inglis (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports). Inglis’ teammate Annie Toth placed third, and Heather McWilliams (Boulder Orthopedics) fourth.

2014 Colorado state road championships elite women's podium (l-r) Annie Toth 2nd, Gwen Inglis 1st, Heather McWilliams third

2014 Colorado state road championships elite women’s podium (l-r) Annie Toth 2nd, Gwen Inglis 1st, Heather McWilliams third

With the original Westcliffe venue cancelled, the Deer Trail event supplied a fitting proving ground for earning the 2014 road laurels. A melange of relentless hills, hot sun, and cross-winds progressively diminished both fields as the races played out on the rural, wide-open high plains countryside east of Denver.

Riders in all categories abandoned due to the conditions; some suffered from excruciating cramps with at least one rider screaming in pain, alone on the road with only a course marshal and prairie birds to hear his cries.

By the time the elite winners crossed the line, about 50% of the men’s field had called it a day early and pulled out; non-finishers among the women were fewer, perhaps 10% of the starters.

Women’s race

Making the final four in those conditions required a combination of cooperation and the strength to take on the wind.

“I think the wind was so brutal, that if you weren’t in good position and anybody made an effort, it was easy to pop off the back,” Inglis said. “So every few minutes it seemed like we were dropping more people.”

After a short neutral start the riders headed north with a tailwind onto the first leg of the L-shaped circuit. About eight miles later they took a tight U-turn into the wind.

“Once we turned around in a headwind I did push the pace a little bit more,” Rivera said. The UnitedHealthcare rider is currently spending time at altitude in Boulder to prepare for July European races. Rivera has enjoyed a handful of wins already this month on top of a dozen others this year.

Elite women (left) on their first pass of the east-west portion of the Deer Trail circuit

Elite women (left) on their first pass of the east-west portion of the Deer Trail circuit

Turning east onto the second out-and-back portion of the circuit, also a distance of eight miles, the field encountered strong cross winds.

When asked whether others in the lead group shared the workload during Saturday’s 57 mile race, Rivera indicated the local women didn’t expect a free ride on her professional form.

“I went to the front and started rotating and it seemed like people respected that and started rotating, and everyone who was there rotating pretty much made that split. And those who weren’t wanting to pull through, they got pinched off the back,” she said.

“I think that’s the beauty of cross winds and echelon is that, if you are willing to work and put your wheel there, you will definitely make the echelon.”

Eight riders made the split in the first lap: Kate Powlison (Natural Grocers), Abby Mickey (Twenty16), Ann Donley, Jennifer Triplett (Boulder Orthopedics), and the final four.

According to Inglis that number reduced to six as the group began their last pass on the east-west section of the course.

Toth, a strong climber who last weekend won the Guanella Pass Hill Climb, subsequently put in an effort that shelled two more women. “She kept the effort just right. She tired us all out but didn’t drop me,” Inglis said about her teammate’s work.

That brought the leaders to the circuit’s other U-turn before the final stretch to the finish. Inglis attacked but couldn’t shake Rivera. Behind them, Toth waited and sacrificed herself for Inglis, not wanting to jeopardize Groove Subaru’s chances for a championship by bridging up to her teammate.

The ladies' final four: Coryn Rivera, Annie Toth, Heather McWilliams, and Gwen Inglis come out of the eastern U-turn

The ladies’ final four: Coryn Rivera, Annie Toth, Heather McWilliams, and Gwen Inglis come out of the eastern U-turn

“If the four of us came in together, we (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports) could have ended up with third and fourth,” Toth explained. “So I let Gwen go.”

Inglis described the last moments of the race. “So then Coryn and I had a gap – she’s a fifty-some time national champion – so I knew what I was up against and figured my only chance was to attack her and maybe get a gap.

“I attacked her a couple times in the two miles or so that we were away. I got a little bit of a gap. But she caught me and with 300 meters to go she went and I just couldn’t go with her.”

A strong second earned Inglis the championship title, an outcome she had not expected when the riders had pushed off the line in the quiet town center of Deer Trail.

“I was hoping one of us on our team – I didn’t care who – made the top step. We managed to do that so it was a good team effort and it’s exciting,” she said during the podium presentation.

“I’ve been Colorado state criterium champion but never a road race [champion]. That’s something new for me, so that’s exciting. And I think it’s exciting for our team because it’s a first year women’s team, so to get out there and win a road race championship is pretty cool.”

Rivera’s result was also a victory for a first year women’s team, as UnitedHealthcare launched the ladies’ squad this season. The Deer Trail women’s winner said the race figured into her preparation for the Giro d’Italia Femminile where she’ll help Mara Abbott defend her crown.

“I definitely wanted to get a race in before I head off to Europe and start tapering next week…luckily there was a race here and I had a lot of fun racing with the locals here in Colorado and spending some time in Boulder.”

Rivera enjoyed more fun on Sunday. She won a local criterium in Wheat Ridge, a community north of Denver in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

For full results from Deer Trail see the Bicycle Association of Colorado website.

See Part 2, the men’s race and photo gallery.

Deer Trail women's elite race podium (l-r): Gwen Inglis 2nd, Coryn Rivera 1st, Annie Toth 3rd. Podium ceremonies were held in a vintage rodeo grounds building.

Deer Trail women’s elite race podium (l-r): Gwen Inglis 2nd, Coryn Rivera 1st, Annie Toth 3rd. Podium ceremonies were held in a vintage rodeo grounds building.

Photo Gallery (more to come)

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