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

June 25, 2014
Emerson Oronte drilling it in the final lap to help Fabio Calabria to the win

Emerson Oronte drilling it in the final lap to help Fabio Calabria to the win

[See part one of this story.]

Given the potential for a windy day on the high open plains, it seemed likely the winner of the men’s elite race at Deer Trail on Saturday would emerge from the shelter and help of a sizeable team. Team Rio Grande had eight riders scheduled to start. Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels team registered six as did Natural Grocers. The winner, if he met the eligibility rules, would don the Colorado road race champion’s vest.

The question was, which rider would fare best on the rolling, exposed terrain east of Denver and finesse the relentless wind if it decided to unleash its fury?

Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels team’s strength, depth, and recent success singled out its men as favorites.

  • Would it be veteran Chris Winn, a guy with several wins already this season? He’s a three-time master of the storied Superior Morgul Classic’s road race which concludes with a climb, albeit it longer than the approach in Deer Trail.
  • Fabio Calabria showed his strength and versatility during all three days of Superior Morgul. The wily Aussie also has experience riding in the wind in Europe.
  • And then the young Emerson Oronte deserved consideration. He’s fared well this year with fourth overall in the Joe Martin Stage Race and a criterium win in May.

With a disappointing start to the road season, Team Rio Grande would be hungry for a win.

  • Jim Peterman is a powerhouse, consistently strong in time trials with hills, and a man of enough watts to drill it up the Deer Trail’s rollers.
  • Nick Bax placed 5th at the same venue in 2013. Though the distance measured just 58 miles then, he knew the course. He’s raced internationally. In 2012 he won the Pennsylvania state road race championship, but wasn’t eligible to claim the title.

Natural Grocers

  • With his consistency and experience, Jon Tarkington just can never be counted out of any race. Ever.
  • And what about Ian Holt? He finds the top 3 several times a season.
Tom Zirbel's calf muscles are legendary

Tom Zirbel’s calf muscles are legendary

The favorite list wouldn’t be complete without Tom Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), a former national time trial champion powerful enough to single-handedly defend against any force of nature.

According to Calabria, who spoke after the Deer Trail winner had been decided, his guys didn’t start the day with a plan to support a particular rider.

“We just wanted to come here and race and the best way for us to do that is to be aggressive…I think the best form of defense is offense, so that’s the way we like to race.”

The team accomplished that mission from the opening moments of the 87 mile race, folding two riders into the early break, Mac Cassin and Kit Recca. Tarkington (Natural Grocers) and Matthew Gates (Rocky Mountain Cancer Center Masters Team) joined the Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels teammates.

Early break (l-r) Kit Recca, Matthew Gates, Mac Cassin, Jon Tarkington

Early break (l-r) Kit Recca, Matthew Gates, Mac Cassin, Jon Tarkington

By the time this foursome had gained an advantage of almost two minutes, the wind made things more interesting.

In a team meeting a few days earlier, the Rio Grande men had discussed how they might take advantage of the wind, Bax said. “But the forecast on the morning of the race said it wouldn’t be that strong (max speed of 8 mph) so I think most of the field didn’t really anticipate it.

“About an hour into the race, the wind shifted and somewhat unexpectedly got a lot stronger and my team immediately knew what to do which gave us a big advantage.”

Post-race Panache pow-wow

Post-race Panache pow-wow

Mid-way into the race the strongest riders peeled off the front with the early break nearly caught. Riders too fatigued to hang on splintered off the back into groups, pushed on alone, or pulled over to the roadside to watch the remainder of the contest.

The ten or so strong men included Calabria and Oronte with a third Horizon teammate, Andrew Clemence (Team Cycleton), Kevin Selker (Groove Subaru / Excel Sports), Michael Dessau (Hagens Berman), Zirbel, and Tarkington. Rio Grande didn’t miss this group; Bax and a teammate made the split.

At that point, according to Oronte, a plan emerged to help Calabria whom he had assessed as “definitely the fastest,” among the leaders.

“With less than one lap to go I told Fabio to sit on the group and conserve,” Oronte later explained, “in case he needed to follow moves later, and I would keep rolling through.”

As he told it, with 15 kilometers remaining Zirbel attacked. Calabria and Bax responded, forming a lead group of three. Giving it all he had to bring Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros Bagels the win, Oronte bridged up to the group and worked to keep Zirbel and Bax in check.

Emerson Oronte likes the classic cycling cap look

Emerson Oronte likes the classic cycling cap look

“While they did try a few times to get away, they couldn’t shake Fabio…” Oronte recalled.

Calabria said Zirbel “backed me out with one kilometer to go,” trying to distance him from his teammate and Bax.

So the Aussie attacked with about 700 meters to go. He bested Zirbel by a second for the victory, smiling broadly as he enjoyed his first win in what he estimated to be about two and a half years. Bax placed third.

As Bax approached the finish, he knew Zirbel wasn’t eligible for the state title and didn’t believe Calabria qualified either.

“As soon as we shook Emerson I knew I had it [the championship],” Bax said. “It was a bit of an anti-climactic finish because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to outsprint either of the guys I was with and I was disappointed I didn’t have the opportunity to post up on the finish line but nevertheless winning the state championship was really gratifying, not just for me but for the whole team.”

Saturday’s result was Bax’s first Colorado state championship. As a junior in Maryland, he estimates he earned about twenty state championships. Bax attended college and resumed “serious racing” in 2012.

“I can say for sure that the level of competition in Colorado is higher than on the East Coast,” Bax noted, “and I’m definitely really proud of this championship.”

Like the women’s elite winner and champion, Calabria and Bax both benefited from the self-sacrificing efforts of their teammates. They were quick to acknowledge that.

That evening Bax wrote on the team’s Facebook page, “I want to publicly thank all of my teammates for riding like bosses today. There’s no way I would’ve gotten the championship if they hadn’t laid it all out on the road for me.”

For Calabria’s part, he said, “It’s exciting. It’s always nice to come away with the win. We’re a local team, from Boulder, so it’s nice to show the team jersey coming across the line first and repay all the boys for helping me out earlier on in the race and bring it home for them.”

Of further note

Colby Lange, a junior from Edwards near Vail, won the men’s cat 4 race out of a field of fifty-six with thirty-three finishers. Lange’s road racing age is 15.

For full results see the Bicycle Association of Colorado website.

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

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

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