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Evol Racing’s Barker and Benesh win at Xilinx Cyclo-X

September 23, 2014
The Xilinx muddle

The Xilinx muddle

[updated 9/24/2014]

A rare feature made an appearance on a Colorado cyclocross course this past weekend: a muddle. The fifty foot long puddle, deep enough to build a wake the color of chocolate milk that lapped at wheel hubs, connected the upper and lower portions of Saturday’s Xilinx course in Longmont, Colorado northeast of Boulder. It started off small. Then an overflow of ditch water super-sized it.

The outsized muddy puddle was perhaps the only unexpected element in the women’s elite race at Xilinx. Melissa Barker (Evol Racing), one of the best local finishers in the UCI cyclocross races earlier this month in Boulder, grabbed the hole shot and except for a brief stretch led all the way to the end of the 45 minute race.

Chris Case crashes in the final lap at Xilinx

Chris Case crashes in the final lap at Xilinx

But for the men’s elite field, the muddle presaged surprises that affected the podium composition.

Riding strong as one of a select group of leaders, Boulder Cycle Sport’s Chris Case crashed hard on a descent in the final lap. The resulting shoulder injury sent him to the medical truck and removed one of the threats to Ken Benesh’s plan to win. Additionally, earlier in the first lap a dropped chain distanced Pete Webber (Boulder Cycle Sport) from the select group that would contest the win eventually claimed by Evol Racing’s Benesh.

By the end of both races layers of muddy water obliterated bib numbers on the riders’ backs and left a uniform paint job on every frame. But for these men and women used to dry tracks, the muddle was the welcome surprise of the day.

Race action – women

Barker and teammate Kristen Legan led by five seconds as they entered the muddle after swinging through the upper part of the course. Then Barker lost her line. She dabbed and Legan passed in the high water. They rode together through straightaways, turns, and dips in the field on the lower section of the course. After a set of barriers the circuit continued on pavement through the finish area and up to higher ground.

Kristen Legan passes Melissa Barker in lap one

Kristen Legan passes Melissa Barker in lap one

“I went in front of her [Legan] to let her draft off of me,” Barker said, “and then we got a little separated in the back.” From a bit of forest at the top of the course through the fifth and last lap Barker maintained her lead.

Meanwhile another Evol Racing rider Jess Case, caught and passed Margell Abel (Natural Grocers) and then Legan. Jess Case finished second, 23 seconds after Barker and seven seconds ahead of teammate Legan who make it a podium sweep for the Evol Racing team.

“It’s very exciting,” Barker said about her victory. “I feel great. It was a good course.

“The mud bath was actually really fun and challenging. You didn’t know if your tire was going to drop out or anything. You just had to go with it. It actually cooled me off a little bit; it was kind of nice.”

When Barker had charged into the muddle on lap one, a junior spectator commented about how it’s hard for her to find time to train because of her devotion to teaching juniors at the Dawson School. Barker coaches them on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and most Fridays.

“It’s challenging to train and coach them,” Barker commented. “But when I get to work with the fast kids, I get some good training in.”

With their podium sweep the Evol ladies are on target to again capture the Colorado BAT, Best All-around Team in the Colorado Cross Cup set of races over the season.

The men also won that competition last year and it’s their goal to repeat as well.

Triumphant trio (l-r): Jess Case, Kristen Legan, and Melissa Barker

Triumphant trio (l-r): Jess Case, Kristen Legan, and Melissa Barker

Race action – men

A group of six containing the eventual winner formed early in lap 1. It included Benesh, Taylor Carrington (Turin), Steven Stefko (First City Cycling), and Boulder Cycle Sport’s Brandon Dwight, Johs Huseby, and Chris Case. In the second lap Huseby dropped off.

The remaining five seemed pretty evenly matched on a course that, according to Benesh, made it difficult for any one of them to hold a gap once off the front, though some tried.

“Anywhere you have really long straights it tends to be relatively easy to bridge back up to a group or to an individual if they go off, and people will work for that,” he explained. “So I think we all kind of knew that and there was a couple of times where we had 60 – 100 foot [gaps] but we were able to bring someone back or they were able to bring me back.”

Behind them Webber moved up steadily after remedying a dropped chain. Grant Holicky (Evol Racing), Sam Weinberg (riding in tee shirt and street shorts), Huseby, and Danny Whipple chased individually for the most part as the next best riders in the field.

Benesh, who claimed his first elite win late last season, launched his plan at the top of the course in the last lap when he moved into first position in the lead group.

“I knew that I wanted to be first through the mud on the last lap because even when we were going hard through the lower section I felt like I had a fair amount of gas to spare,” he said. “So I knew I wanted to be first through that and then just kind of on it.”

Ken Benesh wins Xilinx ahead of Brandon Dwight

Ken Benesh wins Xilinx ahead of Brandon Dwight

As Benesh flew down the descent that funneled into the mud puddle Case began to set up for a bid to win too. Next to last in the group of five, he tried to pass Carrington by taking a line through the grass. His front wheel ditched in a hidden hole. He dropped hard to the ground and rolled under the course tape, taking a minute to recover before remounting his bike.

Down in the field Benesh’s plan worked. He won ahead of Dwight who finished a close second. Carrington pulled up alongside Stefko to fight for third. The pair finished on the same time with Stefko prevailing in the sprint. Webber came in about two minutes later for fifth, over a minute in advance of the next man across the line.

After the podium Benesh downplayed his result. “It’s good, I didn’t race mountain all summer so I’m a little surprised it came this early on but we’re missing a lot of strong guys here today.”

And regarding double wins for his team, he said, “The women’s team is looking almost unbeatable this year. And we [the men] are going to be going hard against Boulder Cycle Sport for the best team. It’s going to be a tough one though.”

Case now nurses a broken scapula. But with his teammates looking strong they’ll undoubtedly mount a strong fight for the BAT title through the rest of the season.

Find full results from Xilinx with lap times on MyRaceResult.com. Xilinx was the first of seven races in the Cyclo X series which continues with the Flatirons Mall event on September 28.

Ken Benesh called to podium

Ken Benesh called to podium. Steven Stefko hosed off the front of his skin suit minutes before.

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