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Junior Gage Hecht wins elite Colorado state cyclocross championship

December 16, 2014
Gage Hecht wins the elite race at 2014 Colorado state cyclocross championships in Castle Rock

Gage Hecht wins the elite race at 2014 Colorado state cyclocross championships in Castle Rock

Snow and sleet continued to fall outside the team tent where Gage Hecht sat with a steaming hot towel draped over his feet. He’d just pulled off a major upset in cycling but what he needed most now was a pair of sponsor-appropriate socks. After all, the 16 year-old couldn’t raise his arms on the top step of the podium without the right footwear.

It wouldn’t be pro, and that’s the way he had just raced his bike.

Allen Krughoff dug in to make up for a first lap flat

Allen Krughoff dug in to make up for a first lap flat

Hecht, who competes on the Alpha Bicycle Co. team, had just earned the elite Colorado state cyclocross championship in a field that included riders who race across the US and in Europe, such as Allen Krughoff (Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team), Jake Wells (Stan’s NoTubes) and Brady Kappius (Clif Bar), as well as super-strong local men like Spencer Powlison (Evol Racing) and Chris Baddick (Boulder Cycle Sport).

The Alpha Bicycle Co. rider may be the youngest winner ever in the men’s elite category of the Colorado cyclocross championship. Three years ago Yannick Eckmann won at age 18. According to Kappius, Danny Summerhill took the title at age 19 and Alex Coelho won as a young man although older than 16 at the time.

Race action

Early in the first lap about ten or so riders slipped ahead of Hecht on the paved uphill start. Baddick took the hole shot, followed by Tim Allen (Feedback Sports), Wells, and Kappius.

Elite men's field 15 seconds to start

Elite men’s field 15 seconds to start

In a characteristic move Allen attempted to peel off the front, but Kappius and Wells kept him company and they quickly established a small gap. Hecht joined them in the second lap. Next on course were Baddick, Boulder Cycle Sport’s U23 rider Grant Ellwood and Shawn Milne, Krughoff, Steven Stefko (First City Cycling), and Powlison.

The lead group blew apart during the next couple of laps around the circuit. Allen sustained an injury near the highest point on the west side of the course that caused him to abandon the race. Wells slid out in a corner and lost time resetting his chain.

While they suffered Hecht bent low over the bike and shot off the front into the relentless north wind. It was half-way through the sixty minute slither over a narrow trail that resembled pulverized Oreo cookies bordered by accumulating snow. Transitions from dirt to pavement had become glacial.

Allen Krughoff chases down Brady Kappius and Gage Hecht

Allen Krughoff chases down Brady Kappius and Gage Hecht

Kappius strived to match the young man’s pace but soon lost ten seconds. Krughoff closed in and passed him on his way to catch Hecht; the Noosa rider had made up a lot of ground since flatting in the first lap.

Meanwhile, Stefko had snuck up in position and now threatened Kappius’ third place. Powlison would get the better of Wells and several others and advance to fifth place as the race wound down.

According to one spectator, over the remaining laps Hecht gained time on Krughoff on the east side of the course where a steady ascent carried riders through a mud pit, tight as well as sweeping turns, and a set of three barriers before returning to the finishing straight.

“I heard I was getting some time on him in the mud puddle, so maybe I found a better line down there,” Hecht said after the race. “But I think it was just maintaining balance the entire course and making the least mistakes that kept me alive in that race.”

Cassidy Bailey through the middle

Cassidy Bailey through the middle

Balance especially came into play on the wicked, slick off-camber descent on the course’s southwest side. While the elite women generally took advantage of the thick pole at the apex of highest turn, fewer men used it during the single speed race earlier that day.

Hecht chose his approach based on how steady he felt coming into the U-turn. “It depended on however my balance was feeling. Most of the time I was kind of off on that descent, so I got off and ran just because I knew I wasn’t safe riding it.”

After thirty minutes in the fading light alone, Hecht won with a cushion of twenty seconds over Krughoff. Like Meredith Miller (Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team) in the women’s elite race one hour before, he had bested the reigning state champion. In 2013 Krughoff beat Hecht by twenty-one seconds for the win.

“I’m ecstatic about it, it’s awesome,” the junior said about turning the tables this year. “I don’t know what to say, I’m just so excited.” The day before he won the junior 17 – 18 state title.

The next finishers rolled in clenching fists for joy or bowed over the handlebars, depleted from the effort in the cold. Almost a minute after Krughoff finished, Stefko claimed third. Kappius finished fourth. Powlison got fifth, shadowed by Milne.

Off to Europe again

Some had predicted Hecht’s victory. He’d won a local elite race the week before as well as another in frigid mid-November conditions and had recently returned from a cyclocross trip to Europe with USA Cycling where he won the junior’s race affiliated with the World Cup event in in Koksijde, Belgium. USAC’s story about his success, which is rare for an American junior in Europe, mentioned he’d “beat out three Belgian favorites for the win.”

This week the Parker, Colorado resident returns to Europe for another block of competition. He’ll likely face the same Belgians at his first race, the World Cup event at Namur. Unlike Koksijde, the juniors’ contest at Namur carries World Cup status.

“I’m extremely excited going into Europe,” Hecht said. “Just coming off of this it’s going to be a great pleasure to know where I am compared just to Colorado. Then to move on to Europe, to keep trying to get results over there, it would be great.”

Slippery corners demanded lots of ruddering. Jake Wells demonstrates.

Slippery corners demanded lots of ruddering. Jake Wells demonstrates.

Wells, who placed ninth in the end with his hopes for a podium finish dashed in that corner, shared his thoughts about Hecht after the race.

“He’s impressive. I got to spend a little bit of time with him in the [Vail] valley doing some riding. He’s a great kid. He’s been working hard to get to this point. If you watch him race on the road you know he’s got good fitness and today shows he’s got great handling skills as well. So he’s the real deal. He’s the future of Colorado if not U.S. cyclocross.”

Hecht will also compete in Austin, Texas at the U.S. national cyclocross championships in early January in the 17 – 18 category. He first raced nationals at age nine and placed second. Subsequently at ‘cross nationals he’s won another silver and four gold medals. Hecht is also a multiple-time track, time trial, criterium, and road national champion.

Video: race scenes and elite podium presentation

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