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Wicked Winds Can’t Steal Valmont Victory from Gage Hecht

October 15, 2017

Grant Ellwood second, Eric Brunner third in U23 UCI race

Gage Hecht wins US Open of Cyclocross 2017, day 1

Saturday’s US Open of Cyclocross course used almost every inch of the Valmont Bike Park hillside in Boulder, Colorado. It wound up and down and up again and west and east then west again. As gusts flung dust about and stretched course tape into scallops, the west winds magnified the rollercoaster effect, alternately pushing and holding back riders.

It was enough to transform even the strongest athletes into boats tossed on a roiling sea.

After the race, Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle Co/Groove Subaru) admitted to feeling queasy. “I’d come around and change direction, and whoa, my stomach would feel a little weak,” he said.

Gage Hecht solos up the 5280 stairs

Laurel Rathbun (Donnelly Pro Team), who competed as a U23 in the elite women’s race, threw up during lap two.

Laurel Rathbun’s holeshot in the elite women’s race

Maxx Chance (EVOL Racing) said the wind blew him off his bike at the top of the “corkscrew” feature, a set of banked turns beginning at the highest point on course. The current U23 national champion, Lance Haidet (Donnelly Pro Team), might have seen that happen.

Haidet agreed it was just about the craziest wind he’d ever raced in. “Some of the slow corners going into the corkscrew, it was like you were literally getting blown into the air it was so windy,” he said after the finish. “But it made for some interesting racing, for sure.”

The U23 field circles the west end of Valmont to begin lap 1. Note wind socket in upper left of frame.

After Grant Ellwood (Boulder Cycle Sport) nabbed the holeshot, Chance launched into the same aggressive style of racing that set the tone for this year’s national championships in Hartford.

Maxx Chance in the the corkscrew at Valmont

Then, according to Ellwood, about two laps in Chance went down. The mishap delayed Ellwood, Denzel Stephenson (EVOL Racing) and others. That was about the time Hecht attacked.

Chance regrouped and with teammate Eric Brunner and Ellwood led the chase after Hecht. Just before mid-race Chance was dropped, possibly due to another fall. Haidet rode fifth on course.

Eric Brunner enjoying pre-race warm-up

Ellwood managed to distance Brunner but couldn’t catch Hecht who came away with the win, his first UCI U23 victory of the season. The wind, however, raised the challenge.

“I kept seeing Grant [Ellwood] close down on me and it felt like every section I hit where I could somewhat put power down it would be a huge headwind or some nasty crosswind in a technical section,” Hecht recounted post-race. “I just felt he was constantly putting time into me. I was running scared the entire last lap. It was good.”

Grant Ellwood leans into the wind on his way to second place

It was a tough day for Haidet who’s been having an impressive ‘cross season thus far, winning his first UCI men’s elite race earlier this month at West Sacramento Cyclocross Grand Prix.

“Not coming from altitude and not preparing for it at all, when Gage [Hecht] went hard I tried to go and I think went a bit too hard and had to recover for two or three laps,” Haidet said. “At the end I felt like I was coming back a little bit. But I lost so much time in laps two and three and four that it was just hard to bring him [Hecht] back.”

Current U23 US champion Lance Haidet recovering from earlier efforts

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