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Ben Berden (Raleigh-Clement) won a two-up battle with Tim Johnson (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com) at the 2013 Providence Cyclocross Festival.
The two were locked in mortal combat for much of the race, well ahead of a disintegrating chase, and while Johnson did everything he could to shed the Belgian — including launching his sprint in the drops before the two even reached the paved finish — it was Berden who proved the stronger of the two at the end, slipping around the American for the victory.
Savoring his victory, along with a bottle of beer, Berden said he thought he could win if only he could hold Johnson’s wheel.
“I knew if I could stay on Tim’s wheel I was fastest at the finish line,” Berden said.
As for Johnson, he knew what he was up against.
“I was trying to get rid of Ben as best I could,” said Johnson. “He’s a really skilled rider. Anytime you have a guy who’s better than you in sprinting you have to get rid of him.”
Raphael Gagne (Rocky Mountain Factory Racing) finished third.
Garrigan gasses it
Mike Garrigan (Van Dessel) took the hole shot and assumed the lead ahead of Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus) and Jeremy Durrin (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies).
Then the audacious McDonald slipped past Garrigan in a tight corner and simply rode away from everyone, quickly building a seven-second lead and riding a steep double-step section that set most of the men’s field afoot in the early going on the rolling, twisting circuit.
By the end of the first lap McDonald was holding firm to that seven-second advantage, riding the double barriers following the Smith Optics 180-degree turn and staying on the gas.
Berden, Durrin and Lukas Winterberg (Miller Landscape-BH) were leading the chase, with Johnson, Gagne and Evan McNeely (Norco Factory Team).
McDonald had more than doubled his advantage by the staircase and once again rode the double-step section. But the chase was slowly pulling him back in as they began the third lap.
Gagne, Berden and Durrin put a little daylight between themselves and the others while they chased McDonald. At the staircase the pursuit was just a few seconds down and closing.
Gagne goes it alone
Gagne, who finished just off the podium on day one, shed the others on the two-step climb and set out alone after the leader. But next time through the start-finish he was the one being caught, while McDonald drove on alone out front.
With six laps to go, eight men were chasing the leader, among them Ryan Trebon (Cannondale), but they were making no headway early in the lap with Winterberg on point.
McDonald had 10 seconds at the staircase and was showing no signs of quit as Berden took over the chase, with Johnson on his wheel. Then Winterberg crashed, disrupting the pursuit.
With five laps to go, Berden and Johnson — second and third on Saturday behind Jeremy Powers (Rapha-Focus), a non-starter on Sunday — had closed to within five seconds of McDonald by the start-finish. Trebon was leading a second chase just behind.
McDonald gets caught, goes down
The three front-runners were just a few bike lengths apart at the flyover, with the Trebon chase some eight seconds down. Then Berden caught McDonald and rode past him into the lead.
Johnson slipped by, too, leaving McDonald chasing in third. But the Cannondale rider dropped his chain on the two-step ascent and had to work it back on during while running, losing Berden’s wheel in the process. Behind, in the second chase, Durrin hit the deck.
With four laps to go, Berden had just three seconds on Johnson at the start-finish, with McDonald nowhere to be seen; turns out he, too, had laid it down. The second chase was now the first, and down to just five men —Gagne, Trebon, Winterberg, McNeely and Stephen Hyde (JAM Fund-NCC).
Johnson took the lead next, with Berden stuck to him like a decal and the chase 12 seconds down at the flyover. Berden was on point as they returned to the pavement and saw three laps to go, while the chase was more than 20 seconds down, having shed McNeely.
The two leaders exchanged places yet again, with Johnson leading across the flyover. Behind, the chase was down to three riders, Trebon having lost the wheel.
Both leaders rode the two-step section and Berden assumed the point once more. Gagne was in sole possession of third with Hyde fourth, the organized chase completely disintegrated.
Two laps to go: Berden and Johnson appeared to have an insurmountable lead over Gagne, who in turn was solidly in third place. Johnson kept accelerating, but couldn’t shed Berden, who marked his every move, biding his time.
Johnson kept putting in little digs, but none of them dislodged the Belgian. The two remained locked together going into bell lap, attacking and countering on the rise to the start-finish, but it was status quo as the two began their final go-round.
Berden stayed behind Johnson throughout the lap, matching his every effort, either waiting for him to make a mistake or betting on winning a two-up sprint.
And if he’d been a betting man, Berden would have won twice.