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With a brand new copy of Saturn’s new SUV going to the winner, the prize list at Colorado’s Saturn Cycling Classic isn’t exactly the prize list you’d see at your typical office park criterium. Of course, the rather atypical course — 140 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing — meant you’d have to work to even get a peek at that prize list.
In this, the second edition of a bike race that sprang from the twisted and somewhat sadistic mind of organizer Len Pettyjohn, a new sponsor had joined the effort and upped the stakes. Jonathan Vaughters, recently back from a disappointing early end to his third try at the Tour de France, felt no frustration Saturday as he edged out Mercury’s Chris Horner after the two escaped from a group of five on the approach to the day’s seventh major climb. On break from his European schedule, the Crédit Agricole rider was competing as a member of a local squad sponsored by a favorite cyclist’s hangout, the HandleBar and Grill.
“I talked to (Crédit Agricole director) Roger Legeay about it,” Vaughters joked. “It’s not a UCI race and he said as long as no one saw me, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
But this day, invisibility wasn’t an option for him. It was clearly a day that suited the talents of Vaughters, a man who established the course record on the slopes of the infamous Mount Ventoux during the 1999 Dauphine: climbing, climbing and a bit more climbing. But after all that climbing and a long descent into the resort town of Breckinridge. The two entered the ski town together and faced a single lap on a criterium circuit that had seen use throughout the day in a women’s race and a series of Category 3 and 4 men’s events. A day of climbing and it came down to a crit’ finish… of sorts.
“Chris was really tired. He is the better sprinter for sure. Nineteen times out of 20 he would beat me,” said Vaughters.
“I didn’t have anything left,” Horner said. “I knew Jon would have more for the end.”
Mercury’s Chris Wherry, rounded out the third podium spot when three-and-a-half minutes after the two leaders crossed the line, he edged out Saturn’s Michael Barry to take third.
Beginning in Boulder, the riders hit the day’s first climb, a long Category 2 up to Wondervu and on to the Category 3 climb up the Peak-to-Peak highway before dropping down in to the gambling town of Black Hawk for a sprint that landed Navigator’s Kirk O’Bee a $5000 paycheck. Through the neighboring gambling town of Central City and up another steep Cat. 2 climb, the course then dropped down a steep, unpaved descent aptly named Oh My God road. And all that was just the appetizer.
Throughout a steady climb from Idaho Springs to Georgetown, early breaks by Saturn, Mercury and Tecos Turbo team members were chased and absorbed by the peloton before the day’s big effort began on the slopes of Guanella Pass, a steep hors categorie, climb that switchback its way over rough pavement and then dirt to the high point at 11,671 feet.
“The majority of the team work is done leading up to Guanella,” defending champion Scott Moninger said before the race. “From that point on, it’s every man for himself.” Horner was one of the first to reach the base of the brutal climb. Chasing after an early breakaway effort by Trek-VW’s Jeff Hartmann, he eventually moved to the front and led the race up the pass, crested first, about 1:40 ahead of Vaughters, 1:50 ahead of Navigator’s Burke Swindlehurst and 2:10 ahead of Wherry. Moninger crossed 3:05, apparently exhausted from the effort of trying to stay with Vaughters on the climb.
Beginning about six miles into the 11-mile climb, the road up Guanella switches to dirt – the residents refuse to have it paved knowing the traffic it would then draw. The climb is rough, but the descent is so bad that a number of riders took a cue from Moninger’s win last year and switched to mountain bikes at the top for a smoother ride to the bottom.
Wherry was in the chase, but flatted on the way down and forced to wait for neutral support and a replacement wheel.
Soon after the descent Horner, off by himself, waited for the next few riders to join up. He still had 90 miles to go, after all. A small group – Horner, Vaughters, Barry and Swindlehurst – formed and stayed together over Kenosha Pass. Behind them, Wherry and teammate Floyd Landis chased before, Landis faded back and Wherry made the final push to join the four leaders. Wherry joined up just as the foursome worked their way over Red Hill pass and settled in for for the long, wind-blown stretch of highway to Fairplay. In Fairplay, with just Hoosier Pass ahead, Vaughters made his move, accelerating on a small climb. It was enough to leave three of his companions behind. Only Horner stayed with him.
“When you get in a small group like that with multiple teams the dynamic is bizarre,” Vaughters said. “I just went.”
The other three fought amongst themselves, eventually dropping Swindlehurst, but gaining no time on the two men in front. Indeed, when the two leaders reached the summit of Hoosier, the gap was more than three minutes.
“I knew that if I worked with Vaughters up front and we had Wherry in the back I was guaranteed a podium spot,” Horner said. “This is the hardest one-day race. It’s just a bunch of suffering. I never felt good all day, but that’s how altitude affects you – you never feel good. I just figured I needed to keep going.”
Horner said he “was spent,” however when the pair reached Breckenridge and Vaughters’ acceleration on a small climb on the finishing circuit was all it took.
Live Updates from the road
Breckenridge: And your winner is …Jonathan Vaughters. Horner said afterwards that he was hurting, and hoping that Vaughters would take it easy on Hoosier Pass. The two crested and descended together, but there was a bit of a hill on the finishing circuit in Breckenridge, and that’s whereVaughters punched it.
“The better man won,” conceded Horner. Mercury man Chris Wherrycrossed for third over Saturn’s Michael Barry, in highly unofficial results shoutedvia cell phone as VeloNews technical editor Charles Pelkey tried to flagdown the winner for a post-race chat.
Mile 130: Our two leaders remain together on the tricky descent …we’re about 10 miles from the finish.
4:04 p.m.: The two leaders are still together 1km from the summit ofHoosier Pass … looks like Vaughters and Horner will crest together,then begin the hairpinned descents toward Breckenridge and the finishline. Who do you suppose is the better descender?
Mile 123: Looks like the race is boiling down to Vaughters and Horner as11,541-foot Hoosier Pass looms dead ahead. The lead duo has 2:30 on theBarry bunch, 4:30 on Landis and 6:00 on the Zarate group. Meanwhile,race radio advises that it’s raining up there … so we may havesomething of a repeat of last year’s chilly, thrilly slip-and-slide intoBreckenridge.
120 miles: Vaughters and Horner have 30 seconds on their erstwhilebreakaway companions, who are vigorously beating up on each other.Landis is gutting it out at 2:18. The main chase group with Zarate & Co.remains about 5:30 off the pace. We’re moving on past Alma towardHoosier Pass.
Mile 115: At about 3:30 p.m., Turning onto Colorado Highway 9 atFairplay, home of the World Championship Pack-Burro Race up and down Mosquito Pass, Horner and Vaughters are beginning the climb up Hoosier Pass together, about 25 seconds off the front of what had been the leading group. Landis is at 2 minutes, all by his lonesome but still plugging away. The main chase group is at 5:30-6 minutes. Weather remains much better than last year — cloudy and cool, but nowhere nearas bad as last year. Plenty of civilian traffic, typical of a Coloradoweekend — less so is a little parade of Model T’s from the Alaska ModelT Club.
112 miles: If it’s 3:10 p.m., then this must be Red Hill Pass, acategory 4 climb. Wherry has caught back on, just in time for a seriesof attacks from Vaughters. Landis is at 1:30, with the main chase about7 minutes back.
Mile 107: Heading into South Park under cloudy skies, we have a group of four off the front: Jonathan Vaughters (Credit Agricole), Chris Horner (Mercury), Michael Barry (Saturn) and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators). Vaughters is clearly the strongman in the lead bunch. Chris Wherry (Mercury) is at 40 seconds and trying to bridge, while teammate Floyd Landis is slipping back, at about a minute. Six minutes off the leaders is a group containing Jesus Zarate (Tecos Turbo), Walker Ferguson, Carl Swenson and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Tokyo Joe’s), Soren Peterson (Saturn), and Danny Pate (Prime Alliance).
Mile 65: Hartman has been caught, and Mercury’s Chris Horner is on the attack on the road to Guanella Pass. Horner is alone at the front, with Johnson and Landis chasing at 30 seconds.
Mile 60: A chase group of eight has bridged up nearing Georgetown and the approach of the 11,671-foot Guanella Pass. Jeff Hartman (Trek-VW) is alone off the front, but not far behind him is a strong mix of Mercury and Saturn riders. Joining that group, now about 2 minutes ahead of the struggling main field (down to about 30 riders), are the following newcomers: Chris Horner and Floyd Landis of Mercury, Tim Johnson, Trent Klasna and Soren Petersen of Saturn, Clark Sheehan of 7UP-Colorado Cyclist and Mexican Lorenzio Ramos of Tecos Turbo. The 3500-foot climb, mostly above treeline, to Guanella Pass, is rated hors categorie , or ridiculously steep. Defending champion Scott Moninger and race favorite Jonathan Vaughters are in the main group.
Mile 45: Zajicek and Sanchez surged at the top of “Oh My God” road and took a 15-second advantage at the start of the wicked gravel descent, which drops 2000 feet in eight miles. At the end of the perilous and appropriately named switch-backed descent (no guardrails here), is the town of Idaho Springs. There, the riders will begin a steady climb to Georgetown, where the real doozy — the road to Guanella Pass — begins. Most teams are equipped with mountain bikes for the crazy descent off the 11,671-foot dirt-road peak. Mercury, the team of defending champion Scott Moninger, has four fat-tire machines on the roof of its team car. Mile 40: Kirk O’Bee (Navigators) won the first available sprint points in Central City. Harm Jansen (Navigators) was second, followed by Phil Zajicek (Mercury). After the 1300-foot descent from Golden Gate Road, clouds began to roll in, and a slight sprinkle of rain was felt.
Mile 30: The lead group of seven has a lead of 7:20 over the main field. Wojciechowski, dropped from the breakaway on the Cat. 3 climb to Golden Gate, is 3:10 behind the leaders.
Start: The Saturn Cycling Classic, a downright brutal 140-mile Colorado race between Boulder and Breckenridge, is underway. One hour into the race, which is expected to take more tha seven hours for even the strongest riders, a group of seven was five minutes up the road.
Phil Zajicek (Mercury-Viatel), Harm Jansen (Saturn), Kirk O’Bee (Navigators), Doug Ziewacz (7UP-Colorado Cyclist), Juan Sanchez (Tecos Turbo), Jeff Hartman (Trek-VW) and Nathan Busch (Rio Grande-Monsoon) made the early move on the climb to Wondervu, the first of seven major climbs on the day.
Derek Wojciechowski (Handlebar & Grill) was with the group on the first climb, but was dropped before the second climb to Golden Gate Road and is chasing at 3 minutes back at mile 20.
Sanchez took the first KOM at Wondervu.
1. Jonathon Vaughters, Handle Bar & Grill, 140 miles in 6:50:58;
2. Chris Horner, Mercury, at 0:03;
3. Chris Wherry, Mercury, at 2:36;
4. Michael Barry, Saturn, at 2:36;
5. Burke Swindlehurst, Navigators, at 3:57;
6. Floyd Landis, Mercury, at 9:02;
7. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance, at 11:40;
8. Soren Peterson (Dk), Saturn, at 12:42;
9. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Tokyo Joe’s, s.t.;
10. Carl Swensen, Tokyo Joe’s, at 12:46;
11. Walker Ferguson, Tokyo Joe’s, at 14:55;
12. Jesus Zarate (Mex), Tecos Turbo, at 15:47;
13. Trent Klasna, Saturn, at 17:37;
14. Kirk O’Bee Navigators, at 17:37;
15. Brendon Vesty (NZ), at 17:37;
16. Scott Moninger, Mercury, at 17:37;
17. Travis Brown, Trek-VW, at 19:02;
18. Lam Arquimides (Mex), Tecos Turbo, at 19:02;
19. Skyler Reeves, Vitamin Cottage, at 20:39;
20. Florencio Ramos (Mex), Tecos Turbo, at 20:41.
117 starters, 20 finishers