By Caley Fretz
The teams of the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference headed west across the Continental Divide for the first time this season, squaring off at Mesa State’s Mad Cow Classic road race, criterium and individual hill climb.
Saturday morning saw the first of three events, a hill climb up the Colorado National Monument that took riders up over 1,000 feet and through two rock tunnels. Josh Yeaton and Natalie Koch, both of the University of Colorado, won the men’s and women’s A categories. Nate Byrom of Fort Lewis College and Sylvia Moelk took victory in men’s and women’s B, and Joe Munchak of Colorado State won the men’s C event by over a minute.
After only a few hour’s rest, racers made their way to the Grand Junction Motor Speedway. The course proved to be one of the most technical encountered yet this year, punishing those riders lacking skill or confidence in the corners.
Early attacks from the University of Colorado and Fort Lewis disintegrated the men’s C field. Halfway through the 30-minute race a group of eight established itself at the front, with the stragglers strung out in small groups. A fast pack finish resulted in John Demos of CU taking the win ahead of FLC’s Garrett Alexander and Travis Chapman.
The technical course did damage to the women’s B field as well. Nearly half of the starters were quickly spit off the back, leaving just six women contesting for the win. Fort Lewis College’s mountain bike phenom Sage Wilderman proved unstoppable, yanking the field around for much of the race and taking the win with apparent ease. Heather Fischer and Clare Bensard, both of CU, took second and third.
In comparison to the C’s and women’s B’s before them, the men’s B field remained relatively sedate throughout much of its 45-minute race. A few half-hearted efforts to get off the front early were all quickly brought back into the fold. The boldest move of the day came from the University of Wyoming’s Adam Looney, who took a flyer with eight laps to go and dangled tantalizingly close to the peloton until his capture with less than a lap remaining. Colorado State University’s Luke Harris led out the final sprint, but was surpassed by Nate Byrom of Fort Lewis, who took the win. Looney held on to take third.
The women’s A field served as a battleground for the two dominant schools, CU and FLC. After a constant onslaught of attacks in the first 20 minutes, FLC’s Megan Long finally put some daylight between herself and a fatigued main field. With her teammates behind shutting down the chase effort, Long stayed away to the finish. Missy Erickson of Fort Lewis won the sprint for second, with CSU’s Brenna Wozniak in third.
The men’s A twilight crit began at sunset. A slightly shortened course and collection of high-powered lights to keep riders safe as the light quickly faded. Mesa State’s German strongman, Richard Geng, made the first move just a few laps into the race, with CSU’s Caley Fretz, CU’s Jesse Goodrich and Joe Lewis of the University of Denver bridging up shortly thereafter. Lewis fell off the pace as the remaining trio built up its lead to nearly 40 seconds by the half-way mark. Fretz led into the final tight corners, holding off Geng for the win. Goodrich rounded out the podium in third.
Sunday’s road race, touted as one of the toughest of the season, sent riders over a series of steep climbs followed by grueling false flats and proved to be highly selective in every category. The men’s C field started slowly but hit the second climb with gusto, quickly whittling down to only ten riders. An attack by Saturday’s hill climb winner, Munchak of CSU, proved fatal to the rest of the field as he built up an insurmountable lead over the final climb and descent back to the finish. Behind, FLC’s Alexander and CU’s Demos fought for second and third from a fragmented field.
The women’s B field came to a similar fate as three riders made their way off the front on the first climb of the day, and were never seen again. Bensard of CU took the win from her breakaway companions, with Silvia Moelk of Mesa State in second and FLC’s Wilderman in third.
The men’s B field made it over the first major climb largely en masse, but some punchy attacks on the second steep climb of the day sent a group of seven free of the rest of the field. Led by CSU’s Jacob Koonsman, the main field chased hard on the last lap and caught all but four of the lead riders, who managed to stay away until the finish. FLC’s Nate Byrom took the win ahead of Will Buick and Tyler Nabours, both of CU.
The small women’s A field blew up on the first climbs of the day, sending Natalie Koch of CU and Sarah Sturm of Fort Lewis off the front with a collection of individuals and pairs chasing behind. Koch took the win with Sturm in second and Nora Olson of CU in third.
An early break, barely five minutes into the men’s A race, contained just the right mix of teams and quickly grew its gap to over four minutes. Bad luck befell two of the riders up the road, Mesa State’s Patric Rostel and Connor Mullervy cramped and flatted, but CSU’s Stevie Cullinan and FLC’s Ian Burnett trudged on. The two stayed away and Cullinan took the sprint for his first collegiate victory. Burnett, recently signed to the Bahati Foundation pro cycling team, had to settle for second. Behind, a daring attack from CSU’s Adam Wisseman proved successful, and he rolled in for third.
Caley Fretz is a student at Colorado State University, where he is president of the cycling team and races Category 1/A.