FORT COLLINS, Colo. (VN) _ National champion Tim Johnson crushed the competition in Colorado on Sunday, riding alone to victory in day 2 of the New Belgium Cup.
Johnson’s Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com teammate Jeremy Powers got the hole shot, but Ryan Trebon (Kona-FSA) soon took the front and led the way up and over the flyover in Fort Collins, looking very much like the man of the hour.
The men’s field was lined out straight away, and Powers snatched the lead back, putting Trebon into a Cannondale grinder with U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross series leader Johnson on his wheel. Also there were Todd Wells (Specialized) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain), winner of Saturday’s opener.
“If I can get through the first lap where I’m still close and still see what’s going on, I know there are still 55 minutes to go and anything can happen,” said Johnson. “I was pretty worried. (Trebon’s) got this strength that comes out where if he hits the gas, he keeps going and going.”
Once through the start-finish and up the railroad-tie run-up Trebon drilled it, taking a small gap. Johnson, in the series leader’s jersey, went after him, followed by Wells. But the Specialized rider couldn’t match the two front-runners and fell off the pace.
Trebon had a lead of perhaps three seconds over Johnson at the barriers, and it was already getting to be a long ways back to the chase. Not even two laps into the day’s work and this was looking like a two-man race. The leaders took huge risks descending the wide switchbacks through the center of the venue.
“If you’re trying to win, you’re trying to get a gap and keep a gap, you may as well risk it,” said Johnson. “Each race is only one day and if you can put it together, you build on that confidence.”
Johnson got around the big Kona rider and set about building a gap of his own. He didn’t keep it — but he and Trebon did take 15 seconds on the Wells-led chase with seven laps to go.
It was quite a battle while it lasted. Johnson had the edge where handling and finesse were at a premium while Trebon held the cards on the power sections. Meanwhile, Powers and Wells were riding the run-up and bunny-hopping the barriers, but their display of skills wasn’t getting them any closer to the front-runners.
Then suddenly Johnson was all alone after Trebon became entangled in course tape on a tight, off-camber 180-degree corner leading to the pits. In a flash, Trebon was 21 seconds down and looking grim with six laps to go.
“I heard him hit the ground and we were going by the pits right after that and (my pit crew) were yelling, ‘He’s on the ground! He’s on the ground!’” said Johnson. “I tried to put together as fast a lap as I could after that.”
The Wells-Powers tandem closed in on Trebon for half a lap before riding past him atop the run-up. Kabush passed the Kona rider, too, putting Trebon into fifth and beginning a free fall down the leaderboard for Saturday’s third-place finisher.
“I couldn’t overcome some issues I was having and shit happens,” said Trebon, whose face hung over his bars, bearing dejection midway through the race. “I had some small mechanicals. It wasn’t anything big, but I just couldn’t get over it. It happens.”
“He was just yelling. He was out of it and upset. You could immediately tell that he was having a moment like I had yesterday, like we’ve all had,” said Powers of Trebon’s misfortune. “It’s hard to keep your head in the game when you’ve had really good legs and you want this opportunity and you’re in good position.”
With five laps to go Johnson had 24 seconds on Powers and Wells, who were battling for that runner-up spot. A lap later the Cannondale rider had extended his advantage by 10 seconds, looking smooth and speedy, and Kabush was trying to claw his way up to the two chasers.
“I felt just as smooth today, but with a little bit more pedaling, I didn’t have the snap to go with Tim,” said Kabush.
Johnson, meanwhile, was focused on getting it right.
“I tried to not make mistakes,” said Johnson. “A flat tire or ending up in the course tape can eat up a 20-second lead.”
A mistake can also end a race — as it did for Wells. With three laps remaining, he botched a bunny-hop at the barriers and took a hard fall, injuring his left leg. The former U.S. ’cross champion was slow to get up and rode just 30 feet before pulling off the course. The spill knocked him out of the race — he would be carried off on a stretcher —and set up what was looking like another one-two Cannondale finish. Kabush was dangling some 10 seconds back in third.
“(Wells) was on my wheel. I had to give it some gas to get over the second barrier,” said Powers of the crash. “He’s seriously one of my most favorite athletes. I look up to him a lot and I love Todd, so the first place I’m going to go after this is to the hospital to make sure he’s all right.”
Up front, with two laps to go, Johnson seemed untouchable, nearly a half-minute ahead of his teammate and keeping the throttle wide open. At the barriers he had 40 seconds on Powers, who in turn held a 13-second edge on Kabush, and the bell lap saw the top three unchanged.
Johnson had plenty of time to high-five the spectators en route to winning. Powers followed a half-minute later for second and Kabush clinched third at a minute down.
“I was actually pretty okay with yesterday because I wasn’t expecting much,” said Johnson. “Today I just tried to have a great race and put it all together. Sometimes you can actually do it and it’s great, but you can’t count on it.
“I can’t be any happier than I am to be able to win. It’s just awesome. I was just happy to have a good race the whole time and not feel underpowered.”
As emergency staff wheeled Wells from the venue, he said he wasn’t certain how badly he’d been injured. “Something’s not right in the thigh, quad area. I don’t know if it’s just a bad bruise or what.” The good news is that the U.S. mountain bike cross-country champion posted to Twitter later in the evening that he had not suffered a fracture.
- As emergency staff wheeled Wells from the venue, he said he wasn’t certain how badly he’d been injured. “Something’s not right in the thigh, quad area,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s just a bad bruise or what.” The good news is that the U.S. mountain bike cross-country champion posted to Twitter later in the evening that he had not broken any bones.
Editor’s Note: Brian Holcombe is a reporter with VeloNews. He covers all things racing in the U.S. and has been accused of attacking too much on the VN lunch ride.