Fall Classic gives Gunnison pro his first win
BRECKENRIDGE – Gunnison’s Brian Smith came into Saturday’s Fall Classic cross country mountain bike race unaware that he had even a remote chance of winning the overall title in the two-day stage race.”I knew if I had a good day I was racing for second,” said Smith, who came into the third and final stage of the competition in third place overall. He was more than a minute behind overall leader and reigning Firecracker 50 champion Travis Brown and 40 seconds behind his close friend Ariel Lindsley of Boulder. Though he knew he and Lindsley would have a close race, Smith expected Brown to run away with the day. But early on, Lindsley had different designs, and set a blistering pace through the first 10 miles of the 26-mile race. Smith did everything he could to keep up, and to the surprise of Smith and Lindsley, it was Brown who couldn’t handle it. Dropping behind the two up-and-coming professionals, Brown pulled into the first aid station and withdrew. That left the race wide open for Smith and Lindsley, and the two spent the next hour and a half duking it out. Smith proved to be the champion, as deep into the course he overtook Lindsley on the long, brutal climb up Heinous Hill, which is well known to local racers as part of the A Racer’s Edge Summit Mountain Challenge Gold Run Rush held in July. “He took a minute out of me on that climb,” Lindsley said.
Smith finished the course -which featured more than 5,000 feet of climbing – in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 27.0 seconds, 1:10 ahead of Ariel, 25 seconds more than he needed to take the overall victory. Smith’s combined time for all three events was 3:22:58.2.The win represents a personal best for the pro, who previously had not finished better than fifth in off-road cycling competitions.Both Smith and Linsdley were shocked to find out that Brown had withdrawn, both saying they had no idea of Brown’s situation until they crossed the finish line. “Coming down the final switchbacks I was looking for (Brown) over my shoulder,” Smith said. Andrew Lee of Winter Park finished third overall in the final standings after a fourth-place ride on Sunday. Pete Swenson pedaled to third on Sunday, but did not race on Saturday in the short track and hillclimb stages.Brown was unavailable for comment afterward, but race organizer Mike McCormack spoke with the Trek/Volkswagen pro and said that Brown was not feeling well and decided to conserve energy for an endurance race in Wisconsin next weekend. The women’s race also proved to be close, as Heather Irminger came down the final switchbacks looking over her shoulder much like Smith. Unlike the men’s winner, however, the competition Irminger was looking for hadn’t withdrawn.In fact, it was Breckenridge’s Monique Merrill who entered the final descent on Irminger’s wheel.
But Irminger, who built a lead in the first day of competitions by winning both the short track and the hillclimb, held on to sweep all three events and take the overall title. Irminger’s combined time was 3:52:24.3. “I know (Monique) can downhill really well,” the Boulder resident said. “I was almost like, ‘Oh, she can win it,’ but then I told myself, ‘Don’t roll over and die just yet.'”Merrill, on the other hand, was convinced it was Irminger who was the better downhiller. “It was pretty fun trying to keep up with her,” Merrill said, as she started the final descent right on Irminger’s wheel. “But then I went over the bars and decided to ride more conservatively.” The two are teammates on the Tokyo Joe’s racing squad, but have never raced together due to Irminger’s focus on National Off-Road Bicycling Association (NORBA) races and Merrill’s focus on adventure racing. “The last 45 minutes of the race was fun because we rode together,” Merrill said. “You’re not just out there in la-la land because somebody is there with you.” Abigail Hippley of Boulder rounded out the women’s overall podium.
Ben Duke of Boulder swept all three events in the men’s semi-pro category to beat Stephen White of Vail. Jack Gervais of Frisco posted the best overall performance by a local by finishing fourth in the men’s semi-pro division with a combined time of 3:41:02.6. Meanwhile, Christian Ball put together a stunning ride to win the men’s expert division with a combined time of 3:43:24.5, a time that would have ranked him fifth in the semi-pro division behind Gervais. Jeff Covey took that distinction with a time of 3:45:02.6. Frisco’s Karin Carestia posted the fastest overall time among expert women, riding all three stages in 4:20:04.9. Local racers Hampton Gewin (3:59:46.5) and Holly Wade (3:27:56.8) took top honors among sport men and women, respectively. For complete results, visit http://www.mavsports.com. Richard Chittick can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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