Hed: Inspired Victory for Wherry in Saturn Classic
BRECKENRIDGE – Inspiration led Team Mercury’s Chris Wherry to the line in the 2002 Saturn Cycling Classic in Breckenridge Saturday. In the closest race of the Saturn’s three-year history, Wherry looked for something extraordinary to give him the edge he needed to make it through the grueling 140-mile race from Boulder to Breckenridge. And even he couldn’t have predicted he would cross the finish line in first place, followed by Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators) in second and teammate Scott Moninger in third.
“I just wanted to ride and have a good time,” said an emotionally charged Wherry after the race. “My father died last week and I’ve been so tired the last few days both emotionally and physically. There was so much positive energy out there.”
The Saturn Cycling Classic saw its biggest spectator crowds this year both along the route and in host cities Boulder and Breckenridge. Seasoned racing fans and cyclists joined curious spectators on Colorado’s streets to wave American flags and cheer the riders. Even Tour de France-inspired “Devils” ran alongside the riders in the town of Wondervu, just west of Boulder.
The race field, which began with more than 110 riders, fell apart early as a large break of 13 riders established itself on the first climb of the day in Coal Creek Canyon. Handle Bar and Grill’s Rishi Grewal and Saturn’s Harm Jansen broke early and often, only to be absorbed by the lead group time and time again. The leaders through the first King of the Mountains points location also included race veteran Michael Carter (Handle Bar and Grill), who’s seen his share of tough courses in the Tour de Suisse, the Giro de Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana. Carter, with Mercury’s Jesus Zarate, an impeccable climber from Mexico, initiated the attacks to the top of the climb at Wondervu.
Carter took the lead along Highway 93 and into Blackhawk to win the $5,000 sprint bonus – but he’d have to finish the race to claim it. In the end he didn’t finish, but he did succeed in pushing the pace of the race and scattering his chasers on the climb up to Oh My God Road. At the summit of Oh My God Road, the main peloton was more than 10 minutes back from the
leaders, which split into two groups behind Carter.
Mercury, Saturn and Handle Bar and Grill kept themselves well-represented in all of the significant breaks. Descending to Idaho Springs on a relatively smooth Oh My God Road (conditions on the road were better than in 2001), Mercury’s Zarate, Henk Vogels and Phil Zajicek stayed close to Saturn’s Jansen and Soren Peterson. Grewal lost time on the descent when he was forced to change out a broken wheel, but the leaders remained mostly intact through Georgetown to the start of Guanella Pass.
Guanella Pass (11,671 feet) is considered an Hors Categorie (above category) climb, the most difficult in road racing. Zarate was quick to move off the front to drop his chasers and string them out over the difficult climb. At about 65 miles into the race – where the climb begins – the main field shattered as well, with defending champion Jonathan Vaughters leading 2000 champion Moninger up the mountain. The pair, as well as Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Tokyo Joe’s), Walker Ferguson (Tokyo Joe’s), Jansen, Wherry, Michael Creed (Prime Alliance), Chris Fisher (Saturn), Peterson and Swindlehurst, made its way to the top of Guanella behind Zarate.
All of the front-runners swapped their road bikes for mountain bikes on the descent of Guanella. The deeply-rutted and rocky dirt road was enough to warrant the change, and the racers with mountain biking backgrounds – Horgan-Kobelski and Ferguson – took advantage of their good handling skills to gain time on the descent. Vaughters, who went with the leaders on the downhill, took a fall and then had to sit up for his team car to get his road bike back when the group returned to pavement.
According to race radio, the total field was down to 42 riders after Guanella. And that was despite a mild day under clear, blue skies.
On Highway 285 heading to Fairplay, a solid group of 10 riders formed including Vaughters, Moninger, Wherry, Zarate, Creed, Peterson, Ferguson, Swindlehurst and Jose Adrian Bonilla (Handle Bar and Grill). This group stuck together until the sprint in Fairplay. Wherry and Peterson used that point to break and soon they had a lead of 1:30 over the chasers.
“I had bad legs all the way through the attack at South Park,” Wherry said. “When I attacked there was the first time I felt good during the race.”
Moninger predicted his Mercury team would finish strong if it was well-represented in the group that went together to Fairplay. He was right.
“We’ll have strong riders working together to get to that final climb,” Moninger said before the race. “The strongest team will help the individual win.”
Wherry kept his high pedaling cadence up the final climb of the race, Hoosier Pass. Peterson, whose body showed exhaustion, fell back quickly. As Swindlehurst and Moninger chased Wherry up Hoosier Pass, they must have realized the battle they were fighting was for second and third and not the championship. Wherry had more than a minute on them when he reached the summit.
Moninger and Swindlehurst stayed together to Breckenridge and, following the cheers for Wherry in first, sprinted through town to the finish. Swindlehurst came out on top with a quarter-mile sprint at the end of a 140-mile race.
But it was Wherry’s inspiration that led him all the way from Boulder to
Breckenridge to give him the win. He dedicated it to his deceased father.
“This is the biggest win of my career,” Wherry said with a tired smile. “I
really can’t ask for anything more.”
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