To state the obvious, a lot can happen in twenty four hours. UCI cyclocross racing can change venues, thick mud can be swapped for damp grass, mud tires swapped for file treads and solo efforts can turn into tactical, pack racing.
Lane Maher (Hot Tubes) arrived at Harbin Park for Day 2 of the 2017 Cincinnati Cyclocross weekend hoping that regardless of the dramatic changes from Day 1’s race at Devou Park, the outcome would be the same and his winning streak would continue.
Ben Gomez-Villafañe (Top Club Cyclocross) and Greg Gunsalus (AP Junior Devo) were hoping that their solo chases for fourth and fifth on Saturday were just a warm-up to contend for the Day 2 victory.
No Rain, Still Pain
Just over 24 hours after the rain stopped, racers would have been mistaken if they came to Harbin Park expecting an easy day compared to the mud deluge at Devou. While the nearly all-grass course kept most riders on their bikes for the entire race, the course was filled with turns, hairpins, short, punchy climbs and one long grass and pavement uphill drag to the finish described by some as a "one-kilometer time trial."
Even Saturday's tall barriers were replaced with short, hoppable logs, allowing racers to rest their run-weary legs but beat them up further with nonstop pedaling.
When the whistle blew, Gomez Villafañe, opting for Donnelly LAS file treads while most others ran mud tires, showed his competitors that he was ready to ensure Sunday’s race would be far more painful than a ride in the park.
After Maher grabbed the holeshot, Gomez Villafañe pushed by and took control, bolting up the first climb.
Behind him, the hopefuls queued up, awaiting their turn at the front should the young Santa Cruz-based racer falter. After just one lap, Day 1’s top five were back at the front, joined by Anthony Bailey (Cycleworks).
A Determined Effort
Gomez Villafañe, after notching wins in three UCI Junior Men’s races this season, has all the reason to be confident, and turn after turn, climb after climb, the Top Club Cyclocross racer was seen at the front, accelerating out of the saddle and forcing the others to chase and wonder when the matchbook would empty.
"This is more or less my kind of course," Gomez Villafañe said. "I was hammering, but I felt comfortable doing it. I knew I was using matches that I could use later in the race, but at the time, it felt right doing it."
It didn’t feel right for Bailey, and he was the first to pop. Noel dangled.
Finding the Sweet Spot
"You didn’t want to be in the wind," Morton explained. "It was really tough to be in that second, third position. You wanted to get the lines, and didn’t want to be slinky-ed off the back. It was tough to keep up there. It was a good day to keep in the draft."
Remaining in the draft and sitting comfortably on the climbs was an ever-patient Maher. Maher bided his time on Saturday to put in a decisive final lap attack, and despite finding different course ingredients in the Harbin cupboard, was ready to use the same recipe for success.
"I didn’t want to fall too far back," Maher recalled. "But I didn’t want to burn too much."
Maher calmly answered the accelerations at the front, and stayed in his lane. "I didn’t really know what to expect from [Gomez Villafañe]. He looked strong, he looked comfortable, but I knew what I had to do, and stuck to my plan and didn’t let him affect it."
The Final Countdown
Just like Saturday’s exciting race, Sunday’s Junior Men’s race entered the final lap with few answers but two more players. With Dave Towle shouting his trademark "One to go" on loop, Morton was ready to light the race up. He sprinted up the final pavement, hoping the others were out of gas and running on empty. "They immediately got on me, but I could tell they had to burn some matches," Morton recalled.
The attack may have used Gunsalus and Noel’s final match, as Maher, Gomez Villafañe and Morton started to open up some distance. Maher knew soon it would be time to go. He moved up to the front halfway through the last lap. "I put in a little dig to gain position, to control the race through the turns," Maher said. "I wasn’t necessarily opposed to a sprint, because I feel good in sprints, but I knew I had the legs to do an attack."
With just three left in the group, Maher was back in familiar territory, and rechecked his recipe card.
Only three racers left? Check.
Power section up ahead? Check.
Legs feel good? Check.
Others spent from their attacks? Hopefully.
After coming out of the off-cambers at the bottom of the course, Maher’s kitchen timer went off. The main course was ready. With just one turn left and a massive climb to the finish, he opened up the oven.
Gomez Villafañe gave chase, but smelled fumes. Morton knew second was his best hope, and kept his nose out of the wind and waited before sprinting past his friend.
On the final pavement, Maher looked back for one final check of his final product.
Once again, he had timed it to perfection, and his check came out clean. In celebration, he held up four fingers in the air.
After crossing the line, he licked his lips.
His fourth victory was the sweetest.
Photo gallery below the results. Stay tuned for racer interviews and more 2017 Cincinnati Cyclocross Coverage.
Junior Men's Results - 2017 CIncinnati Cyclocross Day 2 - Harbin Park
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