Ben Gomez-Villafane has earned the nickname “Benny Hops” thanks to his high-flying act over the barriers. On Saturday at the Derby City Cup, the West Coast native brought his skills to Midwest and a course at Joe Creason Park that features stairs and barriers that favored his abilities.
Saturday’s race was also an opportunity for Gomez-Villafane to lock horns with his best friend Alex Morton (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com). Morton lives in Michigan and Gomez-Villafane in California, so the recent UCI races have been a great opportunity for the two friends to spend time hanging out and for 40 minutes, racing cyclocross against each other.
Among the riders looking to deny Gomez-Villfane and Morton their friend was arguably the hottest rider in U.S. cyclocross Lane Maher (Hot Tubes Development). Maher came into Louisville riding a four-race winning streak, after sweeping the Silver Goose and Cincinnati weekends. Five in a row would send a message to the other riders heading into Sunday’s Pan-American championships.
The Pan-American Championship weekend is always a big one for the top Junior riders from the U.S. and throughout the Americas. With a jersey on the line, the best riders in the Western Hemisphere are guaranteed to make the trip to race against their peers. The course being a preview of the 2018 U.S. Cyclocross National Championships was a bonus.
As morning fog gave way to afternoon sun, the Junior Men headed to the start line to battle on a course that was starting to tack up a bit, but still remained thick and deep.
An Early Shaking Out
The Americas’ top Junior talents do not get to race against each other very often, so some feeling out of the field was necessary for the young riders, especially with some new faces in the crowd. Early on there big attacks, but by the time the field reached the stairs, there was a selection already starting to form. When the riders exited the valley via the third climb, the lead group was Lane Maher (Hot Tubes Development), Alex Morton (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com), Ben Gomez-Villafane (Top Club Cyclocross), Tyler Clark (Centurion Next Wave), Scott Funston (Rad Racing NW) and Conor Martin (Garneau-Easton p/b Transitions LifeCare). Funston’s Rad Racing NW teammate Calder Wood chased close behind.
The lead group kept its form throughout the second lap. Gomez-Villafane was one of the first riders to try to stir things up when he got out of the saddle and put in a dig on the third climb, but the rest of the riders were still able to keep his wheel. With two laps down and three to go, the young riders were still waiting for someone to be the aggressor.
Best Friends Battle
The race’s biggest moment happened not because of an attack, but unfortunately, a crash. Maher wiped out on one of the slick corners and crashed down on his side. The crash sprung Gomez-Villafane and Morton off the front. With Maher out of the group, Martin, Clark and Wood took up the chase. The two best friends worked together to exploit the gap and at the end of three laps, their lead on the others was substantial.
Maher was visibly muddy and shaken from his crash and took a DNF for the race. There would be no fifth straight win in Louisville.
Best friends off the course, on the course at Joe Creason Park Gomez-Villafane and Morton were inseparable well into the last lap. On the climbs, Morton kept it in the saddle and Gomez-Villafane stretched his longer legs, but other than their climbing styles, little differed between the two.
The climbs at Joe Creason Park were long, thick slogs, so they certainly had the potential for a stronger rider to put the hurt on an opponent. On Saturday’s last lap, Gomez-Villafane and Morton climbed them to parity. One, two, three climbs and not even a bike length between the two. The stage was set for an epic finish.
Once the riders exited the valley, the course twisted to the barriers and then U-turned back toward the muddy ditch right before the finishing straight. Most observers would probably say the first to the ditch will win the sprint most of the time, so with the two riders wheel-to-wheel, the slimmest of margins would be necessary to grab the upper hand into the last technical feature.
One of this reporter’s pearls of cyclocross “wisdom” is “the barriers don’t matter, until they do.” On Saturday, the barriers mattered.
Gomez-Villafane has earned the nickname “Benny Hops” thanks to his ability to get air and hop the planks. The two riders hit the barriers together. Benny Hops Benny Hopped over and got in front of his friendly rival. Morton recovered and regained Gomez-Villfane’s wheel, but the young rider from California had his choice of lines through the last technical section.
The two riders nailed the last technical feature with skill and exploded out of the muddy pit onto the pavement. Gomez-Villafane hit the sprint first and held off Morton to take the win in a thrilling start to the afternoon’s UCI racing.
Wood broke free of the chase to take the third podium spot and his teammate Funston took fourth.
The top Junior talent in the Americas returns to Joe Creason Park on Sunday for the Pan-American Championships. Stay tuned for more coverage from Louisville.
2017 Derby City Cup Saturday Results - Junior Men
|1||103||Benjamin GOMEZ VILLAFANE||Top Club||43:43:00||8:43||5||C2 MJ|
|2||104||Alex MORTON||Cannondale Cyclocrossworld||43:43:00||8:43||5||C2 MJ|
|3||105||Calder WOOD||Rad Racing NW||44:47:00||9:11||5||C2 MJ|
|4||106||Scott FUNSTON||Rad Racing NW||44:55:00||8:43||5||C2 MJ|
|5||107||Tyler CLARK||Centurion Next Wave||44:58:00||9:11||5||C2 MJ|
|6||110||Dylan KERR||Angry Johnnys Evolution p/b No||45:02:00||8:51||5||C2 MJ|
|7||132||Conor MARTIN||Garneau - Easton p/b Transition||45:08:00||9:11||5||C2 MJ|
|8||120||Gaelen KILBURN||Cyclocrossworld||46:17:00||9:22||5||C2 MJ|
|9||111||Sam NOEL||Cannondale Cyclocrossworld||46:26:00||9:32||5||C2 MJ|
|10||131||Nathan KNOWLES||ASU Devo||46:40:00||9:29||5||C2 MJ|
|11||138||Dillon MCNEILL||Trek Cyclocross Collective||46:49:00||9:15||5||C2 MJ|
|12||127||Anthony BAILEY||CycleWorks||47:58:00||9:49||5||C2 MJ|
|13||125||Thomas FRANCISCO||Papa Johns Racing Team||48:03:00||9:35||5||C2 MJ|
|14||137||Tyler SMITH||Van Dessel Factory Team||48:18:00||9:51||5||C2 MJ|
|15||108||Gregory GUNSALUS||AP Junior Development||49:03:00||10:37||5||C2 MJ|
|16||109||Torin BICKMORE||Boulder Junior Cycling||49:09:00||9:58||5||C2 MJ|
|17||134||Tyler REYNOLDS||Trek Cyclocross Collective||49:09:00||9:50||5||C2 MJ|
|18||128||Amai RAWLS||Team Louisville||50:58:00||10:16||5||C2 MJ|
|19||133||Camden BROOKS||AP Junior Development||51:46:00||10:55||5||C2 MJ|
|20||123||Campbell WATSON||Boulder Junior Cycling||52:45:00||10:54||5||C2 MJ|
|21||121||Leo KIRKPATRICK BAIRD||KMS Cycling-Killington Mountain||31:01:00||10:54||3||C2 MJ|
|22||124||William SEITZ||Team Mission Source / NGCA||31:45:00||10:58||3||C2 MJ|
|23||135||Luke SKOV||Central Junior Cycling Devo||31:47:00||11:22||3||C2 MJ|
|24||122||Jack ZAKRAJSEK||Lake Geneva Youth Camp Cycling||32:03:00||11:09||3||C2 MJ|
|25||129||Gentry JEFFERSON||Monticello Velo Club||21:13||11:31||2||C2 MJ|
|26||130||Alex MCCORMACK||Hot Tubes Development Cycling T||22:41||11:12||2||C2 MJ|
|DNF||102||Lane MAHER||Hot Tubes Development Cycling T||10:12||3||C2 MJ|