Facing a 10-second deficit behind Suzanne Snyder for most of the Women's Masters 35-39 race Thursday morning, Holly LaVesser (Neff Cycle Service) needed to find one last effort in her legs during the bell lap to bridge the gap.
LaVesser closed much of Snyder's lead in front part of the course and dove into the bowl just seconds behind the race leader. She made contact at the limestone steps and then took the lead at the base of the second climb on the far side of the course.
Her impressive comeback was complete, but one last climb, a power straight and the barriers still stood between either woman and a win.
From that point, there was hardly a bike length of separation between the two. They exited the final climb wheel-to-wheel and stayed that way into the barriers right before the final turn onto the pavement.
LaVasser remounted her bike first and was first onto the pavement. With a short sprint to the finish, she had the jump she needed to take home the Masters 35-39 National Championship.
"My barriers have been good this year, good for me, and I had been doing them well throughout the race, so I just figured the end was right around the corner, gotta go for it all out, no regrets. And I did," LaVesser said about the race's closing moments.
A Thriller to Start the Day
With rains expected to come on Friday, the Masters Women 35-39 got the chance to ride a course that was tacking up and riding fast Thursday morning.
A small group of riders that included Rebecca Gross, Snyder and LaVesser quickly got to the front and powered through the sandpit. Gross led the way down into the bowl for the first time and helped draw out a lead selection with her fast pace at the front.
LaVesser took the lead on the far climb by running to the front on the muddy last incline and then led the way up the final climb out of the bowl. Only Snyder could match LaVesser's climb, and after one lap, it was the Nevadan Snyder and the Wisconsinite LaVesser off the front.
Not wanting to wait around, Snyder powered to the front and opened up a small gap on LaVesser at the stairs that then grew to 11 seconds at the end of two of five laps.
The next two laps, little changed at the front. Snyder kept her lead at 11 seconds in Lap 3 and LaVesser crossed the line with the bell still chasing nine seconds. With her lead holding steady for over half the race, Snyder looked in control of the race. For LaVesser to close the gap, she would have to find another gear to make the catch.
Early in the bell lap, it appeared LaVesser did have that extra gear. She closed Snyder's gap on the top part of the course and plunged down into the bowl with Snyder only a few seconds ahead of her.
"On prior laps, I could really tell where I was making gains and where she was pulling away," LaVesser said. "So in the last lap, I really went for it in the spots where I had caught up. I decided I had to put it all out there and really go for it in the spots where [Snyder] had been making up ground."
LaVesser finally made the catch on the stairs, resetting the race with just half a lap left to go. LaVesser passed Snyder on the second climb on the far side of the course and took the lead spot up the final climb out of the bowl. The two pedaled past Pit 2 and down the "Boulevard of Dreams" wheel-to-wheel. Only the barriers stood between them and the final sprint.
Snyder and LaVesser hit the barriers together. LaVesser, on the outside line, remounted first and took the left-hand turn onto the pavement first. Her first few pedal strokes gave her a couple bike lengths on Snyder. It was all she needed to complete the sprint and take home a Masters National Championship.
"It feels fantastic," LaVesser said shortly after her win. "I just can't believe it."
Snyder finished a close second and Gross followed over a minute later in third.
For more from the race, see the winner interview, photos and results below.
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Winner Interview: Holly LaVesser