Living in Durango, Colorado, Caleb Thompson's (CRC Janitorial Scott p/b 2nd Avenue) cycling existence is one of getting his butt kicked by some of the sport's best.
"It’s really hard to race in Durango because you get your ass kicked every weekend by Todd Wells and Howard Grotts and all them," Thompson said.
Recently, Thompson did his own part to beat himself up, hitting a barrier at Regionals last weekend and almost breaking his collarbone. With a good shot at a National Championship this week in Lakewood, that injury was not going to keep Thompson from hopping on a plane and taking the line in Washington Wednesday morning.
The Masters Men 35-39 race started with a massive group at the front early on. The lead group was 8 after the first lap and swelled to near 12 at one point in the 2nd lap. One rider who wanted to make sure the race would not stay a giant group ride was Portland's Andrew Coe (PDX TI p/b Elevator Coffee).
Coe attacked up the first run-up and got a gap at the beginning of the third of five laps. At the end of Lap 3, he led a trio of 3—Thompson, Scott Chapin (Santa Cruz Factory Racing) and Toby Meierbachtol (Kent Bros Autollgate Cyclery)—by 9 seconds with 2 laps to go.
Coe's lead lasted until midway through the penultimate lap thanks to a renewed effort from Thompson. Thompson chipped away at Coe's lead and made contact shortly after the second of two descents.
Not content with just making contact, Thompson attacked. At the end of Lap 4, he had a 3-second lead. He would not look back en route to taking the Stars-and-Stripes jersey after finishing on the podium at previous editions of Masters Nationals.
"It made me hungry. I knew I could get it. It’s just hard for everything to come together at Nationals," Thompson said. "You always seem like you’re fighting something. Last weekend at the Regionals, I clipped a barrier and almost broke my collarbone. So then I started doubting myself again. I had to get x-rays on Monday. The doctor said you probably shouldn’t race. But I said, 'You know, pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.'"
Pain is Temporary, Glory Lasts Forever
Wednesday's championship racing wrapped up with the Masters Men 35-39 race. When the young Masters riders took the start line in the early afternoon, the vibe of the day's races had been one of battles between two riders, including two sprint finishes.
The Masters Men 35-39 racers decided to go a different route, at least as the first lap progressed. The race started fast with Stephen Hartzel (Breadwinner Cycles) grabbing the holeshot. After the first run-up, Jeremy Russell (River City Bicycles / Bike Law) and Hartzel opened up a small gap on a group that included Breeze Keller (Velocio Northeast), Ryan Rinn (Vive la Tarte / Biergarden) and Ben Guernsey (Mettle Cycling p/b Leave It On).
The split would not last long. By the time the riders dropped down the second descent, a train of eight riders strung out one-by-one. At the end of the 1st lap, the group swelled to 11.
In the second lap, the lead blob of 11 fractured into two smaller groups. At the second run-up, the leaders were Guernsey, Rinn, Keller, Coe, Aaron Bradford (Rock Lobster) and Nick Bennette (Keller Rohrback Cycling).
After 20 minutes of group racing, Coe decided to split things up at the start of the 3rd lap. He went on the attack at the first run-up and split off the front. Guernsey and Bennette emerged as the lead chasers off the first drop, but on the flats leading to the second run-up, the group swelled to six. Joining the chase for the first time all race was Thompson, who got off to a tough start.
"I had a horrible start. I came unclipped at the beginning and basically was back in like 30th place," Thompson said after the race. "I just had to stay calm and just keep picking guys off. I really put myself in the red a lot of times. I had to back off a little bit and just stay smooth."
Coe stayed on the gas heading into the penultimate lap, and the chase became Thompson, Meierbachtol and Chapin. The three faced a 9-second deficit.
With the steep first run-up looming after the long start/finish straight, it would not be a group chase of the race leader. Thompson split into solo second as he continued his charge forward from his slow start. At the 2nd run-up, his deficit was 8 seconds. By the time he dropped back down the second chute, Coe and Thompson were within a few bike lengths.
Thompson did not come roaring back from 30th place to settle in a few bike lengths off the lead. He passed Coe near Pit 2 and then attacked. His reward was a non-negligible 3-second gap.
"Once I got up to the lead group I caught my breath and just kept pushing," Thompson said. "I knew that once I caught him if I could get a gap and make him try to respond. Once I realized he wasn’t responding, I just kept putting the power down."
Thompson stayed on the attack, putting in a dig before the first run-up. Despite all the matches he burned earlier in the race, he still had the firepower to keep moving. He stayed clean in the last lap to take the Stars-and-Stripes and earn a little long-lasting glory.
"I could tell [Coe] was sitting down a lot more," Thompson said. "Every time I’d get out of the saddle, he couldn’t respond. So at that point, I knew I had a little better legs. I knew I just had to not make any errors and that was it."
Coe wrapped up his day with a strong silver, and Keller took third. Meierbachtol and Guernsey rounded out the wide-angle podium.
See below for a photo gallery and full results.
Caleb Thompson Winner Interview