Small assists in big victory
Dale Strode/Durango Herald
ASPEN – Jade Wilcoxson put her foot down Wednesday – early and often.
The professional cyclist with Team Optum/Kelly Benefit Strategies won the first sprint, the last sprint and every sprint in between when she claimed the championship in the women’s Blue Ribbon Alpine Challenge criterium in downtown Aspen.
Wilcoxson, from Talent, Ore., used the teamwork of her Optum teammates, including Durango’s Carmen Small, to win the feature event that helped amp the Aspen crowd for Tom Danielson’s dramatic victory in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage later Wednesday afternoon.
“It was going from the gun ... it was just attack, attack, attack,” Wilcoxson said of the field of 58 top pro women, including Olympic team pursuit silver medalist Lauren Tamayo of Exergy Twenty-12.
Wilcoxson passed breakaway rider Alison Powers of NOW on the final lap of the 60-minute criterium that finished on the USA Pro Challenge course.
Powers, a former ski racer and former winner of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic criterium in Durango, finished second to Wilcoxson on Wednesday. Optum’s Leah Kirchamann was third.
Small, who recently won the Nature Valley Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota, finished fourth in a power showing for the Optum team that placed three riders in the top four.
With her sprint points, Small finished second to Wilcoxson in overall criterium points.
“We wanted to come out and be pretty aggressive,” Small said. “We were confident in our sprint because we have three of the best srpinters here.”
She said the plan was for her to lead out Kirchmann on the final lap.
“But we kind of got messed up in the back. We almost had a crash,” Small said. “But I was able to yell at Jade to go on.”
Wilcoxson responded with a sprint victory.
“We worked amazingly well,” Wilcoxson said of the Optum team. “I felt like every time I would come back from an attack, my teammates were there to go on the next attack.”
She said riding with a veteran like Small is a treat.
“Carmen’s been amazing. She’s taught me a ton. She’s kind of my mentor,” Wilcoxson said.
“We started to get together ... on the last lap, and then Alison attacked. I was toward the front, so I was able to jump on her wheel. She and I did the last lap together. At about 200 meters to go, I attacked off her wheel and just held it at the finish,” she said.
The race featured a variety of crowd-pleasing breaks, including attacks led by four-time Iron Horse road race winner Mara Abbott of Boulder. Abbott holds the IHBC record for most women’s championships.
Another attack was pushed by national collegiate road racing champion Heather Fischer of Boulder (Natural Grocers) and formerly of the University of Colorado. She won the Fort Lewis College Squawker Classic road race and criterium last year before turning pro.
Jacqueline Kurth of Primal, a former collegiate champion at Marian University in Indiana, also pushed the pace.
FLC graduate and national champion mountain biker Sarah Sturm of Durango contributed to that frenzy, too.
“It was super fast,” Sturm said. “And it did not slow down at all.”
Sturm, wearing the colors of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory/Sweet Elite Team, was part of the Aspen Valley Hospital Composite Team, a mix of riders from several different teams.
Originally set as a three-stage event, the Aspen pro women’s race was reduced to a criterium because of sponsorship issues.
“This is a great race. Hopefully, next year we can go back to three days. But, having one day, we’re really stoked to be out here in Aspen ... the crowds helped a ton,” Wilcoxson said.
The race was produced by former pro cyclist Jessica Phillips of Aspen, the wife of Tejay van Garderen of the men’s BMC team. Van Garderen was the best young rider in this year’s Tour de France and currently is second in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.