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By Ken Getchell
The unseasonably hot weather that has afflicted the East Coast cyclocross season continued at the first Verge MAC event of 2007, Delaware’s UCI C1 Granogue ‘Cross. But it did not keep Tim Johnson and Kerry Barnholt from winning their first-ever Granogue titles by huge margins, and taking home the unique pink-flamingo trophies and a lot of cash.
Heavy overnight rain offered the promise of mud and cooler temperatures, but race day offered neither. The rain did, however, did make the track slick enough to provide some entertaining carnage in the day’s first two amateur races, particularly on the long, sweeping off-camber turn down the side of the course’s largest hill. There were so many slips, slides and spinouts (yes, actual spinouts), that race announcer Richard Fries dubbed the section the “SRAM Slip ‘n Slide.”
In the elite women’s race, Kerry Barnholt (Tokyo Joe’s-Van Dessel) and Anna Milkowski (Velo Bella-Kona) went side-by-side at the start, with Milkowski taking the early lead before bobbling slightly on the Slip ‘n Slide. Barnholt took advantage of the mistake to take the lead and win the first-lap Aqua Fina barrier preme, followed by Maureen Bruno-Roy (Independent Fabrications-Wheelworks-SRAM) and Milkowski.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Wellons (Ridley Factory Team) was charging through the pack. By the second trip up the steep run-up, Barnholt had a 25-second lead and her competitors never saw her again. Milkowski and Wellons duked it out for second, until Milkowski crashed on the Slip ‘n Slide in the final lap, giving Wellons the runner-up spot.
Barnholt is generally considered a mountain biker, but after winning her third UCI race of the year and finishing 15th at the 2006 world cyclocross championships, she says she’s “really come to start liking cyclocross and I’m doing more of it.”
Weary Wicks, jumpin’ Johnson
Unlike last year, the elite men’s race was the day’s main event with a field that featured Johnson, Barry Wicks, Jesse Anthony, Jeremy Powers, Troy Wells, Davide Frattini, Danish national champion Joachim Parbo and this year’s breakthrough star, Chris Jones.
On paper, Wicks (Kona-YourKey.com) looked like the favorite and the beginning of the race ran true to expected form, taking the holeshot, winning the Aqua Fina Barrier preme and being the first rider to ride to the top of the steep run-up without dismounting.
As the wind kicked up, Wicks started the second lap with Matt White (FiordiFrutta) in tow, followed by a small gap to Anthony (Jamis), Johnson (Cannondale-Leer-Cyclocrossworld.com), Jones (Nerac) and Powers (Cyclocrossworld.com). Later in the lap, Jones fell in the Slip ‘n Slide but quickly recovered. Then, with six laps to go Powers attacked briefly, shelling White and Anthony from the lead group.
The race took a dramatic turn as the leaders approached the finish with five laps to go. Coming onto the long uphill finishing straight, Wicks and Powers had a 25-meter lead. Behind them, Johnson was dragging Jones back into contention. Then, just as the two made contact, Johnson attacked decisively.
“When I attacked, I just wanted to keep things hard because we were settling down a bit,” said Johnson after the race.
What nobody else knew at that point was that Wicks was not having a good day, possibly because he has been racking up the frequent-flyer miles recently.
“I’ve made five cross-country flights in the past two-and-a-half weeks,” said Wicks, who lives in Corvallis, Oregon, and arrived only the day before the race. “I flew out to Long Island and then back home, then flew back out and back to Gloucester last week. And I’m back here this week. It’s a seven-hour flight.”
With Jones falling back, Wicks unable to chase, and Powers unwilling to chase because his Cyclocrossworld.com teammate was up the road, Johnson quickly started building his lead by about 10 seconds a lap, winning his first Granogue Cyclocross by a huge margin and filling one of the few gaps in his palmares.
Eventually Powers, realizing that Wicks was not 100 percent, rode away to make it a one-two finish for the Cyclocrossworld.com team.
“It was the first time we both didn’t have problems,” said Powers afterwards. “We’ve talked about it (a one-two finish), but it was nice to finally put it together.”
With three laps to go, Wicks tried to bunny-hop the barriers, something that nobody could remember having been attempted since they were placed in their current position three or four years ago. He cleared the first barrier, which brought gasps from the crowd. Then he rode into the second barrier like Wiley E. Coyote crashing into a canyon wall while chasing the Roadrunner, stunning the crowd into silence. Standing astride his bike at a standstill, Wicks looked up to find the Cyclocrossfiles.com video camera happily recording the whole incident. Wicks laughed, then got back to racing as though nothing unusual had occurred.
Following the race, a special podium presentation was offered for Syd Lea, a long-time Verge MAC racer who earlier this month won two gold medals in the cycling events at the World Special Olympics in China. Lea, whose father, Rob, is the current 65-plus cyclocross national champion, was accompanied to the podium by his brother Bobby, a pro for the Toyota United team and half of the current national-championship Madison team.