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Hayles finishes in style

Tom Hayles was determined to go out a winner in the last competitive cycling race of his career – regardless of where he placed.

It just so happened he won.

Hayles, a 42-year-old Aspenite who has been racing for 22 years, had prepared himself mentally to accept whatever happened at the National Cyclocross Championships.

He had already enjoyed a successful career in road, mountain bike and cyclocross racing and decided it was time to ease up and spend more time with his wife.

Hayles topped the field in the 40-45 age category in the snow and frigid cold at Overland Park, Kan., on Dec. 15.

“I felt like I couldn’t have had a better ride,” he said.

He’s one of two Aspenites who excelled at the unusual discipline of cyclocross this season. Charlie Tarver, owner of the Hub of Aspen, placed second in the Super Cup of cyclocross.

Consistency was Tarver’s edge

Tarver, 38, competed in all four races in the premier U.S. cyclocross series, with events held in Boulder, Boston, Chicago and Kansas City.

Consistency kept him in contention for the title through the closing race. He racked up a second, a third and two sixth places. He was in position for a top finish in Chicago until he fell with one lap to go.

The Super Cup, which Hayles didn’t participate in, was won by Dennis Ferrell of Denver.

Tarver said he plans to be back on the Super Cup circuit next season. He placed eighth in nationals, which isn’t part of the Super Cup. He took six years off from racing because of knee problems. He returned to competition last May with the goal of winning two national championships – one in cyclocross and one in road bike individual time trials.

Tarver said the diversity of cyclocross has really captured his interest. It has the speed of a road bike event with the technical demands of a mountain bike race.

“Cross is cool because it’s so hard,” he said. “It’s so short, the intensity is just insane.”

Strength and finesse

Cyclocross has been around at least since the 1940s, first developed as fall and winter training for road racers in Europe, according to the Cyclingnews.com Web site.

The bikes are hybrids, with frames similar to road bikes, but with mountain bike brakes, knobby tires and some special componentry.

The races are held in compact circuits that often combine grass, dirt roads, pavement, sometimes sand, mud or stream crossings and barricades to force dismounts.

The races, which Tarver said typically take one hour, require brute strength to handle the aerobic challenges and finesse to avoid losing speed through up to 40 dismounts and remounts per event. Just when racers hit their rhythm on the bikes, they are forced to hop off and run a short stretch.

Distinguished career

Despite his stellar showing in the sport, Hayles insisted that cyclocross is really a younger man’s sport.

His Kansas race was the last victory in a lustrous career. He also won a national cyclocross championship in 1997 and he’s won 10 state championships in Colorado, including three of the last four years.

“I won my first cyclocross race in the snow at Lake Eldora, Colorado, 15 years ago,” said Hayles. “I sort of finished in the snow.”

About seven inches of snow fell in the Kansas City area right before the championships. The wind chill was about 35 degrees below zero.

Ironically, perhaps, Hayles said he is riding “the best of my life” even though he’s calling it quits. He rode six cyclocross events after the season started in October, including the win at the Colorado championships two weeks before the nationals. He lost a lot of weight and felt strong this season.

But he also paid a greater price than ever before. Hayles has always been in excellent condition, but the mental preparation has become more difficult. As his life and interests have become more diverse with age, the ability to focus on racing has become more difficult.

“Getting to the starting gun almost killed me this year,” he said.

He reached the conclusion that this year’s nationals would be his last competitive race. After winning nationals in 1997, he was “just happy to be alive” in 1998 after suffering injuries in a car crash. Last year he was poised for victory when another rider took him down.

So this year he wanted to race the perfect race but he also was prepared to accept whatever happened.

“That’s the way the universe is supposed to be,” said Hayles.


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