Local rider Hagman escapes trouble on Cottonwood
August 25, 2011
ASPEN – A day that Alex Hagman had dreamed of for months nearly ended prematurely.
About 25 miles into Wednesday’s second stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge – one that kicked off in Gunnison and finished in downtown Aspen, mere miles from where he grew up – the Woody Creek native narrowly avoided a crash that ensnared some 15 riders, including a Jelly Belly p/b Kenda teammate.
“I’m very lucky,” said Hagman, who finished the stage 42nd, with a time of 5 hours, 29 minutes, 1 second.
The peloton was pedaling toward Taylor Lake Reservoir, near the base of Cottonwood Pass, when the front wheel of one bike apparently got lodged between a pair of metal cattle guards, setting off the pileup, Hagman said. Further details were not available by press time.
“They lay down two grates, and sometimes they’re not pushed together completely,” he said. “I was on the right side of the road and some guy hit my back wheel. I was just barely able to avoid it before being caught up by the person behind me.
“Maybe that should’ve been talked about before. ‘Hey, heads up. There’s a cattle guard with a big hole in the middle of it.'”
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While most riders sustained little more than road rash and were able to continue, Hagman said he heard that one teammate, Sergio Antonio Hernandez, broke his collarbone and was knocked out of the Challenge.
Hagman, a Fort Lewis College graduate who now resides in Fort Collins, admitted that the sequence of events was unsettling.
“You just have to see how your boys are, and if everybody is good and safe, then you just have to keep going,” he said. “If you think about the crash, it will unnerve you. After seeing that, you just have to put it out of your mind and continue on with your job.”
The inauspicious start was not the only obstacle Hagman confronted Wednesday. By his own admission, the 27-year-old felt “like my legs just weren’t there” on the ascent of Cottonwood – the first of two 12,000-foot passes the riders confronted during a day replete with 9,746 feet of climbs.
Thankfully, Hagman said, the peloton was content to settle in at that point and not attempt to break away.
That all changed on Independence Pass, however.
“Effectively, it was a simple race from there – I just hung on to the group I could and watched everybody else go,” Hagman said.
“I was in a position [to make a move on Independence], but these guys do races of this caliber every other week and are coming off the Tour de France. You just don’t find that same level of racing in America. … That being said, I left it all out there on the course.”
Hagman’s stated goal Wednesday was to conserve enough energy to “give it a good go” in front of the familiar faces – including his brother and father – that lined Independence Pass.
The plan was a success, he said. He also was spurred on by the festive atmosphere.
“It was like a fair or a rock concert. It was crazy,” Hagman joked. “I spotted a few people I knew, but it’s all kind of a blur. Mostly, I was focusing on not hitting anybody because there were so many people. … That was a new experience for me. It was fun and thrilling.”
So, too, was the descent into Aspen – an obstacle made even more daunting after some afternoon showers.
“You had to be delicate going down,” Hagman said. “At the top, where it’s twisty and there are some sharp turns, I was really looking forward to being able to rip that road since I know it well.”
Hagman wound up finishing six spots ahead of Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck and now is 34th in the overall standings with four stages remaining.
Next up is today’s 10-mile time trial in Vail.
“There’s a lot of difficult riding coming up. … Now it’s kind of unknown territory for me, but I’m looking forward to it,” Hagman said.
“There was a lot of build-up going into this stage, so yeah, it feels great to have it done. I’m definitely happy with how it went.”
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