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Avon biker wins Mountain States Cup title at Snowmass

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
ALL |

SNOWMASS ” Pro bikers Jay Henry and Brian Smith got tangled, fell and were eventually forced to withdraw from last weekend’s USA Cycling Marathon Championships in Breckenridge.

Saturday, the riders were tangled in a tight battle for first in a Mountain States Cup (MSC) pro cross-country race at Snowmass.

Henry, from Avon, charged from nearly 30 seconds back after one lap to seize the lead from Smith with just two miles remaining in the grueling 24-mile race, which covered 4,600 vertical feet. The 33-year-old crossed the finish in 2 hours, 14 minutes, 30 seconds ” 13 seconds in front of Smith ” to pick up his second consecutive Blast the Mass title and third in MSC events this year.

Brian Fuentes, the Mountain States Cup endurance series’ overall leader, finished third, more than seven minutes off the pace. Matthew Beaton (2:22:50) and Brett Morgan (2:23:50) rounded out the top five.

“It’s kind of funny we both crashed last week, then we finish 1-2 today,” Henry said. “We were very evenly matched.”

Henry and Smith were transitioning from dirt to asphalt two miles into last weekend’s race when their wheels got twisted together, knocking both off their bikes. Smith was able to regroup, working his way up to fourth place until a flat tire forced him to pull out. Henry, meanwhile, came up clutching his right knee and dropped out after realizing he could not pedal.

He didn’t get back on the bike until Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say this is a surprise, but I’m very pleased,” Henry said. “The knee never got worse, which is a good sign.”

In contrast to 2007’s race in which he vaulted into the lead on the opening uphill, Henry was more conservative at the start. Smith, a two-time winner in Snowmass, settled into third after the first ascent and was about 15 seconds behind, he estimated. After his teammate suffered a flat soon after, Smith narrowed the gap and eventually took the lead.

By the time he finished the first of two laps, the Gunnison resident estimated he had a 30-second advantage on a group that included Henry.

He didn’t let up. He knew his familiar foe was in hot pursuit.

“[Henry] always finishes strong, so I knew I couldn’t let up,” Smith said. “I had to stay on the gas. There was no settling.”

But there were cramps. His left calf and right groin started to tighten up. Smith said his hands ached on the long downhills, the result of exposed rocks and tree roots continuously pounding the tires of his hardtail.

To compound matters, Smith had to negotiate a crowd of other racers on course.

“You have to slow down, settle in and wait for the pass,” Smith said. “If you try to go on the grass, it’s twice as hard and bumpy. … I knew the guys in back were making up time.

“It’s tough working from the front. When you’re in the back, you always have a carrot.”

Henry used his strength on the climbs to trim Smith’s lead to 15 seconds after the first major ascent of the second lap. With two miles to go, Henry passed Smith at a creek crossing.

He tried to put Smith away for good.

“I attacked and tried to put some time on him,” Henry said. “If you put time on right away, they usually don’t chase as hard.”

No such luck this time. Smith kept Henry in his sights, trailing by little more than 10 seconds down the final stretch of singletrack.

Henry didn’t let up. Smith said he couldn’t find the extra gear to close the gap before the finish.

“I gave everything I had, I just wasn’t gaining on him,” said Smith, who splits his time between bike racing and the XTERRA triathlon circuit. “I didn’t have enough to reel him in. … To get that close to winning is kind of heartbreaking.”

Henry, who teamed with Mike Kloser to win the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse in late March, was all smiles after picking up his third cross country victory. He took first at the Chalk Creek Stampede in Nathrop in early May, then won the Chile Challenge in Angel Fire, N.M., on May 25.

He is planning to try and defend his state championship title in August at SolVista Basin Ski Resort in Granby.

In other action Saturday, Dellys Starr finished first in the pro women’s race, covering 19 miles in 2:07:59. Kelley Cullen finished nearly two minutes behind in second, and Erin Huck was third.

Snowmass Village’s Bryce Gordon took first in the junior expert division. The 17-year-old will be a senior at Aspen High School in the fall.

For more information, visit http://www.racemsc.com.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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