Weather evens the score at the Aspen Criterium

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Kate Bennett, of Littleton, rounds the corner of East Hopkins Avenue and South Mill Street during Sunday morning's criterium racing in downtown Aspen. Racers braved rain, sleet, snow, hail and wet streets during the annual event. / Andre Salvail The Aspen Times

Cyclists endured a spring payback from Mother Nature in Sunday’s edition of the Aspen Criterium.

A day after enjoying comfortable spring conditions for the annual Ride for the Pass on Independence Pass, the road bikers suffered through uncomfortable weather in the criterium races, which wound around downtown Aspen.

There were low temperatures combined with damp conditions, accented by periods of snow, sleet, rain and mist for the riders.

Sun, too.

“Fortunately, or unfortunately, I used to live in Bellingham, Wash., so this is my norm,” said Kate Bennett, of Littleton, water dripping from her helmet after she finished her race Sunday morning in the women’s competitive division.

“This isn’t my ideal, but I’m used to it,” she said after pedaling in a small field that included only Aspen’s Anne Gonzales in her racing category. Gonzales won Saturday’s Ride for the Pass, the annual ride up Independence Pass.

They were joined by the top senior men in a criterium heat that produced attacks and counterattacks.

Bennett fell victim to the first major burst.

“For me, I have exercise-induced asthma,” Bennett said. “There was an attack on the back, and my lungs just don’t handle that at this altitude.”

Instead, she said she had to shift into steady-survival mode.

That meant she had to ride nearly 30 minutes solo. Rain falling.

“I went steady just to hang on,” said Bennett, who seemed undaunted by the challenge of racing along in the rain and snow.

“I’m a sports psychologist,” she said behind a brilliant, albeit soaked, smile. “I think I’ve got the mental edge of the game even though I don’t have the physical part now. I just tried to stay positive, keep my head up.

“I knew I wouldn’t melt in this weather.”

Mitch Hyra won a late sprint to win the race. Paul Fowler was second. Mike Gettinger finished third.

Gonzales, just behind the men’s trio, won the women’s competitive race with Bennett second.

A former serious racer, Bennett calls herself a “recreational” rider today.

“I used to race really competitively,” she said. “But now that I have a full-time job, I’ve kind of backed off.”

Conversely, the men’s competitive field Sunday featured individual and team tactics. It evolved into a scramble that included a team from the Pedal Bike Shop/Cannondale in Littleton, featuring Aspen Criterium defending champion Michael Giem.

The party of four from Pedal controlled the crit, finally propelling Eric Bennett into a breakaway with Joel Mischke.

Adam McCurdy, with a late move out of the chase group, bridged up to the two leaders.

With Bennett on McCurdy’s back wheel entering the final lap, Bennett made his move early in the 0.9-mile course, eventually crossing the finish line by a comfortable margin over McCurdy. Mischke finished third.

“I went right after the first corner,” Bennett said. “We were looking at each other, and I just attacked.”

His strategy was flawless in completing the mission for the Pedal Bike Shop team.

“For us, we had the four riders here with the same goal: to win the race,” Bennett said. “We try to get one guy the win. Everyone else helps out.”

He said the team didn’t have a plan with a designated leader before the race.

Instead, they took off with an idea of supporting whoever they could get out front.

This year, it was Bennett.

Last year, it was Giem for the green-clad Pedal team.

“This is a team sport,” said Bennett, 25, who works for a cycling company in Littleton.

And the weather?

No problem, he said.

“I enjoy racing in the rain. So this worked out in my favor.”