Colin wins Lotoja Classic
Colin Gunn has a reputation as the archetypal ‘diesel’: the longer the race, the earlier the break, the happier he is. On several occasions last season he made the winning selection only to be denied in the sprint. So it’s understandable why his first victory on the road – in a photo-finish sprint in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains – came as such a surprise. If only Surrey League races were run over 200 miles…
The Lotoja Classic is a well known race in Utah and surrounding states and I’ve done this event in one form or another for a number of years, writes Colin. I entered the men’s Cat 4 again this year after finishing 5th last year – Cat 4 in the US is roughly equivalent to Cat 3 here. Due to work commitments I hadn’t been able to race as much this year, nor do much in the way of proper hill climbing training. A crash on the commute to work about 6 weeks before the race also knocked me back even further, and so I came into the race with low expectations.
The race starts in Logan, Utah and finishes in Jackson, Wyoming, covering just over 200 miles with around 8000 ft of climbing (mostly in the first 100 miles). I raced with my brother-in-law, who is a Cat 4 in the US, and rode for the Bountiful Bicycle Club (from Bountiful, Utah) which he is a member of. Our start time was 6:36, so we were up at 5am to prepare for the start.
The first 40 miles or so are relatively flat, before you come to the first big climb of Strawberry Pass. This climb whittles down normally about 2/3rds of the field, but I think there were about 20 of us who crested the climb together. After that it is a fast descent, but then again a flat few miles before the first feed zone at Montpelier. Straight out of the feed zone you are into the next climb of Geneva Summit, and I think we may have dropped a couple of people on this climb. There is a small descent, then some small rollers before you hit the final major climb of Salt River Pass.
The pace seemed to pick up on this climb and a lone rider broke away. I am not sure if it was due to not feeling 100% the week before, or not having as much time as normal to get used to the elevation, but I started to get gapped with about 500 metres to go to the top. I think the gap was around 20-25 metres at one point with about twelve-fifteen in the front group, and in my head I was almost deciding to ease it up and wait for the two guys behind me who were about ten metres behind.
Then, as Sean Kelly would say, “I made the calculation”, and realised that if I didn’t get close to the front group near the top, then one (or three) against twelve would likely mean that my race was over. I put in a real effort as the road started to flatten out, and burnt at least one match then, but kept it going over the top and onto the descent and fortunately got back on.
The next 80 or so miles were relatively uneventful, in that we continued to ride as a group, before maybe losing one or two more, so by the final feed zone we were down to nine. At this point I was relatively happy, as I thought a top ten wouldn’t be bad considering my struggle on the last big climb. There were a few attacks here and there, but I knew with the numbers in the group that it would have to be something fantastic to get away and stay away.
So with a around 20 or so miles to go I knew that it would end in some sort of sprint. I consumed as many double espresso gels as my stomach could take, then sat at the back of the group, trying to conserve as much energy as I could. I had also decided which wheel I was going to follow when the pace ramped up. With around three miles to go one guy attacked and got around a 100 metre gap. The pace remained relatively high for another one kilometre or so, then the wheel I was going to follow attacked with two others, so I had to go for a gap on the inside or miss the move, and then power as much as I could to bridge across.
I then sat on the wheels of the three, and could see one other behind me, as we started to close on the guy who attacked earlier. There were another couple of surges in pace, with someone attacking again with around 2k to go, but I again remained patient and sat on the wheel as the 1k came closer, at which point that wheel started to slow, which then left me at the front. I carried on powering as much as I could, but then could see someone coming round on my left with about 300 metres to go. I dug in again, and they actually edged ahead for a short while, before I managed to put in one more effort and win by about the thickness of a tyre.
Always a pessimist I had to wait for the scoreboard to confirm the result, my first ever win, and one that was completely unexpected, especially with almost getting dropped on the final climb. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife Lisa, who met us at the various feed zones and kept us topped up with food and water over the 10 hours of racing – than kyou!