Zinger Challenge: Moninger outlasts Swenson

The race is known for its Tour de France-caliber climbs from Boulder to Breckenridge, Colo.  Credit: Michael Aisner
When less than 20 percent of the starters in a race make it to the finish, its a good indication things were a death march.

But dont pity any of the 108 racers who lined up for the inaugural Zinger Cycling Challenge in Boulder, July 15.

All of the riders knew exactly what they were in for, the Zinger, promoted by the same guys who put on the Red Zinger, Americas premiere stage race up to the mid-1980s, was billed as the toughest one-day mens road race in North America.

Scott Moninger led a group of four of riders based in Boulder, Colo. across the line after the grueling 138-mile miles, over 14,000 feet of climbing over seven Rocky Mountain passes, dirt-road descents and the possibility of severe weather. Yes, it was tough, to say the least.

Almost as tough, perhaps, as the 14th stage of the Tour de France, running concurrently over three major passes in the French Alps. There, Lance Armstrong would defend his yellow jersey.

In Colorado, there was a $15,000 winners check waiting in Breckenridge, a nice chunk of change for the strongest rider in Americas toughest race

It was 90 degrees at the start in Boulder, but the mood of the racers didnt match the weather. Riders knew that either they would have it or not, and the course would tell the story in the end.

A few riders had talked about going all-out for the first big prime of the race, a $5,000 prize 40 miles into the race at Blackhawk. But the race promoters quickly put an end to that by announcing that all prime winners had to finish the race to collect.

Brendan Vesty (Navigators) attacked early and took the big prize, plus another $1,500 prize just down the road in Central City. Vesty had a two-minute lead, but more importantly had the motivation to finish the race to collect his money (he would, in 10th place, nearly 30 minutes down).

"This course was unbelievably hard. I've never done anything like it in America," the New Zealander Vesty said.

Upstart Jess Swiggers (Trek-Volkswagen) caught him at the top of 9,355 feet Oh My God Road, the third climb of the day.

Swiggers, a 20-year old mountain biker who lives in Boulder, would be joined down the road by three other riders, Carl Swenson (Tokyo Joe's), Chris Wherry (Saturn) and Scott Moninger (Mercury Cycling Team), who would trade the lead for the rest of the race. Not surprisingly, all were from Boulder, meaning all were very familiar with the course.

With his technical mountain bike skills, Swiggers bolted to a two-minute lead on the dirt descent off Oh My God Road and rode relentlessly into the wind. Swiggers would spend most of the race alone with the benefit of a draft, either out in front or chasing from behind. His performance brought up memories of young Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten challenging the veterans on these same roads in the 1970s and 1980s.

On the ascent of 11,617-foot Guanella Pass, one rider who had expected to be riding the Alps, rather than the Rockies, set the pace. Christian Vande Velde (U.S. Postal Service) was knocked out of the Tour de France with illness, so he ended up taking on the Zinger for training. He led the charge after Swiggers to the top of Guanella, before making a planned exit from the race.

Moninger, 33, made a planned bike switch at the top of Guanella, from road bike to mountain, demonstrating just how different this race was shaping up to be. Moninger leapt onto his Fuji mountain bike for control on the dirt, and comfortably caught the leaders.

The mountain bike would pay dividends Moninger didnt suffer the two flats as Wherry and Swiggers did on the descent over sharp rocks and ruts (even on his mountain bike, Moninger did get one flat). At the base, Moninger switched back to a road bike for the pavement.

By then the rain was pouring and the wind had picked up. Behind, only 20 or so riders remained in the chase.

"The climb up Guanella was brutal," said Moninger, who is an excellent climber. "Then on the descent, when normally you can relax a little, you had to deal with that road."

The showdown would come on the last climb up 11,547-foot Hoosier Pass, before a steep drop into Breckenridge.

The four worked together to get to the base of Hoosier Pass, and then things exploded. Moninger knew that he couldnt arrive at the finish with Wherry in tow, the Saturn rider would win the sprint, if there were any sprint in anyones legs after 138 miles.

So he attacked. And attacked. And attacked. Finally on his fifth try Moninger broke away to gain over a minute lead by the summit.

"By the top I had a minute, and that was enough," said Moninger. "Of that group, I knew Chris wasn't the guy I wanted to go to the finish with. He's bigger and stronger in a sprint."

Moninger rolled into soaking wet Breckenridge to the cheers of over a thousand fans, over seven hours after setting out.

"You can't get any harder than this," a shivering Wherry said at the finish, in third place. "This was brutal."

The Zinger had more than lived up to its billing.

1. Scott Moninger (USA) Mercury Cycling Team; 7.17.34 (30.50 km/h)
2. Carl Swenson (USA) Tokyo Joes International; 1.20
3. Chris Wherry (USA) Saturn; 2.20
4. Jess Swiggers (USA) Trek-VW/Nutra Fig; 4.15
5. Pete Swenson (USA) Tokyo Joes International; 20.37
6. Floyd Landis (USA) Mercury Cycling Team; 21.29
7. John Lieswyn (USA) Shaklee; 27.13
8. Will Frischkorn (USA) Mercury Cycling Team; 27.22
9. Clark Sheehan (USA) 7 UP/Colorado Cyclist; 28.52
10. Brendon Vesty (NZl) Navigators

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