Battle royale to unfold at the Zinger Cycling Challenge

Boulder native, Eddy Gragus is the defending Saturn USPRO Cycling Tour champion  Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Allsport
BOULDER, Colo. The most difficult bicycle race in American history the Zinger from Boulder to Breckenridge, Colo., on July 15 will feature a battle royale between the men who excel where others suffer on the climbs that define this unique event.

Unlike many other American races, where team tactics dominate, the 138-mile Zinger over seven mountain passes presents a decidedly different challenge.

"I think its going to be every man for himself," said John Wordin, team manager for the Mercury Cycling Team, which has had a highly successful 2000 season, both in the U.S. and Europe.

"There are not a lot of places to hide and there is not a lot of team strategy that is going to come into play when there is that much climbing (14,000 total vertical feet). Whoever is the best man is going to win."

Wordin has every reason to feel the winning rider will be wearing the pale green and silver Mercury colors as he has three gifted climbers on his team; Scott Moninger, Chris Horner and Floyd Landis.

First nod goes to Moninger, a 33-year-old from Boulder, Colo., who has been a factor in virtually all climbing events during his 10-year career and knows the roads that comprise the race route well. If Moninger has an off day, Mercury has plenty of backup ammunition in Horner and Landis.

Horner, 28, was the overall winner in the 2000 Tour of Langkawi (Malaysia) at the start of the year and also won the Tour of the Redlands (Calif.) in March. Landis, a 24-year-old who started his competitive career in mountain biking, has shown a lot of climbing prowess though he frequently rides in support of other teammates.

"In this race you've got to ride smart," Wordin cautioned. "It's going to be a very hard race. If we can have some teammates (together) and have more than one guy in the (lead) group, that will work well for us."

Wordin looks to Chris Wherry of the Saturn team as a primary challenger to his riders. Wherry lives in Boulder and is familiar with the route.

"You look at pure climbers," said Wordin. Saturn will also have Antonio Cruz, winner of the Olympic Trials road race, Bart Bowen, a former USPRO national champion, and Trent Klasna, a frequent player in key American events, on its squad for the Zinger.

Other riders that could pose a challenge include:

Clark Sheehan, 31, of the 7-Up/Colorado Cyclist squad
Sheehan is a Colorado native who has hung tight with the likes of Scott Moninger and others on the most difficult climbs.

Eddy Gragus, 32, of the Jelly Belly Team
A Boulder native, Gragus is the defending Saturn USPRO Cycling Tour champion with numerous top finishes in the 2000 season.

Walker Ferguson
Ferguson, 18, is the newly crowned junior world champion in the mountain bike cross-country event in Sierra Nevada, Spain, in June. He is from Norwood, Colo., and trains out of Telluride, Colo.

Travis Brown
Brown, 30, is another Boulder rider who is the current national champion in the mountain bike cross-country.

John Lieswyn, 31, of the Shaklee squad
The silver medalist at the 2000 national time trial championships, Lieswyn has top performances in both national and international events.

Scott Price and Drew Miller of the Landis-Trek team out of Arizona
The two finished hand-in-hand at the Iron Horse Classic road race in late May (Price was awarded the win) after riding the race off the front together for most of the route that features difficult climbs in the Durango, Colo. area.

Overall, Wordin is excited for the race, even though his squad may not be able to manipulate the outcome as it has been able to do in other events.

"I think (the Zinger) is great. We need harder racing in America, not easier. Its going to give us something like what we see in Europe," said Wordin, who has his sights set on a spot in the 2001 Tour de France. "This race wouldn't be considered anything unusual in Europe. Its what we need."

The Zinger was conceived by veteran race promoter and team manager Len Pettyjohn, with input from former Red Zinger/Coors Classic director Michael Aisner and Mo Siegel, founder and president of Celestial Seasonings, the events sponsor.

Modeled after European events like Paris-Roubaix and the most difficult mountain stages of the Tour de France, the Zinger will feature a total vertical gain of close to 14,000 feet over paved and dirt roads.

Steep, off-camber descents some without guard rails, and brutal winds are also characteristics of this challenging route. The estimated race time is seven hours.

"We wanted a race that evokes the characteristics of the European classics: long, extremely difficult one-day events with elements unique to each race, like the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, or the numerous short, steep climbs of the Tour of Flanders," said Pettyjohn.

"The response has been overwhelming. The cycling community has said that this is the type of racing America needs."

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