After a quick lap through the ski resort town, it was Vaughters who crossed the line first, finishing the race that has gained a unique foothold on the American cycling scene in six hours, 50 minutes, 58 seconds.
Chris was really tired. He is the better sprinter for sure. Nineteen times out of 20 he would beat me, said Vaughters. Indeed, Vaughters had to hope that Horner, who is regarded as a sprinter in the cycling world, wouldnt have enough energy to sprint in the last several kilometers of the difficult race. After almost seven hours of racing, that was the last thing any of the riders wanted to do.
I didnt have anything left, Horner said. I knew Jon would have more for the end. Horners time was 6:51:01.
Vaughters did have more, and he crossed the line with his arms in the air to mark his victory.
In the process he collected a new Saturn VUE sport utility vehicle, part of the $80,000 prize list. Riding for HandleBar & Grill, a Denver restaurant, Vaughters win took a bit of the sting out of a forced withdrawal from the Tour de France, where he was stung by a wasp and could not take the proper medication in order to reduce the swelling without triggering a positive drug test.
Mercurys Chris Wherry, hailing from Boulder, crossed the line in third, edging out Saturns Michael Barry of Canada. Both finished in 6:53:34. Horner won $10,000 for his second-place finish and Wherry pocketed $6,000 of the 20-deep purse. Dede Demet-Barry won the Nicole Reinhart womens pro criterium on the streets of Breckenridge Saturday.
Horner won the King of the Mountain competition while Kirk OBee of the Navigators team took home $5,000 as the winner of the Sprint competition.
Horner, riding for the Mercury Team, brought to the Classic the experience of a successful racing season, including wins in the Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia and the Redlands Classic. Horner lives in San Diego, Cal. a far cry from the demanding mountains of Colorado.
The Saturn Cycling Classic runs from Boulder to Breckenridge and crosses seven mountain passes. It is considered one of the most difficult races in the world with 14,000 feet of accumulated climbing on both paved and dirt roads.
This was the second year of the race, and it was clear the racers knew what to expect. Team cars changed fewer flat tires, the riders rode in style on the dirt descents on mountain bikes, and fewer aggressive attacks marked the first few miles of the course. And gathered at the start, the field of 117 riders had fewer looks of fear in their eyes. Granted, only 35 would finish.
Beginning in Boulder, the riders proceeded to the gambling towns of Black Hawk and Central City, down the treacherous Oh My God Road and up and over Guanella Pass, which tops out at 11,671 feet. Early breaks by Saturn, Mercury and Tecos Turbo team members were absorbed by the peloton by the time it reached Guanella, and from that point on it was anybodys race.
Because the Guanella is a dirt road the residents refuse to have it paved knowing the traffic it would then draw several riders switched to mountain bikes at the top for a smoother ride to the bottom.
The majority of the team work is done leading up to Guanella, defending champion Scott Moninger said before the race. From that point on, its every man for himself.
The hors categorie (beyond category) on Guanella was where Saturdays race really began, and where top climbers demonstrated their skills.
Horner led the race up the pass, chased by Jeff Hartmann of Boulder and a group containing Moninger, Vaughters, Barry, Wherry and Jesus Zarate of the Mexican Tecos Turbo squad. Vaughters then began to make his move, passing Hartmann and reaching Horner. A small group hung together over Kenosha and Red Hill pass for the long, wind-blown stretch of highway to Fairplay.
At that point, Moninger dropped back with a wave of his hand, later claiming leg cramps had gotten the better of him close to 100 miles into the race. Moninger finished in 16th place.
Approaching Fairplay, Horner and Vaughters decided to make a move to win the sprint, and, with Vaughters leading out, set an intense pace that lasted until the finish of the race in Breckenridge.
When you get in a small group like that with multiple teams the dynamic is bizarre, Vaughters said. I just went.
When the two reached the summit of Hoosier Pass, the gap to their chasers, Barry and Wherry, was more than three minutes.
I knew that if I worked with Vaughters up front and we had Wherry in the back I was guaranteed a podium spot, Horner said. This is the hardest one-day race. Its just a bunch of suffering. I never felt good all day, but thats how altitude affects you you never feel good. I just figured I needed to keep going.