Todd Wells surged to a 20-second lead in the opening laps of the WORS Subaru Cup Pro XCT on Saturday, and it seemed the three-time Olympian had kept his ‘A’ game intact after finishing 10th a week earlier in London.
In truth, the Specialized Racing rider was “running on E out there,” and Canadian Derek Zandstra seized the opportunity to attack and score his first victory in the USA Cycling Pro XCT Series.
Zandstra (Scott/3Rox Racing) closed that 20-second gap on the fifth of six laps around the 4.5-mile course at Nordic Mountain, and sensed Wells could be had. He attacked on the first climb on the final loop, gapped Wells and built his lead steadily to the finish.
Wells “limped home” for second place, a result that pushed him past Colin Cares (18th on the day) and secured his overall victory in the five-race series.
His Specialized teammate, Howard Grotts, finished third in the Subaru Cup.
Sam Schultz (Subaru Trek) joined Wells in London to produce the U.S. team’s best showing to date in Olympic mountain biking, and also suffered the effects of a full-out effort, and all-out celebration.
“I left everything out there, and crossed the finish line (in London) thinking about Rio,” said Schultz, 26. “I thought I might be able to fake my way through it here, but it was a tough day in the office.”
The Subaru-Trek rider fell off the pace early, and finished in 10th, one spot ahead of Brian Matter, the Sheboygan rider who claimed the Midwest Regional Championship.
Like Zandstra, Judy Freeman (CrankBrothers) scored her first Pro XCT series win in the Subaru Cup. The 38-year-old from Boulder, Co., took the lead on the first of five laps, and kept the field in her dust all the way to the finish.
Monique Mata challenged early, but faded to third place, possibly feeling the fatigue from another third place effort a week earlier in the Leadville 100. Amanda Sin (Scott/3Rox Racing) charged past Mata on the last lap and scored her best finish in a Pro XCT Race.
Still, Mata placed high enough to take the overall series.
Abby Strigel, of Madison, rode steadily through the rocky, single-track descents, to finish in seventh place and win the Midwest Regional Championship. A dominant force in the WORS series for years, Strigel (Honey Stinger/Bontrager/Pat’s) has been a bit off her training routine, but was thrilled to hold her on with the pros like Mata and Heather Irmiger.
“This is a really exciting race, so much fun,” Strigel said.
She credited the regular rides on the employee-only mountain bike loops built outside the Trek headquarters in Waterloo for helping her build the technical skills she used on Saturday.
The Olympians shared Strigel’s enthusiasm for a WORS race at a ski hill that rises up amid the farm fields in the middle of Wisconsin.
Wells and Schultz have raced at the small venue in Mt. Morris before and came back in part because of the UCI points at stake and the fun of being part of the country’s largest mountain bike series. Nearly 700 riders signed up to race in the WORS events on Saturday and Sunday, and a good number of them lined the course to cheer North America’s top pros as they showed their skills in climbing and descending.
“The kids here are so lucky to have a series with so many great races close by,” said Schultz, who started his own career as a 13-year-old in Missoula, Montana. “It’s so cool to see them so fired up.”
Zandstra likened the course and the WORS spirit to the racing scene around his Ontario home. The wooded course, with fast-flowing single-track and an enthusiastic crowd suited him perfectly.
“It makes the racing great,” he said.