Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The Buffaloes roamed in the right place at the right time Saturday at the annual Squawker Road Classic in Durango.
The University of Colorado cycling team, with an exhibition of exquisite timing, orchestrated two dramatic sprint victories in the afternoon criteriums, supporting two stunning wins in the morning team time trial.
The results vaulted the Buffaloes into the first-day lead at the Squawker Classic, which also serves as the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference Championships this year.
In both the Men’s A and Women’s A criteriums, the Buffaloes denied victory for the host Skyhawks on the residential streets of downtown Durango.
The most agonizing finish for Fort Lewis came in the Women’s A crit when Sarah Zoey Sturm of the Skyhawks led for virtually the entire 45-minute race.
But with a calculated move with two laps to go, Heather Fischer of the University of Colorado slipped past Sturm to win the Squawker crit championship.
“I learned a lot in this race,” Sturm said, with an extraordinary emphasis on “lot.”
“I know I got a better workout than she did ... for sure,” Sturm said after finishing second in the frustrating race where she and Fischer broke away from the pack at the halfway point.
But after they split from the group, Sturm was stuck out front with Fischer glued to her back wheel.
“She just would not pull, even when I slowed down,” Sturm said.
“But it was her coach telling her not to. She was listening to her coach, and unfortunately, I don’t have the experience to know right when to attack,” said Sturm, a national collegiate mountain bike champion who has dazzled with three criterium wins this season.
“At the end, I was too tired, and she had just been sitting on my wheel the whole, entire race,” said Sturm, who had to pedal alone with the attrition of her teammates during the race.
Defending Squawker criterium champion Missy Erickson of Fort Lewis pulled out of the race at the 18-minute mark. Teammate Lauren Catlin, coming off illness, was unable to ride at the lead pack’s pace.
“It was hard to let her pull that long, but that’s what my coaches told me to do,” said Fischer, a CU senior.
She said late in the race she picked up lapped teammate Claire Bensard, who helped with the final attack.
“We both attacked on either side of (Sturm) ... that gave me a second advantage,” she said of the attack with a lap and a half to go.
“She (Sturm) was pretty tired at the point, and my legs were fresh,” said Fischer, who won the Women’s A criterium in Colorado Springs earlier this year.
“She’s gotten a lot of wins on me ... it was fun to finally beat her,” she said.
Fischer is scheduled to graduate in two weeks with a degree in international affairs and history. Then, she’s headed to law school, but not before “racing bikes for a couple of years.”
Fischer is scheduled to race in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango next month.
The Buffaloes used a different strategy to win the Men’s A criterium, a fast race with a deep field of the conference’s top racers.
With no major breakaways, a final lead group of 10 cyclists pressed ahead with five laps to go after a 50-minute stalemate.
Josh Yeaton of the University of Colorado pulled away in the final half-block to nip Rotem Ishay of Fort Lewis at the line.
“This crit was really fast,” said Ishay, like Sturm, a collegiate mountain biking national champion.
“Everybody was eager to get in position. There were a lot of attempts at breakaways, but nothing really went away,” he said.
With two laps to go, Ishay positioned himself on the inside near the front.
“I came around that last corner second wheel (in second place),” Ishay said.
Yeaton, more of a sprinter, crossed the line first.
“I’m happy with second. It was a fun race,” said Ishay, who also is the reigning Israeli national mountain bike champion.
“It really was fun,” said Yeaton, a CU senior from Anchorage, Alaska.
“There was a lot of action up front,” he said of the numerous lead changes.
The only thing that slowed the race was a black cat who zipped across the closed course on three different occasions.
Yeaton, who won the Colorado Springs criterium earlier this season, said he wanted to be among the lead riders with two laps to go.
He was. And he was there with one lap to go.
“I was fourth wheel coming over the top of the hill (two blocks from the finish),” Yeaton said.
“I kind of darted to the inside. Rotem was already there ... but I had a little bit more speed,” he said of the final decisive move within site of the finish line.
Griffin Easter of Fort Lewis ended up third in the mad scramble at the finish of the Men’s A crit.
Two Colorado Mesa University cyclists – Rich Geng and Jacob Hadar – finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
“Griffin Easter probably did too much work during that race,” Fort Lewis cycling director Dave Hagen said.
“That’s what they are talking about now,” he said as the FLC men’s team held a debriefing after the race.
Hagen said Ishay worked into great position.
But the diminutive Ishay wanted to avoid a late sprint, Hagen said.
“So Rotem attacked with five (laps) to go and two to go,” Hagen said. “And he had good position on the last corner.”
Ishay actually got past leader Matt Lyons of the University of Denver for a split second, but Yeaton passed both Lyons and Ishay for the win.
Earlier Saturday morning, the Buffaloes set the tone for the day by winning the team time trial down La Posta Road (County Road 213).
The CU men’s team, including Yeaton, rode the 13-mile course in 24 minutes, 47 seconds. CSU was second at 25:02. The FLC men’s A team was two seconds back of CSU at 25:04 in third place.
The CU women, led by criterium winner Fischer, won by a minute over Fort Lewis – 28:10 to 29:10.
“CU brought a big crew down this weekend,” Hagen said after the Buffaloes swept Saturday’s races.
“Their tactics and their luck worked for them ... good timing,” Hagen said.
“But (today) is a different day,” Hagen said.
The road races will wrap up the 2012 Squawker Road Classic today.
The Men’s A race, with a start/finish on the Fort Lewis campus, will start at 10 a.m. The course will include a climb up the front hill to Fort Lewis College on Eighth Street.
The Women’s A road race will start at 8 a.m.
Fort Lewis’ Sturm, for one, can’t wait.
“I’m going to be real cranky after this race (Saturday), so I’ll bring it (today),” Sturm said.