LUCAS HESS/Durango Herald
The greasy chain grime on Rotem Ishay’s bare hands told half the story.
The collision of disbelief and frustration on his face told the rest.
The Fort Lewis College cyclist, less than 2 minutes earlier, had a golden opportunity to win Sunday’s Squawker Classic Men’s A road race and prevent a weekend sweep by the Colorado Buffaloes.
Ishay, in his final college race in Durango, had broken away from the large peloton with Josh Yeaton, the top rider from the University of Colorado.
Together, they pulled into a two-man race on the 6-mile road course around the Fort Lewis campus. A ninth and final climb up the front hill (Eighth Street) would decide the winner.
“I felt good,” Ishay said. “On the hill, that’s where I felt my advantage was. I left it for the last climb ... ”
Then it happened, halfway up the hill.
Ishay’s bike stopped.
“My gears just stuck. I shifted a gear, and then I couldn’t even rotate my pedals. It just totally seized,” said Ishay, who established his reputation as a premier collegiate climber as a national mountain bike champion.
“It’s a bummer ... my whole team is back there helping me out, and a small thing like this does it,” Ishay said.
He said his Skyhawk teammates did an excellent job controlling the peloton to allow his break with Yeaton.
“My team did a great job of not letting anybody go ... and then this,” he said, looking at the grimy hands he used to pry the chain from between gears. ”It’s frustrating.”
“It was shaping up to be a sprint to the line,” said Yeaton, a CU senior who slipped past Ishay to win Saturday’s criterium.
“We each gave it a go (during the race), but we weren’t able to drop each other,” he said.
“I was looking forward to that last time up the hill with Rotem. But then, his chain ... ,” said Yeaton, who pedaled on up the last hill to win the race and clinch the season-long Men’s A omnium title in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference.
“We thought with Rotem in the break, that obviously we had a really, really good chance of winning,” said Payson McElveen, a Fort Lewis College freshman from Austin, Texas.
“He and Josh (Yeaton) were out there; we really loved our odds,” he said.
“Basically, my job was to patrol the front and make sure nothing got away,” said McElveen, who worked with Griffin Easter, Russell Brown, Ryan Cleveland and a host of other Skyhawks in the peloton.
With two laps to go, McElveen said Jeff Perrin of CU attacked from the pack.
“I followed like my job prescribed, and we ended up getting a gap,” McElveen said.
Then, he and Perrin started up the front hill for the last time.
“I looked and saw Rotem on the second switchback messing with his bike, his chain. And I just thought, ‘Are you kidding?’”
Trying to forget his teammate’s roadside agony, McElveen raced to the finish.
“I couldn’t quite shake Jeff, and he just nipped me at the line (for second place),” said McElveen, who was third.
“It’s a shame when it comes down to equipment,” said McElveen, a mountain biker turned fledging road racer. “The equipment is at a high level, but it’s still a piece of machinery.”
Yeaton’s road race victory wrapped up a Squawker sweep for the University of Colorado.
Heather Fischer of the Buffs, who won a strategic duel in the Saturday criterium, doubled up with a win in Sunday’s road race.
For the second consecutive race, Sarah Zoey Sturm of Fort Lewis was a victim of the numbers game in the Women’s A race.
Sturm, who finished second to Fischer in the crit, broke from the women’s peloton Sunday on the second of six laps with two CU riders in tow – Fischer and Abby Mickey.
The three left the pack behind.
But Sturm was vulnerable to the double-team tactics of the CU duo. Two of Sturm’s teammates were unable to start Sunday’s 8 a.m. race because of illness. Another teammate crashed on the first lap.
“The road race is a team sport, for sure,” Sturm said, fighting back her frustration with a big smile.
“It’s hard when you attack and you spend all your cookies attacking ... but there are two of them,” said Sturm, a national champion collegiate mountain biker.
“I would go, and one of them would catch me. Then the other one would attack,” Sturm said.
Fischer managed the last attack.
“I attacked on the downhill section before the last climb,” said Fischer, a CU senior from Berthoud. “I was hoping to tire out Sarah and let Abby (Mickey) take it.”
When her teammate was unable to slingshot past, Fischer rode to the line. Sturm finished second.
“Sarah was right on my wheel the entire climb. She really put the fear in me,” said Fischer, who clinched the Women’s A omnium title for the conference.
Teammate Mickey, who finished third Sunday, finished second in the season omnium standings.
Sturm was fifth overall for Fort Lewis. Teammates Lauren Catlin and Missy Erickson, unable to race Sunday, were sixth and seventh overall.
Frustration aside, Sturm said the Skyhawks enjoy racing at home in Durango.
“The home race is so fun,” she said with a nod to the Fort Lewis pep band that played on the front hill.
While the Buffaloes captured both A division omnium crowns, FLC’s Easter finished second overall in the men’s standings.
Mac Cassim of CU was third. Zack Allison of CSU was fourth.
Two more Skyhawks were ninth and 10th, respectively. Ryan Cleveland finished ninth. Durango native Howard Grotts was 10th.
Grotts was unable to race in the Squawker Classic this year because he was racing in the Sea Otter Classic in California with his Specialized professional mountain biking team.
Grotts finished 16th in the Sea Otter national cross country race. Fellow Durango rider and two-time Olympian Todd Wells was fifth. Olympian Geoff Kabush won.
Grotts will rejoin the Skyhawks for the upcoming USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals in Ogden, Utah, on May 4-6.
LUCAS HESS/Durango Herald photos