Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The streak is over.
After four consecutive wins by Mara Abbott, the Mindy Caruso era started Memorial Day Weekend 2012.
Caruso crossed the finish line in Silverton 11 seconds ahead of Abbott to claim her first Iron Horse Bicycle Classic women’s road race title in four tries.
“I wasn’t really going out to beat Mara; I was just going out to ride my race, and it worked out that way,” the new champion said.
By leading the field to Silverton, Caruso became the first non-Abbott winner of the race since Alison Powers in 2006. Abbott took home titles from 2007-2011, with the 2008 race canceled because of weather.
Abbott wasn’t disappointed in defeat, given her inability to train in her typical fashion. The first-ever American winner of the Giro Donne, she had recently “quit” professional racing and also was coming off a broken foot suffered during a run.
“I haven’t raced since July, and I haven’t really been able to train,” she said. “So to be able to be here and feel like I was a contender – it’s not been an awesome last six-to-eight months, and when I quit racing, I was in a really, really bad place.
“I would say that it was pretty much what I expected – that I could still go pretty hard, but, you know, that top 20 percent is hiding somewhere.”
Still, Abbott, flashing her familiar snarl on the climbs, was able to build a nearly 30-second lead after Coal Bank Pass with Boulder’s Heather Fischer in second and Caruso, who registered in Cat 2/3 but started the same time as the other pros, in third.
But the Albuquerque resident stormed back to overtake Fischer on Coal Bank before tracking down the four-time defending champion on the downhill side of Molas Pass.
“I just got into my zone on Coal Bank. Every time I had a little tailwind section, I pushed it pretty hard. ... We (Fischer and Caruso) worked together on the bottom of Molas,” Caruso said. “I was able to pass Heather a little bit, then I caught Mara on the descent ... and kept pushing as hard as I could on the finish.”
Caruso, the 2011 USA Cycling Master Road Nationals 35-39 individual time trial champion, stayed steady through the final descent into Silverton and crossed the line in 2 hours, 44 minutes, 24 seconds. All times are unofficial.
Abbott crossed in 2:44.35.
Fischer, also registered in Cat 2/3, was third in 2:45.13, followed by Boulder’s Julie Emmerman in 2:47.53. Mickey Abigail of Aspen was fifth in 2:48.03, with Angela Des Cognets of Golden sixth in 2:48.13.
Fort Lewis College alumna Sarah Zoey Sturm was seventh, finishing in 2:48.29.
Durango DEVO coach Sarah Tescher finished 23rd between the pros and the Cat 2/3s in 4:30.44.
Until the passes, the road race was a casual affair, with several riders chatting with each other before the climbs.
Near the climbs, however, the pack started to stretch.
Caruso grabbed the reins near Elbert Creek before Abbott started a rush that included Fischer, Caruso and Catherine Johnson. Abbott eventually dropped all three to build her lead before Caruso’s gallant charge.
“There was no impetus through the valley. It was a social parade,” Caruso said. “It was fun, though.”
In past years, a handful of riders, particularly Abbott, tried to break away at Shalona Hill.
This year’s group, however, stayed tight all the way to Coal Bank, content to take turns at the front, pulling the peloton.
“There’s that flat spot before you get to (Durango Mountain Resort), and if you’re alone, which I’ve done before, it (stinks),” said Abbott, who holds the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic record with four consecutive road race championships. “It’s a terrible, terrible strategic plan.”
But Saturday belonged to Caruso, whose previous best finish in the pro race was eighth last year. With husband Matt Caruso – with whom she runs a cycling mechanic business – cheering her on, she made her fourth time the charm.
“It’s awesome,” Caruso said, beaming.