Caruso shows a lot of heart

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Catherine Johnson and Mindy Caruso were in the lead group of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic women’s criterium from the get-go Sunday, but Caruso’s late push gave her a second victory in as many days.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

The Caruso family is having a Memorial Day vacation it won’t soon forget.

Fresh off her first-ever win in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race, Mindy Caruso, the cyclist and cardiac nurse from Albuquerque, won a heart-stopping women’s pro criterium Sunday, edging runner-up Heather Fischer in a sprint to the finish.

“I think this is the first time I haven’t been lapped in this race, so that was a pretty big accomplishment for me,” Caruso said with a laugh.

Not only has Caruso won the first two legs of the Iron Horse omnium, but her husband Matt Caruso picked up a victory Sunday as well.

The longtime bicycle mechanic took home the men’s Cat 1 45-54 criterium title earlier in the day.

“Facebook and Twitter is just, yeah. I had to recharge my phone,” Matt Caruso said, grinning.

But weekend win No. 2 for Mindy Caruso was no easy feat, although for awhile it appeared as though it might be.

Caruso used the rest of the lead pack’s push to win the first of two preems to her advantage, building a sizeable gap on the next lap.

Fischer, however, wouldn’t let Caruso go, doing most of the work out front in the face of a strong headwind to pull Caruso back to the pack, although she wasn’t exactly thrilled with what she said was a lack of support from the pack in that goal.

“It was me deciding that I didn’t want her to be out there on her own. It was a frustrating race day,” said Fischer, the collegiate road race national champion from the University of Colorado. “Not because I got second. Nobody wanted to be on the front of that race because after you get over that hill, the whole backstretch is a headwind.”

The lead group of five – Caruso, Fischer, Kasey Clark, Abigail Mickey and Catherine Johnson – stayed together until the end of the 45-minute race, even crossing the finish line five-wide to begin the final lap of the 11-rider race.

Caruso said she made her move with three turns to go as she and Fischer pulled to the front. The two turned the final corner wide, seemingly close to scraping the fence, before Caruso won the sprint to the line with Fischer at her back wheel.

“Everybody was kind of waiting to make the move on the last lap, and I just jumped through one of the corners ... then just tried to finish it off, take the perfect line through the last corner,” Caruso said.

Clark, who finished third, said the final lap was a tense waiting game, seeing who was going to make the first move. After she got loose in the final corner, the Lafayette resident said she just pushed to hold onto third, fending off Mickey and Johnson.

“It kind of slowed, and we did the cat-and-mouse game. ... And then Mindy and Heather jumped in the third-to-last corner. I got on Mindy’s wheel, and then Heather came around me in the ... last turn,” Clark said.

“Mindy and Heather are just cornering so well, so they just shot through it. ... The corner was pretty dangerous. My wheel skipped out two times, my chain dropped from the big to the little ring. I was like, ‘OK, just get through it.’”

The victory puts Caruso in the driver’s seat for the omnium title heading into today’s time trial. She won her division in the time trial at the 2011 USA Cycling Master Road Nationals and prefers the discipline to the two others she’s won this weekend.

Fischer, with a third in the road race and second in the criterium, could give Caruso a run should Sunday’s victor stumble.

That makes the most compelling drama Caruso’s search for an omnium sweep.

But, for Sunday at least, Caruso was content to bask in the outpouring of support from members of the crowd, including a few unexpected guests.

“My brother, sister-in-law and niece came out to watch, which was a pretty big surprise. ... I think all of Albuquerque is cheering me on around the course. ... I felt like I had home-field advantage here in Durango,” she said, wearing the same ear-to-ear victory smile as the day before.

Can she make it three in a row?

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