SILVERTON – An Iron Horse Bicycle Classic rookie took command on the massive climbs and held on through the daunting descents to claim Saturday’s Coca-Cola Women’s Road Race title.
Aimee Vasse, who recently moved from Florida to Longmont to pursue cycling on a higher level, crossed the finish line of the 47-mile course, which had 6,700 feet of climbing from Durango to Silverton, in 2 hours, 44 minutes, 43.6 seconds.
Vasse pulled away from Durango’s Sarah Sturm on the climb up Molas Pass and built a big enough gap to stay in front of Sturm, whose specialty is mountain biking, on the final descent and sprint to the finish.
“I’m terrified of descending – so terrified,” Vasse said. “I actually almost lost it on the decent between (Coal Bank and Molas passes). I almost lost it on that initial descent but got back on it somehow. I got away on that last climb, and on that final descent, I said, ‘All right, Aimee, you can’t put your hands on your brakes. Take your hands off your brakes and just go. You got this.’”
Sturm finished second in 2:44:54.9.
“I was ahead of her on the descent from Coal Bank, but she caught up to me on the climb (up Molas Pass),” Sturm said.
“We worked together on the climb a little bit, but she is a strong climber. The last little bit of the climb up Molas, she just rode so strong, and I suffered hard.”
Mindy Caruso, last year’s champion, was third in 2:47:05.3, followed by Fort Lewis College rider Charlotte Backus in 2:48:03 for fourth and Caitlyn Kneller in fifth at 2:50:54.1.
Coming into the weekend, Caruso, who also won the title in 2012, wasn’t sure how hard she would push herself during the race, but once she started the climbs, she couldn’t pull back.
“I pushed it hard, but my form, there’s limitations,” the 46-year-old Caruso said.
Vasse and Sturm had somewhat unconventional entries to the race, and also dealt with unfamiliar conditions.
Vasse had never ridden the course before and didn’t have the luxury of studying or mapping out the course ahead of the race.
Sturm registered for the race at 6:45 p.m. Friday, slipping in 15 minutes before the registration window closed, and rode a borrowed bike she had never ridden before. She even wore mountain bike shoes.
The victory marked what could be the first of many for Vasse, who will continue to make a return to cycling after she gave up competing as a pro for a while.
“I took 10 years off of riding and came back to it,” Vasse said. “I was living in Florida and moved (to Longmont) six weeks ago for riding. I’ve been working with Tom Danielson, and it’s made an incredible difference. I just started training with power about six months ago, and it’s really made a difference.”
Vasse, Sturm and Backus didn’t register for any other events during the weekend, and they all seemed most interested in enjoying the environment of the IHBC weekend as a whole.
“I’ve been here for 10 years, and the town revolves around the Iron Horse,” Sturm said. “It’s pretty remarkable. I mean, look where we are. This is incredible. You really can’t beat it. The town turns into this biking mecca. ... It’s this really cool energy.”