Blackwelder, Bergh win Banana Belt #1
HAGG LAKE — Mark Blackwelder (Gentle Lovers) scored his first-ever elite men’s win Sunday at Banana Belt #1, while Cat 3 Stefanie Bergh (Upper Echelon Fitness) soloed the last half lap of the women’s Cat 1-2-3 race to take her first win.
Morning fog gave way to bright sunny skies Sunday at Henry Hagg Lake west of Portland, making for a beautifully warm kick off to the series that takes place on an 11-mile loop circling this popular fishing spot.
Bergh made her winning move on the climb just past the earthen dam on the counter clockwise course. After the combined Cat 1-2-3 women’s field swept through the wide left-hander that leads to the climb, Bergh jumped, got a gap and then expected others to join her. But they didn’t.
“I don’t know why they didn’t come with me,” Bergh said. “I thought they would. I thought the one-twos would attack, but no one did. Maybe I’m feeling better than I thought.”
With no one else to share the workload for the last half lap of the four-lap race, Bergh put her head down and focused on getting to the finish. Although she built an advantage of up to a minute during the ensuing miles, Bergh said she didn’t feel her lead was safe until she hit the last 200 meters. But with the finish line finally in sight, Bergh had plenty of time to sit up and post a one-handed salute as she cruised in for the win.
Ironclad Performance Wear’s Brianna Walle led the field across the line as the first Cat 1-2 finisher. Erin Playman (Gentle Lovers) followed for third overall and second in the Cat 1-2 race. Lindsay Fox crossed next for the third Cat 1-2 spot.
Early Breakaway Animates Men’s Cat 1-2 Race
The five-lap men’s Cat 1-2 race started with typical aggressiveness, but several early attacks failed to stick until David Zimbelman (Salmon Cyclery) and Mathew Braun (Audi) escaped the field during the second trip around the lake. By the beginning of lap three, the lead duo had 40 seconds on a chasing trio of Blackwelder, Jonathan McCoy (Ironclad Performance Wear) and last year’s series winner Ryan Carlson (Cyclepath). The field dangled about another 40 seconds behind the first chase group.
One lap later, the three chasers had whittled the leaders’ advantage down to 10 seconds, while two more chasers dangled off the front of the field, which was now more than 1:45 behind the leaders. The two lead groups made contact on the penultimate lap and quickly gained the cohesiveness that put the race out of touch for the rest of the starters.
By the end of the fourth lap, the now lead group of five had more than four minutes on the field and continued to pour on the power. Any attempts to bridge now were futile, and the leaders’ lead grew to nearly five minutes by the finish.
Despite the large cushion, there was very little strategic shuffling or attacking among the leaders in the finalè.
“Zimbelman seemed content to sit on the back, and Matt (Braun) was like, ‘I’ll just take us home.’ And he just rode the front the last mile and a half so it didn’t get all cat-and-mousey or twitchy,” Blackwelder said.
As the leaders approached the last 300 meter uphill burst to the line, Blackwelder jumped first and quickly gained the advantage he took to the line, easily outpacing his breakaway companions for the win. Carlson came in next for second, followed by McCoy in third. Braun came crossed the line fourth, with Zimbelman rounding out the top five. Guinness Cycling Team’s David Wells won the bunch sprint for sixth.
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Banana Belt #1
Cat 1-2 Men
1. Mark Blackwelder (Gentle Lovers)
2. Ryan Carlson (Cyclepath)
3. Jonathan McCoy (Ironclad Performance Wear)
4. Mathew Braun (Audi)
5. David Zimbelman (Salmon Cyclery)
Cat 1-2-3 Women *Cat 3 scored separately
1. Stefanie Bergh (Upper Echelon Fitness) *Cat 3 winner
2. Brianna Walle (Ironclad Performance Wear) *Cat 1-2 winner
3. Erin Playman (Gentle Lovers)
4. Lindsay Fox (Athlete’s Lounge)
5. Heather VanValkenburg (Upper Echelon Fitness)