Scott Mercier: Top college cyclist just a few turns away in western Colorado | PostIndependent.com

Scott Mercier: Top college cyclist just a few turns away in western Colorado

Scott Mercier
Ride Clean

If you're hankering for some good, old-fashioned road bike racing, you can get your fill this weekend in Grand Junction.

Junction will host some of the best cyclists in the country during the 2018 Collegiate Road Cycling National Championships. This is the second year the community has hosted collegiate nationals. Collegiate cycling is unique among collegiate sports in that both club and varsity men and women compete on the same courses. Last year, more than 350 athletes descended on the valley and more than 65 colleges and universities were represented.

The event kicks off with the Purdy Mesa Road Race this morning. This course is at the base of the Grand Mesa, just off Highway 550 between Grand Junction and Delta. It boasts stunning views of the Grand Mesa and each lap is 26.5 kilometers. The course is undulating with several vicious climbs. The finish is brutal — coming after 80k of racing for the women and 106k for the men — and is just over the top of a steep climb.

If you make the trek, bring a bike so that you can ride around the course and catch the athletes from several vantage points. It's always fun to spend some time in the feed zone to get a close glimpse of how top-notch riders refuel during a long race.

Day 2 is in De Beque, just an hour or so from Aspen. De Beque will host the individual and team time trials over a 30.3k hilly course. The TTT is one of my favorite events; it's also one of the hardest and most painful events in cycling.

At the collegiate level, each team consists of four riders. The riders must work in harmony or they will be slow. The rider at the front of the team will essentially sprint for 20 to 30 seconds and then peel off for the next rider in line. Wind is the enemy of speed, and the front rider takes the wind while the remaining riders draft in his or her slipstream and conserve energy.

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Ideally, the riders are of a similar skill set and fitness. A rider who is significantly stronger than the others can actually be detrimental to the success of the team unless he gauges his effort and gives his teammates a chance to recover. Thirty kilometers may not sound like a long distance, but imagine running 20-second wind sprints for 45 minutes with just 50 seconds of recovery between each effort.

De Beque also will host an open time trial, so if you want to check your form against the kids, sign up and give it a go.

Day 3 is the criterium in downtown Grand Junction. The criterium is made with the spectator in mind. The course is about a mile long and has eight corners. The women race 70 minutes and the men race 80 minutes. There also is a sports expo with vendors, music and food.

This is the final race of the 2018 collegiate cycling season and the overall winner will be the team with the most points from track, mountain biking, cyclo-cross, BMX and road. Individual and team national championships also are on the line. For many of these athletes, this will be the final race of their collegiate careers. Perhaps a few will make it to the pro ranks.

The weather is supposed to be perfect: sunny, light winds and moderate temperatures. Bring a bike, go for a fun ride and cheer on your alma mater.

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services teams. He currently works as a financial adviser in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.