Saturn offers unique challenge
Carbondale’s Rishi Grewal has been rolling, literally, through his cycling schedule this year.
He began with a victory in the snow at the Iditasport 130 in Knik, Alaska, and in the last three weeks alone he notched wins at the Brian Head Epic 100 in Utah, Montezuma’s Revenge at Montezuma and the 24 Hours of Adrenaline at Winter Park.
Those events were all on the seat of a mountain bike. Saturday he will try his hand on the pavement during the Saturn Cycling Classic.
There’s no cycling event in the United States that can rival the Tour de France, but the Saturn Cycling Classic is doing its best to mimic a stage of the fabled Tour.
The 140-mile, point-to-point race from Boulder to Breckenridge, which begins at 9:20 a.m., features seven mountain passes and 14,000 feet of climbing. Guanella Pass out of Georgetown summits at 11,671 feet and is off the chart using cycling’s scale to rate the difficulty of a given climb. Of the other six passes four are ranked at category two (in the ranking system one as the most difficult, four the least difficult and “hors categorie” is off the scale).
To put this in perspective, the most difficult stage of the 2002 Tour de France featured one hors categorie, two category ones and two category twos.
“It would be one of the toughest, probably the toughest, stage of the Tour de France,” Grewal said. “Climbing-wise it would be about the same, but you’re not two weeks into the race.”
Although billed as a road race, Grewal will put his mountain biking skills to use. The Oh My God Road descent into Idaho Springs is unpaved and the pavement ends about three-quarters of the way up Guanella Pass. Many riders switch to mountain bikes for the descent down Guanella into Grant.
While Grewal has become well-known as an ultra endurance mountain bike racer, he spent plenty of time on road bikes early in his career. He won the Amateur National Championship and was also part of the national champion team time trial squad that included Glenwood’s Bobby Julich and four-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Now Grewal, 35, who calls himself “a grizzled old warrior,” will dip into that well of road biking experience and knowledge.
“There’s layer upon layer of relatively complex strategy involved in trying to win a one-day race like this,” Grewal said.
As the captain of the Handlebar and Grill team, Grewal plans to implement strategies similar to those of a Tour de France team and help teammate Jonathan Vaughters, of Denver, defend his Saturn title. Grewal admits it won’t be easy without the time to train together as a team, but says most of the members are “fairly well seasoned.”
In the Saturn Classic last year, Grewal set a blistering pace at the front of the peloton. The goal was to thin out the peloton and allow Vaughters, a Tour de France veteran, to save his strength for the finish in much the same manner members of the U.S. Postal Service team pulled and protected Armstrong en route to his fourth straight Tour victory last month.
The ploy worked as Vaughters was able to come from behind to win the race in 6 hours, 50 minutes, 58 seconds.
“For me in the Saturn race last year all I did was perform domestique duties (helping Vaughters),” Grewal said. “This year we have a much stronger team.
“I have a chance to win the race, but it’s a slight, outside chance,” he added. “I just don’t do enough races that are like this race.”
Grewal will still concentrate on keeping Vaughters within striking distance of the leaders this year, but, thanks to the improved team, he will likely not be the rider in front of the peloton early on. Instead, he will be the rider in reserve and hopes the Handlebar and Grill squad can have two riders in the lead group down the stretch, rather than Vaughters battling on his own as he did last year.
“Hopefully we can reserve me for the last gasp,” Grewal said.
And Grewal won’t get a chance to take a breath after the Saturn Classic. He’s slated to defend his title at the Ultra 100 in Beaver Creek the next weekend.
For more information on the Saturn Cycling Classic visit http://www.saturncyclingclassic.com. The race will be aired on ESPN2 at 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 18.
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