Colorado Mini Classic becoming hot topic for juniors & U23 racers

  
  


by Bob Stephens
 
With a nod to history and an eye to the future, the Colorado Mini Classic is fast becoming a hot topic for junior cyclists.
 
The stage race, one of the few of its kind in the United States, enters its fourth year in 2013. The Mini Classic was designated a USA Cycling Road Development Race Series  event in 2012 and this year figures to attract an even more talented and deeper group of riders to Silt, Colo., which is on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, 14 miles west of Glenwood Springs.
 
“It’s all about the juniors at this race,” said Josh Schroeder, who participated in all three Mini Classics, last summer at age 13. “At a lot of races, they don’t really care about the juniors.”
 

Gage Hecht, who turned 15 on Feb. 18, agrees. The eight-time national champion – three times in cyclo-cross, twice in road and time trial, and once in the criterium – talked about the Classic during a break at the Junior ID Camp in southern California in November.
 
“The Mini Classic is one of my bigger races of the year and I really look forward to it,” Hecht said. “It’s pretty awesome. They don’t have a lot of categories and you don’t have to sit around all day while adults race.”
 
Max Sommers, who raced as a 15-year-old last summer, called it “my favorite junior race of the year.”
 
His father, Bill Sommers, is the race director, but gives credit for the idea to Jon Tarkington, a cat 1 racer.
 
“We’re refining and tweaking the Mini Classic,” Bill Sommers said. “We had about 90 riders last year, with about 90 percent of those coming from Colorado’s Front Range.”
 
Everyone expects that to increase this year for the May event, likely scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.
 
“My assumption is it’s going to grow,” Max Sommers said. “There should be more numbers and talent.”
 
“We’re hoping for more out-of-state riders,” Bill Sommers said. “We’re getting the word out so they’ll have time to plan and the bigger junior teams can plan for it. It takes a few years to spread the word.”
 
Hecht won the Classic twice in three years. He lost one of the stages to Christopher Blevins of Durango, who has reached the junior national championship podium twice.
 
“It’s starting to attract people like Blevins and I think it’ll get people from the Southwest and maybe all over the country,” Hecht said. “I think it could get pretty big.”

 

Timing is an advantage for the Classic, coming just before Amateur Road Nationals, July 3-7.
 
“It occurs during the hotbed of the season,” said Bruce Hecht, Gage’s father. “Kids are trying to hone their skills right before nationals so the timing is perfect. And the weather seems to be perfect.”
 
Gage Hecht cited three reasons he plans to race the Mini Classic again this year.
“I really enjoy the courses and they set me up for nationals just after that,” he said. “And the competition is getting tougher.”
 
John Callahan’s three sons have all raced in the Mini Classic. Hunter and Kevin – 16 and 14, respectively, during last year’s race – expect to compete again this summer.
 
“The idea of a stage race for juniors is great,” said John Callahan, a member of the United States 1992 Olympic cross country ski team. “It’s not nearly as intimidating when it’s just focused on the kids. It makes it really special for them.”
 
There is a pizza party at a hotel swimming pool for the riders on Saturday night of the Mini Classic.
 
“It’s just a fun weekend,” Bill Sommers said. “It needs to be fun for juniors. I know the parents enjoy the race too.”
 
Sommers set up the races at longer distances to help prepare riders for nationals.
“We give them the opportunity to race longer courses and a taste of what a stage race is like,” he said.
 
Riders and promoters both extol the virtues of the Silt area terrain, which provides variety for the three stages.
 
“The time trial is on a mostly flat, straight road. It’s perfect,” Max Sommers said. “The crit in downtown Silt is awesome because it’s fast and technical. It has a lot of turns, is wide and narrow, and really keeps you on your toes. Me and my friends really look forward to the road race. The hills on that course roll up and down; it’s really fun.”
 
The race has added the Under-23 category for 2013. This harkens back to the 1980s, when the area hosted the Red Zinger – a race for juniors – and the Coors Classic for elite riders and professionals.
 
“I remember the Coors Classic years ago,” Callahan said. “Now they have one just for juniors and that’s great. It’s fun to see all the kids show up excited and anxious to compete.”

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