Nearing the end of road season, University of Arizona and Arizona State University riders battled it out in the desert heat last weekend at the ASU Polytechnic Innovation Criterium and the Cotton Classic Time Trial.
Without rest of the major Southwest conference teams in attendance, ASU hoped to swipe the conference title. But after two days of racing UA persevered, and its two strongest riders David Greif and Shelby Hoglund maintained their spots as conference leaders.
Heading into the final weekend of the road season, UA continues their steady 98-point team lead over ASU.
“We’ve always been the team to be on the offensive, even when we’re in the lead, and that won’t change,”said UA team president Joey Iuliano. “The biggest goal is to get a UA A rider across the line first in the crit and road race for the call ups [at nationals].”
No place to hide
The four-corner, flat criterium course gave racers no place to hide, especially as wind speed rose throughout the day.
Racing with a combined A/B field, the men quickly strung out and separated the categories. The Men’s A podium was evenly split between three schools – Josh Pratt-Ferguson (UA), Rhys Louis (ASU) and Castle Gay (Northern Arizona University) in that order.
Meanwhile, the Women’s A/B race hung together, with ASU’s Meggie Townsend lapping the field for a first place finish, followed by Hoglund (UA) on a solo break and Tori Riemersma (ASU) winning the bunch sprint for third.
Brooke Lyman (ASU) and Katie Emory (UA) made up the Women’s B podium. One of NAU’s two riders present, Zachary Morrision, took first in Men’s B, with Joshua Watts (ASU) and Alan Bonk (ASU) not far behind. Osama Wali (ASU), Thomas Lo Greco (UA) and Evan Reid (ASU) topped the Men’s C podium.
Another Sun Devil TT upset
Much like the criterium, the conference championship individual time trial course was flat, with less than 50 feet of elevation change.
In a surprising upset of the Women’s A race, Riemersma (ASU) beat out season-long winner Hoglund (UA) for first place by only six seconds for a championship win. It was the second collegiate weekend in a row where the Sun Devils stuck a fork in the Wildcats’ strongest discipline.
Riemersma attributed her win to “all of the UA team there to chase [as] great motivation,” she said.
Riemersma said “[ASU] will be bringing our A-game for next week – the points gap is there but with double points, anything can happen.”
Cherry Niel (UA) took third in the TT after Hoglund.
UA dominated the Men’s A with Pratt-Ferguson and Greif going 1-2, with ASU’s Schreiber in third.
ASU continued their winning streak as Watts won the Men’s B with Robert Steinmann (UA) and Alexander Alvarez (UA) following. Women’s B was also taken by ASU’s Lyman with Emory (UA) behind. Finally, ASU’s Wali pulled off a Men’s C win once again, with UA teammates Lo Greco and Ben Anderson in second and third.
Chasing the championship
Stakes will be high next weekend at Duncan, where all events – team time trial, criterium and road race – will provide double points for riders fighting for the Southwest conference regional championships.
Grief has decreased his lead to 55 points on teammate Pratt-Ferguson, who is now 94 points ahead of ASU’s Schreiber in the chase for the SWCCC leader’s jersey.
On the women’s side, Hoglund has ridden into a 108-point gap above fellow Wildcat Sarah Posner, who holds a 37-point edge over Sun Devil Alissa Albrecht.
The Wildcats have the opportunity to sweep all three conference titles this year – mountain, cyclocross, and road – but with the right tactics, power and numbers the Sun Devils could fork them in the end.
“It’s never really over until the last race is done,” Iuliano said. “It’s a bike race – anything can happen.”
Photos: David Greif and Joey Iuliano