In one of the most dramatic finishes to the Cascade Cycling Classic in recent memory, Robin Carpenter surged up Summit Drive in Bend to steal the overall victory Sunday in the pro men’s race.
During a chaotic finish-line scene, the leading men’s riders finished just a few seconds behind the pro women’s winners as the two fields unexpectedly commingled in the Awbrey Butte Circuit Race.
“I’m kind of an anxious dude, so it’s a bit of relief,” said Carpenter, who won his second consecutive overall title at the CCC. “It was chaotic all day, so I was just trying to hold myself back from too much. Two in a row … it’s pretty crazy.”
On the hottest day of the five-stage race — temperatures reached into the 90s — the pro men raced five laps of the 17-mile circuit through west Bend and Tumalo for 82 miles, the pro women raced three laps for 49 miles, and the Cat 2/3 men raced four laps for 67 miles.
The race finished atop Summit Drive near Central Oregon Community College.
The women’s race, scheduled to start after the pro men completed one lap, instead started a few minutes late after a 50- to 60-rider crash in the Cat 2/3 race. That and slower-than-average speeds in the women’s race contributed to the fields mixing during the final climb to the finish.
“We go by historical times the last three years — how fast the men and women average,” said race director Chad Sperry about the planned staggering of the starts of the circuit race. “This year the women’s race was very slow, and we had a horrific accident in the Cat 2-3. And with bike racing, anything can happen. In this case, one of the worst crashes, as far as numbers.”
Carpenter, of Holowekso-Citadel, said that Stephen Bassett of Silber Pro Cycling likely would have won or at least finished in the top three in the stage had he not crashed into a women’s racer as he was caught off guard in the final 200 meters.
“Oh, that was a complete mess,” Carpenter said. “Nobody likes to see that happen. It’s a bummer.”
Carpenter, 25 and of San Diego, started the day one second behind Gavin Mannion of UnitedHealthcare in the overall standings. He finished second in the stage to earn a six-second time bonus and finish five seconds ahead of Mannion to win the overall title. Evan Huffman of Rally Cycling finished third overall, 12 seconds back.
Alex Howes of the U.S. national team won the stage in 2 hours, 52 minutes, 34 seconds, finishing just moments after the top women. Jacob Rathe of Jelly Belly was third in the stage.
“This day and age, it’s hard to win any bike race,” Howes said. “They don’t come for free anymore.”
Howes said he was racing for teammate Kiel Reijnen, who crashed hard in Saturday’s criterium in downtown Bend and abandoned the race. Howes said Reijnen suffered bad road rash but otherwise was OK.
“It was nice to get it for Kiel today,” Howes said. “He’ll be fine. Right now he’s got a sore face.”
A breakaway of seven riders ballooned to as many as 14, but it was caught on the final lap. The peloton was all together as Carpenter and Howes made their moves on the final left-hand turn from Mount Washington Drive to Summit Drive.
Carpenter said he looked back with about 100 meters to go and did not see Mannion or Huffman, which gave him some confidence “to just absolutely crush it and bury myself.”
“It’s a mind game all day,” Carpenter said. “You’ve got to stay calm and keep it together, and not panic. I was taking deep breaths and counting to five before the last turn, just to try to focus on the goal at hand. You had to go from the bottom (of the final climb) as hard as you can.”
Carpenter said that most of the pro men’s field was able to ride wide around the women’s field on the last turn, except for Bassett.
“I was fortunate I didn’t get tangled up,” Carpenter said. “I was pretty much in front from 300 (meters to go) to just before the line, when Alex popped me.”
Carpenter’s second straight CCC title adds to his impressive list of recent results, which include the overall title at the Tour of Alberta in 2016 and a stage win at the Tour of Utah, also last year.
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