Chattanooga-based team wins again at River Gorge OmniumView 13 Photos
For the second consecutive year, the Chattanooga-based Taco Mamacita cycling team won at the River Gorge Omnium.
The team went into Sunday's road race needing to execute its plan perfectly for one of its riders to take the overall weekend win in the women's Category 4-5 race at the omnium — an event consisting of multiple races and formats. It did just that, and at the end of the weekend Beth Lofgren, from Collegedale, won the Category 4-5 women's omnium by a single point.
"We had goals going into the weekend," team director Steve Lewis said. "We wanted to win the whole thing overall, so we built a four-race plan on how to get [Lofgren] in a position to win the race."
Lofgren's specialty is the time trial, a race against the clock that's shorter than a road race. She won the time trial Saturday morning and later took second place in the criterium race. It put Lofgren in position to win, but she had to make it through the road race, admittedly her weakest event, and hope competitors high in the standings didn't take enough points to claim victory.
Road race winners
› Women Pro 1/2 — Kate Buss
› Women 3/4/5 — Jennifer Nielson
› Men Pro /1 — Ruben Companioni
› Men Category 2 — Brent Ferrell
› Men Category 3 — David Heath
› Men Category 4 — Martin Mootz
› Men Category 5 — Kenneth Jesenksy
› Master A Men 35-plus — Michael Olheiser
› Masters B Men 50-plus — Bernie Lacourciere
Sunday's road race was particularly challenging, featuring a 45.5-mile ride from Covenant Transport in Lookout Valley through part of the Tennessee Valley and up Raccoon Mountain to TVA's East Overlook. That's where her team came in.
Lofgren needed a teammate to sacrifice her own standing in the race to pace her through the field — a role in cycling called "domestique," meaning "servant" in French. That role went to last year's omnium winner Krystal Burnham, who is easing her way back into racing after a crash earlier in the season.
"For me, I could not win this without my team. There was just no way because I am not a climber," Lofgren said. "[Burnham's] job today was to just pull me and tell me what to do."
For Lofgren, it's the biggest win of her cycling career, she said.
A crash took out many riders and left Taco Mamacita with just three racers partway through the road race.
Burnham stayed and worked as Lofgren's domestique while Sarah Schlapman raced ahead of the field, trying to get as many points as possible to keep them from other racers. Once the rest of the field made it to the scenic, yet challenging, Raccoon Mountain for the final miles, Schlapman attacked and stole the cherished points. It was enough to keep Lofgren ahead and give her the overall win by a single point, staving off Francesca Stubbins and 13-year-old Elizabeth May.
"[Schlapman] took responsibility and totally rode above what she has done all year," Lewis said.
The tactics and teamwork rivaled that of a much higher-ranking team. The execution of such hard-to-pull-off strategy is usually reserved for Category 1-2 or professional teams.
The Taco Mamacita team is still learning, as riders aspire to move up in category.
"This is a team that's learning to race as a team," Lewis said. "Today was just perfect execution."
A decision Friday night ended up playing a key role in setting up the team's race Sunday.
Lofgren was hesitant to do the HerTT Friday night — a six-minute, all-out race on stationary bikes to start the weekend. It's a race that's fun for viewers and some racers, but leaves them exhausted.
Riders got two points for participating. For Lofgren, those two points were the difference between winning and losing.
The victory gave the team another win in its hometown, meaning added exposure for local sponsors and a win in front of friends and family.
Race Director Scott Morris said it was a welcome conclusion to the weekend.
"It's good to have a race locally," Morris said. "To have something for them where they don't have to drive far and can just wake up in their hometown and head out to the start is amazing. It's good to see those local sponsors represented."
The race has quickly turned into a premier race for the Southeast.
Racers in Saturday's criterium raved about the course through downtown and even more were complimentary of the mountaintop finish on Raccoon Mountain. The climb offered racers several scenic views and ended with the podium overlooking much of the city, region and Lookout Mountain.
For Morris, it's all about being able to provide a high-caliber race in Chattanooga.
"Our race is a really challenging race," he said. "It has a finish on a mountaintop climb, a time-trial that has a climb in it and a really flat, fast criterium. The best thing about our race is the absolute best usually win."