It was a big day for two strong riders, for reasons that go beyond a big victory at a demanding race.
Jorden Wakeley (Borealis) and Beth Craven (Einstein Racing) both proved themselves as top-level racers at AGG, but for both, the result is only half the story. For Wakeley, it signaled a growth beyond relying exclusively on brute force to win, this time showing a tactical prowess he’s seldom had to use. For Craven, it’s the race that should give her the confidence to be in the Pro class for a good long time to come, and taking a thrilling win that lit up the finish area.
On the line, the Pro field ambled off for the first few miles of pavement before the selective climb two miles into the race. As the race turned right, Wes Sovis went to the front, popping off a few of the women racers that, unfortunately, included Craven. With little enthusiasm for riding on the front, the big favorites of Matt Acker, Wakeley, Alex Vanias, Ben Whitehead and Ryan Kennedy were content to roll along early. Cody Sovis went off the front to try and force some effort, but it was a ceasefire of short shelf-life.
Wakeley, Vanias and Acker, with Whitehead looking comfortable, lit it up on the dirt road climb, eating up the gap to Sovis almost immediately and eye-balling each other as the climb relented momentarily halfway up. Ryan Kennedy dangled briefly, but made it back on, with a lead group of six or seven making the top of the climb with some daylight back to a scattered field behind.
Wakeley rolled lightly on the front, but refused to work and pull the field. Acker, Vanias and Whitehead worked together cautiously, while Cody Sovis gathered Einstein’s other contender, Nate St. Onge, and tried to bring him back up to the lead group over the pavement. Eli Brown contributed some big efforts, and the trio made contact, along with Jimmie Colflesh, about a mile before the next big selection point.
Acker went to the front to ride his own pace up the nearly 3 mile Taylor Rd. climb, with Wakeley second wheel. Sovis and Vanias were riding in good position, and as the gradient tipped up, Vanias put some pressure on the front. Acker, doing much of the work early, rode brilliantly to stay in touch with Wakeley coming up to control as the group neared the top. Eli Brown and Ryan Kennedy were tailed off by a few dozen meters, with Sovis bridging up on the descent.
Wakeley’s smart riding left him full of energy as the race hit the two singletrack sections that accounted for most of the final half of the race. He pulled out a two minute advantage in the singletrack and cruised home to take another AGG title, with Vanias giving valiant chase in the final three miles. Acker was third on the day, with Whitehead rolling in fourth. Eli Brown lost a great ally when Ryan Kennedy suffered a mechanical, but Brown had more than enough left in the tank to finish out the singletrack and hold onto fifth place. The wheel literally came off for Kennedy, but with two teammates behind, he got a fast repair and desperate chase from St. Onge and Sovis before going off solo in search of fifth place, coming up a little over one minute short.
The Women’s race was even closer. Hagerty Cycling sent Susan Vigland and Lauri Brockmiller out to AGG to face Kim Thomas and Melissa Colflesh, with Einstein’s Beth Craven making just her first Pro start. Inexperienced but gutsy, Craven rode the first seven miles of the race completely alone, dropped from the Pro field within a stone’s throw of the start line. But Craven joined a few groups at just the right time, and when she hit the singletrack, she unleashed her singular talent for riding on the edge.
The downhill skier crashed once, but stayed tough to make up minute after minute on the leaders, eventually making contact with the Hagerty duo. Spectators caught sight of the trio with just over 200 meters to go, and with the sprint already opened up, the right hand turn from pavement to dirt went Craven’s way. She edged out Lauri Brockmiller by just four-tenths of a second, with Vigland just two seconds back. Patty Devost had almost perfectly timed a late surge, trying to ride through the group but running out of gravel for fourth place. Kaitlyn Patterson finished out the top five, with Kim Thomas riding bravely on her cyclocross bike for sixth. Craven’s ride also ensured Einstein Racing would win yet another Team Competition, a point of pride for the squad since the start of this race.
For Craven, it’s yet another step forward after an Expert victory at Mud, Sweat and Beers. She’ll look to confirm the win, as will Wakeley, at Conquer the Village next week in Traverse City.