GALLUP, N.M. - The high desert mesas of Gallup, N.M came alive for the second time this year when 175 enthusiastic racers showed up for the annual Squash Blossom Classic on Saturday.
“The weather and course were just perfect,” Greg Cavanaugh said.
The High Desert Trail system plays host to two races a year, Dawn Til Dusk in the spring and Squash Blossom Classic in the fall. Despite using pretty much the same course, the races are actually two different beasts.
Where as Dawn Til Dusk is an endurance race, Squash Blossom Classic is an all out sprint to the finish and requires racers to hit the ground running and keep the pace up throughout the entire course.
“It’s more of a race about bike handling than it is endurance,” Mark Ehrhart said. Ehrhart, normally a downhiller that races in the Collegiate category, raced his first cross country race ever on Saturday.
A lot of folks feel like the race is decided on the first couple miles of road before hitting singletrack.
“The course is so twisty and fast, it’s really hard to pass, so you need to be in front of people who don’t move as fast,” Cavanaugh said. Cavanaugh, of Gallup, N.M., took home a first place in the Sport 30-39 category.
Ralph Winebarger of Aztec, N.M. agreed. “At the beginning I was trying to get on anyone’s wheel that looked fast,” he said.
Some racers were slightly fooled by the relatively non-technical nature of the course.
“I didn’t think going for that long would hurt me that bad” R.J. Ponchione of Santa Fe, N.M. said. “I went out too fast and just blew up.”
This year’s monsoon season was especially hard on the trails, leaving big ruts and lots of sandy spots. Luckily, a steady late-season rain a few days before the event helped pack down the worst areas, and dedicated locals fixed the worst of the ruts.
Since its inception six years ago, the Squash Blossom Classic has changed forms. It used to host a road race and a criterium in downtown Gallup, but the city cut funding and organizers had to choose which race to support, although they hope to bring back these races in the future. Additionally, it also hosts the Kent Hodges Memorial ½ Marathon as well as a fun run.
In more recent years the event has also become an official race for the Southwest Collegiate Cycling Conference. A little over 20 riders, mostly male, from the University of New Mexico, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona participated and spat out times that rivaled top riders in other categories.
Taking the fastest lap of the day with a time of 2:21:00 was Jens Nielsen of Albuquerque, N.M. Nielsen, who has participated in about 25 races this year, was also one of two men to race in the Pro category.
“It was the last race of the season, so I wanted a good result and a good race,” he said. “I’ve been racing well lately.”
The top women’s finisher was Karen Rishel of Las Cruces, N.M. racing in the Expert category. Using the opportunity to train for the upcoming 24 Hour National Championships in Moab, Utah, she came away with a time of 2:54:08.
“I took off from the beginning and got a good head start,” she said.
Casey Cook of Edgewood, N.M. was the top finisher in the Single Speed male category, finishing with a time of 2:30:19.
Jennifer Witt of Gallup, N.M. finished with top honors in the Single Speed female category with a time of 1:44:25.
In the top Collegiate category, Matthew Jones of Tucson, Ariz., riding for the University of Arizona, came away with a time of 2:27:48.
Another year and another successful race left many of this year’s participants happy with their performance, even if they didn’t come in first place.
“It was really a good course, I’d suggest it to everyone who likes to race,” Brent Gillespie said.
For full race results see Squash Blossom Screamer.
To view and purchase photos from the event see Brian Leddy Photography Archive