Locals dominate Highwood Gran Fondo
Matthew Jeffries was first across the finish line, but John Firth captured the monarch of the mountain title at the second annual Highwood Gran Fondo on Saturday (July 7).
Stretching 147 kilometres from Longview to the Stoney Nakoda Casino, Jeffries and his Rundle Mountain Cycling Club teammates took three of the top four spots. The 32-year-old Canmore native finished with a time of four hours, three minutes.
This was the second time Jeffries, who works for Cross Country Canada, was the first across the line.
“It was more fun this year. I brought (Sean) Crooks and (Gord) Jewett along to give me a hand. Usually I’m the one gutting it out for them, but it’s nice to have two of the best cyclists in Alberta helping you out,” Jeffries said.
Having earned a short lead, Jeffries elected to skip the last water bottle checkpoint and ended up finishing the last 50 kms with no water.
“The plan was for Jewett to grab an extra and pass me one after 10 kms. Ten became 20, then 30,” Jeffries said.
Last year, the cyclists battled strong winds most of the way, however, there was nary a gale to slow down the pack this time around. As a result Jeffries shaved 45 minutes off last year’s result.
Riding with RMCC has made him a better racer, he said.
“There are so many strong guys in Canmore. On those Thursday night rides, our training rides are often harder than our races. There are so many guys feeding off each other,” Jeffries said.
Gran Fondo isn’t so much a race as a long ride, however, the race organizers, TransRockies Events, do recognize the rider who makes it to the top of Highwood Pass as the fastest. Pro mountain biker John Firth was the first to reach the top of Canada’s highest paved road.
“This was my first ever road bike race. I wanted to make King of the Mountain. Climbing is my strength as a mountain biker, so that’s what I was after,” Firth said.
He kept pace on the quick sprints and could have taken the entire race, but leading the climb took its toll and he faded farther back by the time the final checkpoint arrived. Jeffries shot ahead while Jewett and Crooks stayed back to monitor Firth.
“The team aspect was different. In mountain bike, you do your own thing. This was different in that respect,” Firth said
He used the race to prepare his legs for the TransRockies event (July 28 to Aug. 3), which he’ll race with Leighton Poidevin.
Jewett and Crooks, who finished third and fourth, said it took 40 kms before the front group began to drop the pack.
“There are a lot of super fit people in this race,” Jewett said. “Coming out of Longview you have a 40 km gradual uphill into a headwind,” Jewett said.
The retired cross-country skiers used to roller ski up Highwood Pass, so they’re intimately familiar with the course.
“Roller skiing up the Pass at 15 kms an hour, you get to know it pretty well,” Jewett said.
He and Crooks said they just wanted to give Jeffries a chance to win again. Crooks will compete in this weekend’s RMCC stage race, where he’s favoured to do well, while Jewett must travel to Toronto for an MRI.
Margie Smith was the fastest female on the course.
“I suffered, but it was good,” Smith said, noting a wet June had her unprepared for 26 C temperatures.
“The ride was way nicer than last year, because the wind wasn’t as bad. It was way more competitive this year too. Last year I kept close to the lead men, but this year they were way ahead.”
She’s also contemplating entering the RMCC road race, even though she, like Firth, is primarily a mountain biker.
Money raised at the event will go to Alpine Canada and Alpine Alberta.
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