The fast and the furious
The only thing missing from the Great Lake Tahoe Cycle Race is Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer.
Maybe it won’t be long before the 72-mile cycling race around the lake attracts the big names in the sport. The Lake Tahoe Marathon Week’s 7-year-old event is fast becoming the most anticipated competition next to the actual marathon.
Race director Les Wright is expecting close to 200 cyclists at the start line at 7 a.m. Saturday in Zephyr Cove.
“That’s going to be a classic,” Wright said. “It’s getting greater and greater.”
For certain, the swift race around the lake has evolved into the most competitive event. Last year, 13 cyclists broke the existing record of 3 hours and 1 minute, including Tahoe City’s Nathan Freed, who won in 2:59:08. Freed earned the win by just three seconds, and Wright said that the competitive race caused confusion at the finish line.
“They go by so fast, the timers couldn’t get them all down,” he said.
Consequently, Wright will have a camera in place to record the finishers in case there is a photo finish.
Considering the effort being put in by local cyclists who fared well a year ago, there is a good chance there could be a close finish again.
Sean Sweeney of South Lake Tahoe finished in the pack just 3 seconds behind the leader last year and believes he can do better.
“I feel like I’m in better shape this year. I made the mistake of letting the guy go last year,” he said. “There’s been some good competition, and a lot of people have heard about the race.”
Quite possibly the winning bike might have more than one rider on it. The tandem team of Dan Spano and Reve Ramos, who both live in South Lake Tahoe, are causing concern among the solo cyclists because of the speed they can generate on the flats and downhill descents.
Sweeney said that during a recent workout, Spano and Ramos flew past him coming down Spooner Summit. He estimated they were traveling at a law-breaking 60 mph compared to his pedestrian 42 mph.
“If they are anywhere close to the lead pack at the top of Spooner, they’ll probably win this thing,” Sweeney said. “My goal is to get as far in front of them as I can before they can catch me.”
Spano said that the duo’s goal is to break the three-hour mark.
“That’s our dream,” said Spano, who finished the race with Ramos in 3:07 a year ago. “If we can possibly beat the singles, we definitely have that desire to do that, and it’s possible.”
However, the tandem bike team has two distinct disadvantages going into the race: hill climbs and the inability to wind draft. Most pressing for the team is overwhelming challenge of climbing Emerald Bay and the ascent from Sand Harbor to Spooner Summit. But they are determined to beat the single-bike competitors.
“We’re not supposed to be as fast as the single bikes, and we’re out to prove different,” Ramos said.
If a pro rider shows up at the start line on Saturday, then it might be Leipheimer. Sweeney bumped into him earlier this summer while the former Tour of California winner was training for the Tour of Missouri.
“He posted on his site that he went around the lake in 2:53. I tried to entice him to come to this race,” Sweeney said. “If I do it faster, I’ll post it on his site. More and more competition is good for all of us locals.”
Local legend has it that three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond used to circle the lake in 3:15. That would put him well back in the pack today.
Adding to the intense competition Saturday is Wright’s promise to pay $500 to the cyclist who breaks Freed’s tenuous record of 2:59:08. There is no word if Wright will compensate all record-breakers. Given the progression of this event, it very well could be more than one.
“It’s something I’ve looked forward to,” Spano said. “It’s the only official race I do each year, and we really like it because of the challenge of it.”
In addition to the 72-mile race, cyclists have other options: a 35-miler from Tahoe City to Zephyr Cove and a 20-miler from Incline Village to Zephyr Cove. The former race begins at approximately 8:30 a.m. and the latter at roughly 9 a.m.
For more information or to register for a LTM Week event, go to laketahoemarathon.com.
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