Avon’s Henry back on top at Snowmass’ Blast the Mass | VailDaily.com

Avon’s Henry back on top at Snowmass’ Blast the Mass

Jon Maletz
Aspen correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Jon Maletz/The Aspen TimesAvon's Jay Henry crosses the finish line to win Sunday's Blast the Mass pro cross country race at Snowmass.

SNOWMASS, Colorado – Things returned to normal in Sunday’s Blast the Mass pro cross country race – particularly because a certain seven-time Tour de France winner was not in the field.

After a one-year hiatus, Jay Henry resumed his place on top of the podium. The Avon biker, the 2008 champion here who was runner-up to late entry Lance Armstrong last August, distanced himself from the pack after a competitor crashed on the second and final lap and pedaled to victory in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 27 seconds.

Carbondale’s Len Zanni (1:57:00) wound up second, about two minutes off the pace, on an overcast day at the Snowmass ski area. Boulder’s Tim Allen rounded out the Top 3, while Snowmass Village’s Max Taam wound up sixth.

“It’s definitely a little different event when he’s here,” Henry said of Armstrong, whose hopes of an eighth Tour title took a hit after Sunday’s eighth stage, when he was caught up in three crashes and fell 13 minutes, 26 seconds behind current leader Cadel Evans of Australia.

“It was a good battle this year, though. Four guys were pretty much all together during that first lap.”

Armstrong overwhelmed the field in his first Blast the Mass appearance in 2009. He vaulted into first place on the opening climb and cruised to a three-plus minute victory, covering nearly 23 miles and 4,700 vertical feet in 1 hour, 51 minutes, 18 seconds.

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“Man, he’s riding fast,” Henry remarked then. “That first climb looked effortless. … There was no way I was going to catch him.”

It was Henry that was being pursued Sunday. For much of the first lap, three riders – including Zanni and Travis Scheefer, who won an Mountain States Cup race in his hometown of Crested Butte in late June – followed close behind.

Zanni lost some ground on the climb from Base Village to the Ullrof restaurant in the opening minutes of the second lap.

“That is long enough and steep enough that you really just need to ride your own pace,” he said. “Once you hit the Cross Mountain Trail, you have to keep the power to the pedals as much as you can and try to stay upright.”

Easier said than done.

Scheefer, challenging for the lead about halfway through the final lap, took a fall and damaged his back tire; when Zanni passed him, Scheefer furiously was attempting to fix his flat and get back in the race. He wound up fourth.

“We went around a corner and he lost his tire and went down pretty hard,” Henry said. “Before that, I was thinking we were going to have to duke it out for the win. He was with me every inch of the way.”

Henry found himself all alone down the stretch and, mere minutes before ominous clouds overhead showered competitors and spectators alike with rain and hail, crossed the finish line.

The victory – Henry’s first this season – admittedly was a much-needed confidence boost heading into next weekend’s USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships in Granby.

“I’ve been feeling a little sluggish and not racing really well,” said Henry, who first competed in Snowmass in 1993. “It’s nice to come to a place I’m familiar with and get back on track.”

Zanni, who is heading to France this week to meet up with friend Armstrong and watch the Tour, echoed that sentiment. Before Sunday, he had yet to log a Top-10 finish this season. He wound up dead last among finishers at the Wildflower Rush in Crested Butte after crashing and having to fix two flat tires.

“This just shows how luck can change week to week,” Zanni said.