MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — After five days and two climbs to the base of Mammoth Mountain, altitude 9,000 feet, Roy Knickman of Toshiba-Look and Meg Gordon of Chemical Bank won the 300-mile war that was the Whiskey Creek Stage Race, which ended here Sunday.
But a couple of kids, 19-year-old John Tomac and 17-year-old Tricia Walters, won enough battles to make their fellow road racers sit up and take notice. Next year, stage races anywhere near Mammoth Mountain may belong to them.
Walters, who sped through high school in an accelerated program much like she sprints to the finish atop her 10-speed, finished second overall but won three stages and finished second in a third.
Tomac, who, as one of the nation's premiere off-road riders, is more accustomed to blazing his own trails in the Eastern Sierra than pedaling over paved ones, finished ninth overall and landed in the top 10 in every stage.
To beat Knickman or Gordon, Tomac and Walters would have had to do what is practically impossible.
Knickman, who didn't win a stage but finished in the top four every day but the last, may well be in the Tour de France rather than Whiskey Creek next year. In Sunday's final stage, Knickman made two pit stops in the first 10 laps and twice changed bikes, but he was leading the race three laps later and finished with the chase pack to ensure his 50-second overall victory over Doug Smith of ICN.
Gordon, who won the women's prologue by nearly two minutes, lived off her first day performance throughout rest of the race, just making sure that Walters didn't get in a break too far ahead of her.
So Tomac and Walters didn't pull off the impossible, but considering their age and experience--both are rookies on the road-racing tour--they did perform the improbable.
Although he doesn't ride for the local G.S. Sharks, Tomac is the adopted favorite son of the Mammoth Lakes crowd that turns out to support the five-stage Whiskey Creek event, the first of three events in the Bud Light Mammoth Cycling Classic. His local following was built on his prowess as a mountain biker--in only his second year of racing, he is currently the National Off-Road Biking Assn. points leader.
He is also one of the poster boys and among the favorites for the upcoming Mammoth Mountain Kamikaze and Raleigh Technium World Mountain Bike Championships to be held here in August, the second and third events on the Mammoth summer cycling calendar.
Cycling fans expect things of Tomac the mountain biker. In off-road racing, a sport where riders are expected to show how well they can handle themselves on everything that isn't paved, Tomac is top dog. One Whiskey Creek staff member has dubbed his style the Tomac Attack.
In road racing, however, Tomac has shown that you can expect things from him there as well. He already has jumped from a Category IV rider to a Category II rider, a move that takes most riders two years. The only thing stopping him from moving up to Category I--the highest amateur level--is membership on a national team, where he hopes to be next year.
Although Gordon coasted to the overall title after whipping everyone in the prologue, everything else at Whiskey Creek was a demonstration of Walters' sprinting ability.
"Tricia is a good young rider, and she doesn't make mistakes," Gordon said. "I didn't feel it was my responsibility to go after her in the other stages with the lead I had. I didn't want to make any mistakes either."
In other cycling Sunday, Chris Huber of 10-Speed Drive won the men's senior fifth stage, helping 10-Speed Drive to the team title.
Daryl Price of Plymouth-Reebok won the overall junior division title with a second-place finish in Sunday's criterium. Price won three of five stages, finishing second in the other two.
In the veteran's division, a three-stage event, Kenny Fuller edged Skip Cutting for the second straight day to capture the overall win. Cutting, the veteran's national road race and criterium champion, finished second overall.