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Tilford goes for a swim to win

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Dripping from shoulders to toe

Dripping from shoulders to toe (Image credit: Kurt Jambretz)
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The wind chill was in the single digits

The wind chill was in the single digits (Image credit: Mark Breeding)

By Sean Weide

When Steve Tilford crashed his bike into an icy lake on the second lap of Sunday’s KLM Marketing UCI Cyclo-cross Race, his first instinct was to get back on and start racing. A warm blanket and some dry clothing would have to wait. The Trek/Volkswagon rider had another epic chapter to write in his already storied career that includes five world mountain bike and four national cyclo-cross titles.

A two-part storm – first ice, then snow – that struck days before the race also prevented many competitors from St. Louis and other cities east of Kansas City from making the trip to the course that will play host to the 2007 and 2008 national championships. One of the more prominent no shows was defending national champion Todd Wells (GT), who blamed a stomach flu more than travel troubles.

Before his ice bath, Tilford was 20 seconds clear of Prenzlow after the first of eight laps in the 60-minute event. But on his second trip through a frozen, rutty patch of mud on the tree-lined course, he lost control and skidded out onto the ice. The bizarre incident and his stunning comeback had even the Topeka, Kan., resident shaking his head in disbelief afterwards. “I was on my hands and knees on the ice and my bike’s laying there flat on it,” Tilford said. “Then all of sudden, the ice broke through and I just went up my waist and down to my shoulders.”

With temperatures in the low 20s and a stiff, biting wind blowing out of the north, “I knew I was in trouble,” Tilford said. “After I got out, I yelled to the guys in the pit that I needed some new gloves because my hands were frozen. But by the time I rode another lap, the gloves had frozen solid on my hands and I couldn’t get pull them off with my teeth or my hands.” Tilford tossed his water-logged bike out of the lake and needed only one lap of the 2.5 kilometer course to chase down and pass Brent Prenzlow (Celo Pacific/Salsa) on the way to winning the second annual edition of the race at Kansas City’s Wyandotte County Park.

Tilford found himself riding a bike that had essentially become a single speed. Already caked with mud, the icy slush from the trip into the lake froze the bike’s brake and shifting cables. But it didn’t matter. Tilford quickly caught up to Prenzlow and was eight seconds clear of the Carlsbad, Calif., resident by the start of the next lap. From there, he put it on cruise control, tossing down lap times of 7:47, 7:43, 7:47 and 7:54 to build a lead that was a comfortable 29 seconds heading into the final lap.

“At the end, I tried to maintain and not make any more mistakes,” Tilford said. “Obviously, if this would have been the nationals, I would have finished 30th or something. You have to be able to shift and brake your bike or you usually don’t do well.”

See the full report, results and photos here