It was a two-man sprint to the finish in the final race of the Columbia Cup.
Brad Huff won the men’s category 1/2/3 pro race Sunday on the course running through downtown Columbia and part of the MU campus. Stephen Rouff, from Team X Cycling in Kansas City, had the lead with a few laps left but finished just off Huff’s tail.
Officials pulled the field early in the race because the top three riders were about to lap it, causing safety concerns. The top three stayed on the course to complete the race.
Huff, 25, from Fair Grove, led for most of the race, making it a grueling event for him.
“It is a lot harder pulling in the front than it is sitting on the guy’s wheel,” Huff said. “So I was just going full boar almost. Steady enough to where I could pull for a while but hard enough to where I was making them hurt and checking the pack at the same time.”
Huff races for the Mercy Cycling Team out of Fort Smith, Ark. Several other members of the Mercy team raced Sunday.
Stacey Bertsch, of Springfield, took first in the women’s category 4 race.
Bertsch started competing seriously in races this year and has been biking on and off for seven years. Bertsch said the Mercy team picked her up after team members asked for her to be added.
Bertsch said she won the race thanks to a lot of training and competing alongside Alli McNulty from the Dent Wizard team out of St. Louis.
“It would have been a harder ride to do without (McNulty),” Bertsch said. “Not being able to get away from her helped.”
McNulty and Bertsch rode nearly side-by-side for most of the race, with McNulty finishing second, less than a bike length behind Bertsch.
Along with being a strong rider, Bertsch inspires her friend Melissa Cox.
“She has a lot of will power,” Cox said. “She never stops, never lets up. She is a beast on the bike.”
Cox said that she and Bertsch work out together when their schedules coincide and they push each other.
“I want to keep up with her and she wants to stay ahead of me,” Cox said.
Bertsch said that Cox encourages her and that Cox is eager to learn.
“She has a lot of high energy,” Bertsch said. “She is looking to learn and get better at racing.”
Earlier in the day, another racer didn’t do as well as Bertsch.
Zach Hockett, of Columbia, had a rough ride but placed third in the category 5 juniors race. Hockett, 14, cut his right hip, ripped his shorts and scraped his right arm and knuckles in a crash during the race.
Hockett said he leaned too far to the side and his pedal hit the ground, his chain came off and he went down. After his fall, Hockett received a free lap and was allowed to continue the race.
Hockett will be a high school freshman at Christian Fellowship Church and School in the fall.
Other Columbia riders that finished well included Tracy Smith (first) and Ethan Froese (second), who competed in the masters 35-plus race. Andy Stockman won the category 5 race and Molly Vetter placed third in the women’s category 4 race.