Second time is a charm for both pro winners at Boise Twilight Criterium

Only one cyclist can finish first, but it is almost always a team effort.

For the men’s and women’s pro winners at Saturday’s 32nd annual Boise Twilight Criterium, their wins were aided by gutsy efforts from teammates. Both victors were making their second appearances in the race — men’s winner Gage Hecht finished 17th in 2017, while women’s winner Jennifer Valente repeated as champion.

The 20-year-old Hecht’s win in front of the Idaho State Capitol as night fell came via a frantic sprint, beating out Nickolas Zukowsky by .008 seconds.

“This is amazing, a really cool venue ... I’m ecstatic to come out of here with a win,” Hecht said. “A lot of teamwork, that was a big piece of it.”

In the six-man pack that broke free early in the race, three were from Hecht’s Aevolo Cycling team — Imeh Nsek and Luis Villalobos helped push the pace and allowed for Hecht to be the one to make the last move to victory.

“It makes a huge difference — you don’t have to worry about those guys going up the road past you because they’re on your team,” Hecht said. “It makes it so the guys have to watch all three of you, so it’s much harder for them to do the work.”

Hecht’s first finish in Boise last year “wasn’t super amazing,” but the City of Trees has been just that for Valente.

Last year’s Twilight Criterium champion, she made it 2-for-2 with a win Saturday night, edging out Lily Williams and LeighAnn Ganzar. The San Diego native and Colorado Springs, Colo., resident rides for Boise-based Twenty20.

In the fall, Valente and the team did military-style training with the Idaho National Guard, and team managers said the normally quiet Valente transformed into an all-business leader.

“It’s always special to win any race, and this one is particularly special, because it’s where our team is based, so it’s kind of a hometown win,” she said. “… it’s so much energy around the race, that really translates to the riders, it’s ridden aggressively, there’s attacks always.”

A breakaway pack formed midway through the race, and the nine riders kept the rest of the field at bay, though the chase group made a big push on the final lap. But Valente’s team was well-equipped to handle that sort of challenge.

Chloe Dygart Owen, a fellow 2016 Olympic silver medalist with Valente in the team pursuit, had teammate (and 2015 Twilight Criterium winner) Allie Dragoo with her leading the second pack.

“We knew the field was right there … you might get caught, but Chloe and I can both sprint, we had that advantage of setting up both of us and people had to watch both of us,” Valente said.