Marquette Bike Jam: Win not worth endangering fellow rider during Friday’s downtown Speed Jam

MARQUETTE – It didn’t seem like a fair fight.

Coming around the final turn of the final lap, Matt Colligan, 43, was in a pitched battle with a man less than half his age and a head taller, too, in the Serious criterium race during the Marquette Bike Jam Speed Jam in downtown Marquette on Friday evening.

Long and lean Zeb Johnston, 20, pulled ahead just before the finish line to win this battle of Marquette residents.

But years of experience in these kinds of races could’ve allowed Colligan to keep his advantage, though it would’ve put Johnston in peril.

“I suppose if I’d wanted to, I could’ve forced him off the course,” said Colligan, who said that never entered his mind as an actual strategy. “But yes, I might’ve when I was really serious about racing 25 years ago.

“But now I do it just because I enjoy it and for the camaraderie.”

Johnston said this was his first mass-start victory after he, Colligan and about 10 other riders were in a pack about 15 seconds behind John Devere, 53, of Madera Ranchos, Calif., for nearly all the race.

“I was waiting for a chance to get closer, but by the last lap, I thought I was just going for second place,” Johnston said.

Then Devere faded and Johnston took over partway through the last lap before Colligan worked his way inside on the final turn, a right turn from South Third Street onto West Washington Avenue, to take the lead.

Johnston, a 2011 graduate of Marquette Senior High School who just finished his sophomore year at Michigan Tech University, said he trains to enter the road-racing circuit mostly in Wisconsin.

“If I went up against these guys (from the Serious race) on a mountain bike trail, they’d kick my butt,” he said.

Colligan, who is an orthopedic surgeon, has both road and mountain biked seriously when he was closer to Johnston’s age, even finishing a trio of full-length Ironman triathlons.

Devere did get to watch his daughter, Karen, 15, win the Chicks race, a shorter female version of the Serious. The family is staying at a Lake Superior cottage for several weeks waiting for Karen Devere to enter the USA Junior National road race in Wisconsin next weekend.

Some racers weren’t as serious as the Serious racers, including the husband-and-wife team of Tyler and Erin Gauthier of Ishpeming who rode a 40- or 50-year-old single-speed Schwinn tandem to victory in the Clunkers finale that pitted single-speed bikes against each other.

“We just decided to do it before we came down here,” said Tyler Gauthier, who is a pro mountain bike racer. “I called one of my friends, and he said he had this bike.

“Some people call a tandem the ‘Divorce Machine,’ but I wanted to prove them wrong. We’re calling this the ‘Marriage Machine.'”

Also weighing in on the fun end of things was Jeremy Pletka of Marquette, who won the Super Fat Tire race of the Mountain Bike Division.

“You might not go as fast, but it’s great for making turns,” Pletka said about his racer.

The other adult-division winner Friday night was Monte Boyle of Simons, Mont., in the Dudes race, a shorter male version of the Serious.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.