Monday, August 25, 2008

Cue the chase scene music.....

Saco Bay Criterium and Car Chase
Aug 23, 2008

The day started off bright and early with the Masters 55/65 race at 0720. As Robin Williams says in Good Morning Vietnam, the oh in ohseventwenty stands for “Oh my God, it’s early”. Seven riders took the line for what I believe must be the earliest bike race on the New England calendar. The only reason I can think of for the early start is to ensure that a few racers stay in the local hotels and stimulate the economy. Mieczyslaus Burzynski (aka Mickey B) (BOB/Stonyfield Farms) and Graydon Stevens (Portland Velo) took off early and led through the rest of the race by over 30 seconds. Mickey B took the sprint victory to claim the win before the clock even struck 8:00 AM. Ray Marchessault took a field-only prime just a few laps before the end of the race and stayed away to take third.

The Masters Cat 4/5 race stayed mostly together with a few dropping off the back when the pace picked up. Then a crash in the technical part of the course took a few more off the back. (Note to Cat 5’s – You can get a free lap if you crash in a crit, take it) The field sprint among the survivors was won by Jim Breen (BOB/Stonyfield Farms) ahead of Steve McGrath (Noreast) and Alfred Bissell (Essex Velo).

In the Masters 45, four riders took off the front of a big field right off the bat. That soon became six and the break looked set to take the prize list and a few primes along the way. They got the lion’s share of the primes and with just 4 laps to go they looked clear with more than a 20 second lead. But within the next two laps the field caught them. I wish I could tell you who put in the big effort but it mostly happened on the back side of the course. It would be a good bet to guess that it was the BOB team, but they had two guys in the break. It came down to a field sprint. Duane Scofield of the BOB team led it out through the last few corners and turned it over to his team’s designated sprinter, John Grenier. Grenier took over right after the last corner before the finish line 400 yards away and stayed in the lead across the finish line to give the BOB/Stonyfield Farms team their third consecutive win for the day

Next up were the Juniors 15-18 years of age. Half the 8 man field consisted of the orange and blue of the Mystic Velo club. With them were four kids less than 15 years of age racing above their own age category. 14 year old Tommy Goguen (Minuteman Road Club) managed to stay with the older guys until the last lap but the other 10-14 year olds couldn't keep up the pace. Tommy even took a prime sprinting against the four older guys. But somewhere on the back side during the last lap Tommy dropped off the lead group and let the four Mystic Velo guys take the race. Ian McFarland took the sprint for first place with his older brother, Reed, right behind. The fans had been looking forward to seeing what Tommy could do against four older guys, but he decided to save a little leg power for his own age group’s race which was due to start just moments after the finish of this race. Tommy cruised in for 5th place and turned around to line up for the 10-14 year old’s race.

Junior 10-14 was half girls and half boys. Nate Morse (Coast to Coast/KAM), who also used the 15-18 year old’s race to warm up, took the field sprint to claim first place for the boys followed by Tommy Goguen. Ellen Noble was the first of the girls to cross the line.

The Master 35 race saw some attacks go up the road but nothing stuck so it all stayed together for the finish despite 3 back to back to back primes intended to crack the field. Mark McCormack (TEAM Fuji) took the sprint ahead of Ciaran Mangan and Paul Richard (both CCB). Power outages during race led to no camera for the finish so it had to be picked manually. It was unfortunate that the power outage, caused by too much load on the circuit when organizers of the nearby charity ride tried to inflate a bouncy house for the kids, was one of the few races that came down to a mass field sprint.

Women 1/2/3 and 4s were scheduled to have separate races but because the number of riders was low, they were combined into one field with separate prize lists. The 1/2/3 women stayed together with two of the four category 4s. Cody Harris (National Capital Velo Club) won the race to take the 1/2/3 title. It was her third win in one week after winning two races last Sunday at Fall River. Natalia Gardiol (MIT Cycling) was the first of the Cat 4s.

Next up was a series of kid’s races for kids up to 11 years of age who are not USCF licensed racers. The youngest kids (5 and under) did a 100 yard sprint to the line, the oldest did one lap of the course. They were fun races to watch with great kids. Only one kid was too shy to come and collect his medal at the awards ceremony.

The charity Ride for Autism, a 28 mile bike tour through the scenic Maine countryside to raise funds and awareness for those with autism, took off from the start/finish line. It was nice to see the racing community and a charity ride come together. It doesn’t happen often enough.

In the featured men’s race of the day (Pro 1/2), a group of three including home town hero Dan Vaillancourt (Toshiba) got away early on. With him were Kevin Wolfson (FT/Indy Fab) and Ryan Fleming (MetLife). They kept increasing their lead while taking cash primes every few laps. The trio caught the back of the field before the half way prime bell was rung. By that time a chase group of 4 with Mark McCormack formed but they remained within site of the field, sometimes off the front by just 10 seconds. The chase group of four sprinted first to decide 4th though 7th places before the sprint for 1st through 3rd. Tim Mitchell (Flatbread Otter Creek) took that sprint for 4th.

Although the hometown crowd was pulling for Dan to take the big prize, Kevin Wolfson took the sprint victory at the front of the field for the win with Dan Vaillancourt in second and Fleming third. The rest of the field mixed in with the winning sprint for places 8 through 13 to complete the prize list. Mayor Emeritus Bill Johnson presented the Saco Bay Criterium Mayor’s Cup to Kevin Wolfson after the race as per local tradition. He probably would have loved to have given it to Vaillancourt who lives only two miles away from the race course in Saco, but it was not to be. By the time the day was over, Dan’s thoughts were already turning to his next race for the professional Toshiba cycling team, the US Professional Championships.

Seventeen year old Manny Goguen (Minuteman Road Club) was the youngest rider in the Category 3 race but that didn’t stop him from getting into a breakaway with 4 others early on. They built up lead of 41 seconds by the half way point and kept rolling. David Chiu (NEBC), Ben Forbes (Base 36/SMCC), Christian Eager (Quad Cycles), and Ron Bourgoin (Portland Velo) and Goguen stayed away to the finish which Goguen won, on junior gears, in a fast sprint to the line.

After all that racing there was still one event left, the Category 4/5 men. And it turned out to contain the most excitement of the day. Unfortunately, it was not from the racing. So far this season I have witnessed a tornado at a race (Claremont Crit) (albeit a small one), a fist fight 300 yards from the finish (Nutmeg State Games Pro1/2/3), and a couple of very close lightning storms, but nothing will probably ever top this and I hope nothing ever does because except for the fast thinking of the Saco Police Department and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), we could have had a tragedy on our hands.
Two laps into the race we got word from CERT that the police were involved in a high speed pursuit and it was heading our way. CERT, who were stationed at the race for the day, alerted the race officials who in turn had the pace car stop the racers on the back side of the course. We cleared the start finish line and got everybody back from the edge of the road as it was confirmed that the police were chasing a motorist and heading our way. Just a couple of minutes later a grey Saturn sedan, driven by a women came roaring through the start/finish area going at least 60 miles per hour. She probably would have been going faster except that she had just gotten flat tires on both front wheels from the puncture strip that the police had laid out on the road just before she reached the race course. Who could hear the empty tires thumping wildly but the engine still revved to the max as she passed through and gave us all the finger (like she had nothing else to worry about!!). Here is a picture of the chase from the Portland Press Herald:

But far more interesting is this shot of the leader and her chase group taken by the finish line camera (thanks to Brian Johnson of Speed Sport Timing):

You can clearly see Valerie Mainguy’s left hand flipping us off as she narrowly beats the Saco Police department across the finish line, a premature victory salute that might have cost her the race. These images are composited with the blank spaces in between taken out so it looks like it was a closer sprint than it actually was. You can also see the flat front tire that caused her to crash in the next corner when the tire rolled off. She was relegated by the local officials for rolling the tire, apparently it was not glued on adequately. Thus the Saco Police Department won the contest. Of course, they had the advantage of having more players on their team than did Ms. Mainguy, who, according to the local newspaper, was a tourist visiting from France. Now she is a customer of the local hospital for some psychiatric evaluations and will probably have her international racing license revoked. She was most certainly also asked to provide a sample for doping control and likely faces a long suspension because there is no way her performance could have been “real”. If she is deported back to France she might be able to do her jail time alongside Riccardo Ricco.
Seriously, it is nice to be able to joke around about this incident now. If not for the Saco Police Department and CERT, this could have been a real tragedy, not unlike the race earlier this year in Mexico when a drunk driver went right through a race and killed riders. I don’t think this woman was going to stop for anything and the worst case scenario could easily have happened. Thanks especially to the first police officer who thought “She is heading right for the bike race, we had better get them off the road.” That one thought may have saved several lives.
After all the excitement, there was still a real race to finish. Ryan Littlefield and Collin Huston, who had gained a lead before the interruption, were restarted with their lead while the field was held before taking off for 11 more laps to finish the race. The duo stayed away to the end with Huston (Coast to Coast/KAM) winning by two bike lengths.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Plan B

I had a post summarizing the Fall River Criterium almost ready for public consumption when I stupidly hit the wrong key and lost it all. Sorry, but I don't have the patience this late at night to do it all over again and it is time to pack up for this weekend's race in Saco.

Suffice it to say, Frank McCormack (TEAM Fuji), who "retired" two years ago, ripped the legs off the Pro1/2/3 field for a fine solo victory.

Both women's races were won by Cody Harris (National Capitol Velo). Unfortunately the Women's Pro1/2/3 race was cancelled due to lack of pre-registered riders.

The most impressive victory of the day was certainly Bill Yarbroudy's Cat 3 win. He got into a break away with three riders form Exodus Road Racing (aka the men in black). The four of them got more than a half lap lead on the field with half the race to go so their was no real worry about getting caught. Still, the Exodus guys (did I mention there were three of them?) didn't try to shake Yarbroudy until one lap to go. Any savvy tactician would have expected the Exodus guys (all three of them) to take turns attacking Yarbroudy (the only NBX/Narragansett Beer team guy in the break with, did I mention, three guys from the same team) until he just couldn't respond any longer. Yarbroudy is good, in fact very good, but is he really better than the combined strength of three opponents all from the same team? Probably not, but still they couldn't shake him. Yarbroudy out sprinted the three from Exodus (names withheld to protect the tactically inept) to take the win. The one Exodus guy who had a good excuse was Ernie Toutkus who had worked very hard chasing all the break aways in the Masters 35 race only minutes previously.

I promise to never hit the "back" key again while posting. Hopefully my race report from Saco will be more comprehensive. Check back next week to see if I have actually learned my lesson.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gate City Cyclone

Gate City Cyclone, Nashua, NH
August 9th, 2008

The BOB (Bunch of Bikers) team and Goodale’s Bike Shop hosted the 2nd annual Gate City Cyclone around Holman Stadium in Nashua, NH. A combination of public roads, parking lot and driveways around the minor league baseball stadium made an interesting and somewhat technical course with one rise and a couple of tricky corners.

The day started with kid’s races for ages groups up to 15 years of age. Some of the potential future champions of the sport were on hand with as many as 16 kids in some of the age groups. Nate Morse won the 12-13 year olds’ race easily riding away from the others. Of course, he has the advantage of also being a category 4 USCF racer while the others didn’t have the same level of experience. He later raced the Cat 4/5 event as well. The two 14-15 year old racers , Sean Suprenant and Keith Vaillancourt, took the line and watched each other like two match sprinters on the track waiting for the other guy to flinch and start the race for real. As they came within site of the finish line, a distance of about 400 meters, they were still together and barely starting to increase the pace. Vaillancourt pulled ahead, leading out the sprint, and managed to hold on to a 10 meter lead at the finish.

The Cat 4/5 race started with a three place prime right out of the blocks, no warm up. That was just the first of many with a total value of $1,500 in the Cat 4/5 race alone. A two-man break of Northeast Bike Club (NEBC) riders got a 15 second lead and took the top two places in the next 3 place prime then it all came back together and finished, after several more primes, with a curb to curb sprint finish. Chris Gagne of Boston Road Club, who had been keeping a low profile throughout the race, never contesting a prime, came through the middle of the charging field when it counted. As the only BRC rider in race you can’t blame him for keeping a low profile given the numbers some of the other clubs, NEBC in particular, had in the race.

The Womens Pro1/2/3 race was also loaded with the red and white jerseys of the NEBC team. With 16 riders in the field at the start, more than half were NEBC including Rebecca Wellons and Sally Annis who were 1st and 2nd at Yarmouth two weeks previous. The race split in two about half way through with 8 in the front and 8 in the chase. From the lead group, Sally Annis (who is from Nashua) and Mary Zider (also NEBC) got away and stayed away while the rest of the field, powered by the few not on the NEBC squad, caught the rest of the break. Annis and Zider built a lead of over 20 seconds while closing in on the finish and the gap only got bigger in the final laps as the riders on the other teams decided to quit the chase and save something for the sprint. Annis and Zider crossed the line together while completing a quick index-finger-touch salute (like ET and Elliot) with Sally (the hometown rider) slightly ahead for the win. The field sprint was taken by the Sunapee team duo of Eve McNeil and Samantha Newman with another six places in the money right behind them. You won’t often see a race with 10 paying places for a 16 man or woman field. The 16 riders raced for a $500 prize list and merchandise primes with a total value of almost $1500. Thanks to race promoter Ron Bingham for providing prize list parity for the ladies, but if a few more don’t make it to the race next year, it might be hard to continue that way.

The host club, BOB, was well represented in the Masters35+ race with 7 riders on the start line. The field limit of 75 was almost reached ensuring a barn burner of a race with lots of horsepower to burn for 45 minutes plus 5 laps. And if the presence of some of the best bike racers in New England wasn’t enough, there were once again lots of merchandise primes to keep things moving briskly. The announcer (me) and Primemaster Bill Dempster found some unique ways to give away the goods. They decided to make some of the primes two lap “races within the race” instead of the customary 1 lap affair. That means that the riders were given a 1 lap warning before the bell was rung for the actual prime lap. That provided a little more time for strategies to develop and at the half way prime, it led to a group of 5 going up the road to contest the prime. But with just 3 laps to go, Bill Yarbrody (NBX/Narragansett Beer) was the only one still away. He tried to hold on for the solo victory but his escape ended within site of the line when he got swarmed by the field which was working up to full speed for the sprint. At the front of the field, Paul Richard (CCB), Mike Norton (Cyclonauts) and Gary Steinberg of Cnetury Road Club charged to the front of the sprint. Norton was in the middle and seemed to get squished from both sides as the three fought elbow to elbow down the center of the road toward the finish line. Norton had to hold back for a pedal stroke or two and lost a little ground to the others. Steinberg took the sprint while Norton made his way through the roadblock to claim second. As riders crossed the line, several were yelling the same race number to the attention of the officials and when it was over a protest against Paul Richard was made and upheld after several riders corroborated the same story about him sweeping riders to the outside going through the final corner. He was relegated from 3rd to 11th place (one place out of the money) for dangerous riding. That change put Sam Morse (Corner Cycle), Nate's father, into third place. Yarbrody, the last of the foxes to be caught, ended up in 15th place but deserves credit for giving it a go solo.

The Pro1/2/3 race also started with a near full field of almost 75 riders. A break of 7 got away a few laps in and developed a lead of up to 30 seconds by the halfway prime which included a pair of wheels for first prize. Chase groups formed and got re-caught as the field tried to figure out who was going to chase the lead group. The 7 riders away saw their lead chipped down to a low of 14 seconds and it looked like the foxes would be caught by the hounds. The foxes included Alec Donohue (NERAC), Jason Beerman and Eric Tremble (both Kenda/Raleigh), Tim Unkhert (Stolen Underground), Josh Dillon (Fiordifrutta), Todd Yezefski (Fitness Together) and J Allain Ferry (Met Life). But either the hounds lost interest or the foxes decided their best hope was to work a little harder and stay away. With 3 laps to go (2.3 miles) the field finally gave up the chase and settled in for the sprint for the remaining 8 places. With two men in the break, we expected to see the Kenda guys use their advantage and either send one up the road in a solo effort or, or if neither guy was up for the solo effort, set up a lead out for the sprint. Instead, they followed the wheels and Eric Tremble took a very respectable second place behind race winner Todd Yezefski. When asked about the strategy after the race, Tremble admitted that they should probably have tried to work their advantage more effectively. He even said that he heard the announcer (me) describing the possible strategies over the PA system and thought “yeah, that would be a good idea, we should try that: but we didn’t do it”.

Randon thoughts:
The Gate City Cyclone was the first race I have ever seen use a Vespa scooter as a pace vehicle. It did just fine and probably saved 2 or 3 gallons of gas compared to the typical sports car pace vehicle. This makes too much sense. Can we do it this way a little more often and "green" the sport a little?

Dick Ring, “the Voice of New England Bicycle Racing”, was on hand to receive the Gate City Cyclone’s Humanitarian Award for all he has done for the sport of bike racing. The award was presented to Mr. Ring in front of the Pro1/2/3 field. Many of the riders remember hearing Dick at races all across New England but it has been long enough now since Dick last traveled the race circuit that quite a few riders on the line had never heard him announce a race. They got their chance as Dick remained on stage and grabbed a microphone to help me call the featured men's race of the day. Despite having been retired for 6 or 7 years now, he has not lost a step. We didn't get any of the classic lines out of him ("Lord love a duck", "groove in on that one", etc.) but he kept the talk going throughout the entire race. It was exhausting keeping up with him as we tag teamed the dialogue for over an hour TdF style. I was spent by the end of the race, but Dick sounded like he could have carried on for a couple more hours. But, the racing for the day was over and it was time to pack up and head home. I hope I get a chance to work with Dick Ring again soon, I’ll always have an extra microphone ready for him. If you have never heard him call a race, or if you have and you miss the Voice of New England Bike Racing, stop by the New England Velodrome in Londonderry, New Hampshire (