The Fall River Criterium is a one mile square crit with a long gradual uphill the last half mile with almost all the rest being downhill. It’s almost all either up or down with very little flat pavement. The location in the Fall River Industrial Park pretty much ensures that it will never be a great spectator event, but it does keep the costs low and the logistics simple. That means that more money can go into the prizes and primes and that keeps the best riders in New England showing up year after year.
Photos from the event are available at http://archive.hickspicture.com (no www).
When the Cat 5 race started at 8:00 AM you could already tell it was going to be a hot steamy day for bike racing. Chief official Chris Constantino broke out the thermometer from his traveling bag of stuff and made it official - 90 degrees in the shade. With no breeze and not a cloud in the sky it was going to be a long day in the heat.
The Cat 5s had the usual race of attrition with the less experienced riders falling off the back, but most of the 16 riders stayed in contention until the end. The host club, Swansea Velo Club/Bikeworks/Hallamore, started the day off right taking the win with a sprint by Greg Louro. They also took third with Robert Hoenick. In between in second place was Brad Costa (Unattached).
46 riders started this race including a bunch from the host club. They set the pace early on and remained at the front. But with 11 to go in the 18 lap race, Jay Trojan (Century Drywall) took flier for a couple of laps but was brought back into the field.
The race stayed together despite back to back cash primes with 7 and 6 laps to go. Tom Burrowes (Flye cycles), a junior rider, took the field sprint by coming around Tim Smith who lead it out too early heading up the center of the road. Alfred Bissell (Essex Velo) and Clayton Dennis (Scottee’s) also came around for second and third as the lead out got swarmed.
The Gearworks team of Paul Curley and friends had the strongest contingent in the race and they seemed intent on taking advantage of their numbers. As they have done throughout the season, they took turns sending one rider after another off the front to force the other teams to chase. The first up this time was Steven Ivester who went solo just a couple of laps into it. He got caught, but teammate Joe Rano was ready for his turn. He got about 20 seconds lead and primes of $20 and $50. Sam Morse (Corner Cycle) decided this move looked like it was meant to stick so he started the bridge up to Rano in time for the sunglass prime ($115 value) at 8 to go and he won it. He said later he would give them to his son Nate who was in the Cat 4 race. But he had Curley (Gearworks) in tow. Morse won the prime but the move wasn’t given any rope by the rest of the field who weren’t quite ready to concede the race yet.
Morse went again a lap or two later with Bill Sawyer (Gearworks) in tow. They were gone for the final 6 laps with as much as 30 seconds advantage on the field. Bob Bisson (Gearworks) went boldly into no man’s land but got caught before completing the bridge to the lead two. With one to go it was Morse and Sawyer together with a commanding lead and no doubt that they would have the top two places. Somewhere out of site on the last lap, Morse dropped Sawyer to ride the finishing uphill drag solo with about 10 seconds on Sawyer. Then it was Curley taking the field sprint for third. When I spoke with Sam after the race he told me that he was fighting a bad cold. What a way to bake out those nasty cold germs.
When Mark McCormack (Team Fuji) is in a pro race, he uses any of a number of tricks to line up at the front or get an advantage. In professional crits, the race actually starts a while before the gun goes off as everyone tries to start at the front to avoid the melee between the barriers. I’ve seen Markie slide into places on the start line that no one else would ever try to squeeze into and do it without bumping into anything or anyone, smooth. But Mark reserves that level of competitiveness for the big races, not the Masters 35 field at the local industrial park. This time he rode small circles behind the back of the field waiting at hte start line, trying to stay stealthy until the last moment.
But within 4 laps into the race he went to the front and established a small lead with Ciaran Mangan (CCB). Scott Giles (Exodus) tried to bridge but he got a bunch of help that he didn’t want and gave up for the time being. Scott has only been riding in New England this season, but apparently his reputation as a hammer has gotten around and they weren’t letting him go this early.
Markie and Ciaran continued on and solidified their lead, gaining over 30 seconds on the field by the half way point. With about 5 laps to go it seemed that they had it wrapped up with almost a minute lead. But the field really turned it on and chased for real in the closing laps. Mark and Ciaran had already sprinted for two primes with each winning one so it wasn’t clear who would be feeling stronger for the finish. Apparently the two leaders slowed up a bit waiting for the other to jump and/or the field really put on the chase because they got surprisingly close coming out of the final corner. Giles came out of the corner a few seconds behind the lead two and caught the leaders on the uphill grade to the finish. Mark later said “I knew the field was getting closer, but Scott actually startled me when he came up beside me. I had no idea anyone was getting that close”. But the chase definitely took everything Giles had and he only held on long enough to startle Mark and was dropped as soon as Mark and Ciaran finally began to sprint a couple of hundred yards from the line. Ciaran went to full speed as soon as he saw what Giles had done and passed Markie to take the win with Markie second. Giles, spent as he was, had plenty of time on the rest of the field to hang on for third two seconds later. Bill Yarbrody (NBX) powered up the hill to finish slightly off the front of the field for fourth. Only 24 of 39 starters finished this race. At this point it was getting hot hot hot and only the fittest were surviving the full distance.
Early on in the race Mike Norton (Cyclonauts), Graham Garber (Central Wheel), and Stephen Dowsett (Berkshire Cycling) got away from the field. Their lead built up to over 25 seconds in front of the field. Only Norton had teammates in the field (2 of them) so it didn’t seem like a breakaway that was likely to stick. But Mike has trained them well and they did a fine job shutting down any chases. Maybe in the heat it wasn’t too hard to discourage a chase from forming and with most of the riders in the field on separate teams, there wasn’t really a dominant team interested in getting a chase together. The three stayed away and the little guys seemed to have an advantage over Norton who is built more like Jason Varitek than a bike racer. Maybe having two guys blocking in the field gave him an excuse to pull less in the break and evened out the playing field a little.
At the finish it was clear that the smaller guys did have an advantage despite doing most of the work in the break as Norton had to sit up, cooked with 200 yards to go. Garber stayed in the saddle to motor up the hill and hold the lead until the end. Dowsett followed his wheel in for second, while Norton rolled in for third. Bill Yarbrody took another field sprint for fourth motoring off the front in the final meters.
This one broke up right after the gun with a lead group of 6 rolling away. Surprisingly, Mark Hagen missed the break and didn’t chase in the heat which was now in the high 90s. That’s hot anytime, but after this lousy summer of rain and cool temps, it seemed even hotter.
Frank Jennings (Gearworks) got away about half way through the race leaving behind the other 5 and no one chased. He stayed away and lapped most of the field. The chase of 5 didn’t lap the field but sprinted in for places 2-5 on the prize list. Paul Curley (Gearworks) took second, with Jay Trojan (Century Drywall) right behind in third.
A field of 32 pros and top level amateurs, including the two dominant local elite teams, Spooky and Indy Fab, showed up to race. Add to that Mark McCormack’s Team Fuji and Justin Spinelli from Svelte Cycles and you had plenty of fire power for a quality race despite smaller than usual quantity of riders. And between them, they would claim the top 6 places and the bulk of the prime and prize money.
Robbie King (Indy Fab) launched the first serious attack and stayed away long enough to snag $120 in primes. He never got a convincing lead and on such a hot day it seemed unlikely he would stay away until the end of the 60 minute race by himself. As the field melted away, a select few joined King. Some half hearted attempts to bridge went nowhere once the select group of 10 or so went away . That group included Robbie, Justin, Nathaniel Ward (Spooky), Markie, Tobi Schultze (Team Fuji), Charlie Avis (Specialized), J Ferry (Millworks), Mark Paggioli (CVC), Ward Solar (Spooky), and Alec Donahue (Spooky). Donahue would get away from the group and bag a couple of primes. Spinelli would roll away from the rest of the break but would never quite catch Donahue. We kept wondering when Donahue would ease up for a minute and form a two man team of convenience with Spinelli, but he never let that happen. The two remained separated by almost exactly the same 10 to 12 second gap for the remainder of the race but Alec wisely never let Spinelli catch him even though it would have meant a lot less energy expended to reach the end. They would finish one-two off the front with Markie taking the sprint for third in front of Ward Solar. Only 20 of the original 32 would finish the one hour long race.
14 riders of all ages lined up including the Mullaly family (Capital Velo Club) with twin daughters Katherine and Kelsea racing alongside their mom, Laura. It was a battle to see who could stand the heat the longest and with 5 to go there were just 5 left in the lead with the remainder in small groups across the course. The sprint went to Bridget Petrillo (CVC) with Jennifer Bonnacorsi second and Natalia Gardiol (Cambridge Bike) right behind for third.
While they were picking up primes after the race, I overheard Natalia encouraging Jennifer to give cyclo cross a try this season. It’s a little hard to imagine crossing in weather like this, but the season starts next Sunday, August 23 in Springfield. Fortunately cross gets more women competitors than road racing does and for many good reasons. As Natalia pointed out, you can race your own race in cross, it’s not all about staying with the pack. Hopefully Jennifer will take her up on the idea, she certainly has the strength for cross as evidenced by her second place in the Fall River Criterium.
Postscript to the Yarmouth race –
I was talking with J Ferry after the Fall River pro123 race and I kidded him about wearing a t-shirt in the Yarmouth race. He explained that he had forgotten to pack his team jersey and, as it turns out, he also forgot his shorts and had to borrow his girlfriends. They fit a bit snugger and shorter (how do you spell "mankini"?) than he is used to so he threw on a pair of gym shorts on top. When the race started he stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb in a sea of lycra skinsuits and jerseys and we were all wondering who the Fred was in the t shirt flapping in the breeze. Yarmouth is a pro123 so there should be no 1 day licensees in the field. But, sometimes the best way to get noticed is to go back to the basics while everyone else is covered in cycling bling. J said the locals watching the race on the hill started cheering for “T shirt guy” every time he came around. Maybe they thought he was one of them doing his best against the ringers. To the locals, he represented the “everyman” that the sea of lycra certainly did not. J said it was the funnest race of his career and he is planning on returning next year to ride in a t shirt again. He is even thinking about printing “T shirt guy” on the back. I say do it!!