Monday, August 17, 2009

Blount Seafoods Fall River Criterium

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 (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.

Cat 5
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).

Cat 4
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.

Masters 45
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.

Masters 35
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.

Cat 3
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.

Masters 50
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.

Pro 123
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.

Women 3-4
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!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gate City Cyclone Aug 8, Nashua, NH

The Gate City Cyclone, now in its third year at Holman Stadium in Nashua (or actually around the stadium) is fast becoming a favorite of racers from New England and beyond. With a little something for everyone on its 0.75 mile loop, the course is just challenging enough for great racing without being too technical for the entry level racers. And nearly constant primes, compliments of Goodale’s Bike Shop in Nashua, don’t hurt either. Even the Cat 4-5 race was sprinting for three-place primes every 2 to 3 laps.

The guys from the BOB (Bunch of Bikers) club had the course set up and looking great before the Kids’ races started at 8:45. Besides being huge on the cute factor, the kids’ races are where the future Gate City Cyclone champions are forged. Big fields of 10-15 kids contested the first few age groups for the youngest kids, but participation tapered off to just one racer in the 12-13 year old age group and none registered in the 14-15. What happens to kids when they reach 12 that they no longer ride their bikes? I can understand a big drop off in participation at 16 years old when kids get their driver’s licenses, but why at 12? On one hand I hope that some of them become part of the great sport that is bike racing. But on the other hand, I could understand why a parent wouldn’t encourage their kid to enter what is starting to seem to me like a dangerous endeavor. But we’ll get to that….

Cat 4-5
There were a few 14 and 15 year olds in the Cat 4-5 race and they could have had a decent kids’ race just amongst themselves. But the Kids’ Races are meant for beginner racers, not USAC licensees so they were in the Cat 4-5 race because there was no USAC junior race on the program this year. Both Nate Morse (CLNoonan), who is about 14, and Tommy Goguen (Minuteman Road Club), who is about the same age, both won primes in this race.

The pace was relatively fast for a Cat 4-5 field with the prime bell ringing every few laps. The Cat 5s who had never raced for primes before (Cat 5 races can’t have primes unless the race is combined with Cat 4) were probably shell shocked with about 10 three-place primes in this 24 lap race. Plus, the prize list went to 10 places for the almost full field of 70 starters.

The front of the race stayed together throughout but lots of inexperienced riders fell off the back. I hate to see them get pulled out because that is so discouraging to a new rider, but on a short technical course like this, it had to be done. And as the announcer, I have to tell them that they are done for the day. In that situation, I always remember when Dick Ring pulled me out of my first race, the UMass criterium in 1988, for which I was nowhere near prepared. Fortunately, I am stubborn by nature and persevered through quite a few more races where I got the hook. I hope the current crop of Cat 5s does the same.

Chris Esposito, a junior recently upgraded to Cat 4, won the race with Bryon Lewis (Colavita) right behind. A total of 47 riders finished of the 70 that started. I’ve seen Chris Esposito ride well a couple of times now. Some team should pick him up while he is still unattached.

Women Pro123
A small but very strong field of 11 lined up for the women’s race including three Nashua locals: Sally Annis (Hub Racing), Kerry Litka (UNH) and Katherine Snell (Northeast). Also present was Rebecca Wellons (Northeast) who seems to be winning everything this year, and a strong team from the Sunapee squad. This is the first time I have ever seen a race with more prime prizes than racers, but race promoter Ron Bingham wanted to stick to the plan and give it all away despite the relatively small field. There were a total of 7 three-place primes (21 prizes total) in this race of 11 riders. Crazy!

Wellons, Clara Kelly (Northeast), Anna McLoon (Altarum), and Danielle Ruane (Sunapee) got away about half way through the race. The chase formed and dissolved and reformed but those 4 would stay away with Wellons winning the sprint by two bike lengths. This was a change from recent races where Rebecca has ridden away from the field for solo victories including New Britain and Yarmouth. Maybe she was getting tired of riding alone in races, but more likely this field was a little stronger with the very fast Anna McLoon (who would later ride and finish the Men’s Pro123 race) and several equally strong riders from the Sunapee team all ready to ride hard. Anna was next followed by Danielle and Clara.

With only 11 racers, this was the only field of the day’s four races that was not either filled or close to the 75 rider field limit. With perfect weather for racing and no other road racing events in New England in conflict, there is no obvious reason. Not many promoters are going to be able to offer prize lists and primes, or precious time on a race’s schedule of events, for 11 rider fields. Are there really that few women racers around? I heard someone mention maybe including Cat 4 women in the race next year to increase attendance. That seems like a good idea, but how many entry level women are going to want to race against Cat 1s? Separate fields on the course at the same time might be an option, but I’ve seen that go terribly wrong more than once.

Masters 35
Dick Ring, aka “the Voice of New England Bike Racing” grabbed a mic at this point and the stories and insight started flowing. While I tried to keep up with him, I did not get to watch as much of this race as I would have liked. As we traded pulls on the PA system, a few moves went up the road, mostly thanks to Bill Yarbrody (NBX). But they were all brought back when the pack decided not to concede the race so early to a solo time trial or small group. Kyle Gates (Millwork) won the half way prime, a Cycle-ops trainer worth $350. Greg Melone (Gearworks) went on a solo flier with about three laps to go in a do or die move.

In one of the greatest ever examples of Murphy’s second law (if something can go wrong, it will go wrong at the worst possible time), the generator ran out of gas just before the bell rang for one lap to go. The PA went dead and more importantly so did the finish line camera. So, the Masters race had a silent finish that had to be picked old-school by the officials without the benefit of the camera. It all worked out ok even though it got close at the end. Melone barely stayed clear for the win with the charging pack sprinting to full speed across the road behind him. The one closest to catching him was Patrick Ruane (Sunapee), followed by Steve Stockwell (Sunapee), and Ciaran Mangan (CCB).

Men Pro 123
After filling the generator with gas, we got the Men’s Pro 123 race going. A full field of 75 took the line including a strong showing of 7 riders from Equipe Volkswagen-Specialized from Quebec. About 5 laps in, there was a bad crash on the first sweeping corner right after we rung the bell for the first prime. Peter Bell (Met Life) and another rider were down but Bell could not get up. The race would be neutralized when they came around again however the hard charging pack was gunning for its first prime of the race. Fortunately the crash was a few hundred yards after the line so there was time to neutralize the field. They were however surprised that the pace vehicle (a very “mod” yellow Vespa scooter) reacted to the instruction to slow down much quicker than did the racers, many of whom narrowly avoided the scooter while decelerating. Good thing it wasn’t a car!

Bell was taken to the hospital in the ambulance and after a 20 minute delay, the race was restarted with one neutral lap to get the blood flowing again, then the racing resumed. The Volkswagen-Specialized team snagged most of the primes tipping their hand as the dominant squad in the race. These boys didn’t drive 5 hours from Quebec to watch the locals race, especially Guillaume Boivin who took either first or second in almost every three-place prime. There were some attacks throughout the race but nothing stuck. The Quebecois kept at least two riders at the front of the field the entire race and when it really mattered, Boivin took the sprint from 100 yards out for the win. Morgan Hiller (CLNoonan) took a very respectable second place only a bike length or so behind the Canadian professional. Jake Hollenbach (CRCA)rounded out the podium.

I haven’t heard how Peter Bell is doing and I didn’t see the aftermath of the crash from where I was. I heard he was taken away on a backboard and that is a common precaution for victims of crashes of any kind. But it gets me to thinking about the safety of this sport. I’ve crashed a few times but never anything serious, just the red badge of courage on a hip, elbow, or knee. But a lot worse can, and sometimes does, happen when we suddenly hit the ground at high speed. We all have our war stories, but have we ever really thought about the risk we are taking riding elbow to elbow at 30 mph wearing nothing but a thin layer of spandex over most of our bodies? That is part of what draws us to the sport and creates some of its legendary mystique. But people have died doing this. It’s no wonder that parents aren’t encouraging their kids to race bikes. Any parent that saw what happened to Peter Bell, whatever the outcome is, would be crazy to send their kid off to the same fate. They could get most of the same benefits from playing soccer or competitive swimming and have very little risk of serious injury.

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much given the recent accidents at the Tour (is Jens Voigt out of the hospital yet?), Nashua, and a member of my club who crashed at Wells Ave this Sunday and is still in the hospital with broken facial bones. Accidents will always happen at all levels of the sport, but can we make this sport safer somehow?