Team Time Trials Set Pace as Cycling Wins Div. II National Title

The MIT Cycling Team won the 2008 Division II National Championship at the USA Cycling Collegiate Championships help in Fort Collins, Colo. on May 11. The MIT team seized an early lead in the opening event, the team time trial, and built their advantage throughout the weekend to take a surprise victory.

The MIT women’s team time trial (TTT) team of Martha W. Buckley G, Yuri Matsumoto G, Zuzana Trnovcova ‘09, and Sonya J. Cates G entered the competition solidly positioned as the best team in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, having won four of five team time trial events during the season, including the ECCC championships.

At nationals, though, stiff competition from west coast schools and the particular course made victory for the team tough. While hills were a strong suit of the team, the course was almost completely flat and windy out-and-back. Despite these challenges, the team used their drafting skills to stay together in the strong tailwind on the way out and powered through the headwind on the way back.

After the race, Cates described it as “blaringly fast,” and she was right. MIT’s time of 29 minutes, 51 seconds for the 19.2 kilometer course was good enough to take the win by eight seconds.

The men’s TTT team of Jason A. Sears G, Eric M. Edlund G, Seth S. Behrends G, and G. Issao Fujiwara G began the race ready to take vengeance on their competitors. Despite top three finishes in every race during the ECCC season, including two wins, the team finished fourth at the conference championships, less than four seconds out of second place.

The men’s team would not let the same thing happen again at nationals. They finished in 25 minutes, 10 seconds to earn fourth among a host of strong competitors and first among ECCC schools.

The women’s win in the TTT along with the men’s fourth place finish put MIT solidly in first place in the team standings entering Saturday’s road race. The race course featured a 500 foot climb in the first mile of the race, followed by a combination of flat, windy sections and rollers.

The women’s team, which includes several of the best climbers in the ECCC conference, knew that this course was going to play to their advantage and planned to break up the pack on the first climb. The race went exactly as planned. Buckley was the first rider up the first hill and formed what would be the winning break along with four other riders. Matsumoto and Cates were members of the first and second chase groups. All three of these riders finished in the top 20, with Buckley, Matsumoto, and Cates taking third, 10th, and 19th, respectively.

The dynamics of the men’s road race played out much differently, with several breaks forming early in the race only to be reeled back in by the pack. Edlund played a dominant role in the race, leading a number of attacks and going with several breaks, which were unable to stay ahead of the pack.

Despite using valuable energy early in the race and being unable to make it on to the winning break, Edlund finished with the first main pack in 13th, only one minute behind the leaders. Fujiwara placed 57th.

With these strong finishes, the Engineers were still leading in the team standings heading into Sunday’s flat, fast, and technical criterium race. Despite a number of attempts at breaks, the women’s pack remained together for the entire 60-minute race. Matsumoto unleashed her devastating sprint to finish 6th. Buckley came in two spots behind her in 8th, and Cates finished only a few seconds behind the day’s race leaders in 27th.

The 75–minute men’s race played out much differently, with a break forming halfway through the race and gaining almost a lap over the rest of the field. Sears, a veteran of many collegiate cycling championships on road and track, made sure he was part of this key breakaway group. Using his stellar cornering and drafting skills, Sears was able to stay on the break and still have energy left for a sprint at the end.

Sears sprinted to an outstanding fourth place finish, beating his own seventh place from last year’s nationals criterium. Edlund, Fujiwara, and Behrends all finished in the main pack, taking 43rd, 49th, and 54th, respectively. When the points were tallied, MIT had ended its stunning weekend with 395 points, beating Dartmouth University’s 364 points to take first place among Division II schools across the country.

Individually Buckley finished fourth, Matsumoto eighth, and Cates 25th in the women’s omnium, while Edlund came in 22nd among the men’s racers.

MIT’s victory at Nationals concludes a successful collegiate cycling season. Two weeks earlier, the team claimed its third consecutive Division II ECCC victory. Along with the team omnium, Matsumoto claimed the Division II individual omnium in the women’s A category. Buckley finished the season in second in the women’s A category, Trnovcova placed second in women’s B, and Fujiwara finished second in men’s B. The team saw 25 first place finishes and more than 150 top 10 finishes during the nine-week long season.

This article appeared in the MIT Tech, June 6th, 2008.