All posts by schaber

Ben’s report from Penn State

By Ben Woolston

Penn State was probably the most fun race weekend I’ve done so far (out of a whopping total of four).

It all started with the TTT on Saturday morning. I was the only C rider from MIT this weekend, so I dragged up two of our D riders (Brian and Kamal) and our intro rider (Ernesto) to join me on the 9.5-mile course, which included 2 significant hills and a couple of tight turns made all the worse by the slippery conditions and fog. We started out pretty hard (my fault), and on the first of the big hills Ernesto dropped off the back after a really good effort on his pulls. Having been coached during practice on Friday by the preeminent Zach LaBry, we were in good form and riding pretty smoothly together, and were able to keep up a pretty good pace along the flats and roar down the descents (max speed 41 mph!). By the second hill we were all pretty tired, but we dug deep and kept it together to finish 5th overall, only 50 seconds behind the winning team – a terrific result given it was Brian’s first race and that most of our team wasn’t comprised of C riders.

Then came the road race. I did my undergraduate at Penn State and biked quite a bit around the area, so I knew this was going to be a tough ride. The climb up Black Moshannon averages 5% grade for about 5.5 miles, and until this weekend I’d never ridden up it in one go, let alone in a race! After a very fast (and somewhat scary) descent from the start line, the pack was pretty much all together at the bottom of the climb – that was soon to change. One of the Penn State riders (who last weekend beat not only the entire C field but also the entire B field in the uphill Princeton time trial) led the charge up the hill. There was a group of five of us who stuck with him for about 30 seconds, but then he disappeared off ahead never to be seen again. I was then in a group of three, with a Bucknell rider (who had been with me in the breakaway at Rutgers) and a Dartmouth rider (who had won in the Princeton RR the week before). It wasn’t long, though, before I was feeling the work I’d done in the TTT and they dropped me, leaving me by myself in 4th. The next 25 minutes were painful – My legs were crying out for mercy, and I looked down at my computer at one point and saw a heart rate of 193 bpm. By the time I was almost at the top of the climb, a Cornell rider caught up to me. I might have been tired, but there was no way I was going to give up to this guy, so I stuck with him all the way to the top. Occasionally we saw glimpses of the Dartmouth and Bucknell riders, so we worked together on the descent to try to gain back some ground, but we never saw them again. Coming round the final corner (maybe 500 m from the finish line) I was in front, and knew I was in trouble, because all the Cornell rider would have to do was sit on my wheel then come around me right at the end. I made a couple of desperate attempts to drop him, by attacking and moving left and right across the road, but he managed to stay firmly on my wheel. In a final desperate attempt, about 300 m out I flicked my elbow in the vain hope that he would pull through. To my utmost surprise, he did! So I just sat on his wheel for a few seconds then sprinted around him just before the line, edging him out for 4th place, about 20 seconds behind the 2nd and 3rd place guys and almost 2 minutes behind the lone PSU rider. When I talked to the Cornell rider after the race, he said he hadn’t known where the finish line was, which was why he pulled through. It just goes to show that coach Nicole is right – knowing the finish is critical!

Having heard stories from teammates about the crit last year at Penn State – which earned the nickname “The Slip-n-Slide” – I was feeling pretty nervous about Sunday’s race. Owing to the technicality of the course, the two divisions (C1 and C2) were split for this race, so my race was only a small field of ~25 riders. On Adam’s (and others’) advice, I got to the start line early, and as the race started I was close to the front. Right from the get-go, an Army rider got the pace going pretty high, and the pack strung out very quickly. I was taking the corners pretty well, and on the second lap found myself unexpectedly off the front with about a 3-4 second gap. I was reluctant to go solo at this point (since there weren’t even lap cards up yet), but I knew that a single rider could go through the turns much faster than the pack and I was feeling pretty good, so I gunned it pretty hard for a couple of laps and opened up a bit more of a gap between me and the pack. Knowing I couldn’t sustain that effort for the whole race, I eased up a little on the straight sections, but still focused on taking the corners hard and fast, and for a while I was maintaining the gap. A UVM rider started to make an attempt to catch up to me (which would have been nice, as having someone to work with off the front would make life a lot easier), but eventually he gave up and started pulling the pack. On the first prime lap (I can’t really remember the exact number), coming round the second-to-last corner, I heard a pop as my back tyre flatted. That was the end of the breakaway, but I used the skills honed in a couple of ‘multi-sport events’ (ahem) over the summer to run my bike as fast as I could to the pit. There, Katie Quinn gave me her back wheel (thanks Katie!) and the mechanics changed it over while I frantically watched the pack come round on the next lap. Because I’d been off the front, the official gave me two free laps, so I rejoined the race and was almost immediately back near the front. The middle of the race is a bit of a blur, but I spent some time (probably too much) at the front, and then just tried to conserve while staying near the front until only a few laps remained. With two laps to go, I was in the top ten, but knew I had to move up if I wanted a shot at winning. In the final straightaway on that lap, a Dartmouth and another rider opened up a small gap at the front, so I gunned it from my position to catch up to them and take third wheel. The timing of this was really lucky, because I was able to slot in behind them, in the gap in front of the pack, right before the first corner and hold my speed, rather than trying to fight back into a tight pack. In the chicane on the back side of the course, the Dartmouth rider went down, so I was in second wheel behind a guy who was rapidly tiring. He took the second-to-last corner badly, and as I came past him out of the corner I knew this was my chance, so I went as hard as I possibly could and gave it everything I had for the final section. I had no idea if anyone was close behind me – I just put my head down and pedaled for dear life. Adam yelled something to me as I passed where he was standing, but I’ve no idea what it was – I just kept pedaling. When I crossed the line, and no one had come around me, I couldn’t believe it. I was hurting pretty badly, but I just got my first crit win!

This weekend was a fantastic experience. The races were a ton of fun, and I got to spend some time with some old friends relaxing (and eating) before the long drive back to Boston.

Zack’s Philly Report

by Zack Ulissi
Marten Beel’s (Lehigh) video of the circuit race; Spencer, Joe, Adam, Sebo and I all appear frequently.

Men’s A TTT: Our team was Adam, Spencer, Sebastian, and me, with 2 laps of a 6.3 mile course. We had practiced together a few times and felt pretty fast, but there was some discussion beforehand about how to distribute the work among the four of us: Spencer and Sebo were quite a bit taller (and more powerful), so they would be working harder than Adam or I when they were not pulling at the front, so we knew pull times shouldn’t be distributed equally. With a few assumptions about our relative drag coefficients and respective 30 minute power, I came up with an overly-simplistic model for how to distribute pulling times that suggested Adam pull for approximately half the time, or approximately 50 second pulls (his punishment for being so aero!). For the actual race, we got off to a rocky start, but soon settled into a rhythm and found that we could go much harder than we were initially expecting, with speeds of up to 32mph (!!!!) on the flat section of the course. By the end of the first lap Sebo was really starting to hurt after doing huge 500W pulls (more !!!!), and as we hit the flat section of the course for the second time I got excited and surged as I pulled through, popping him off when he tried to get back on; a huge mistake on my part (sorry Sebastien!). Spencer, Adam and I finished the race knowing that we had greatly exceeded our expectations, and ended up with a great time of 26:15, more than a minute faster than 2nd place and faster than all of the open teams with full-aero gear, and with considerable room for improvement with more practice. I think that effort was the closest I’ve ever felt to the TTT efforts you see in large stage races, probably because I spent most of the time sheltered by Sebo and was completely fresh whenever I reached the front.

Men’s A Circuit Race: We started the 5-lap, 31-mile circuit race with 6 Men’s A riders (perhaps an MIT first?), and as usual hoped/planned for a break with at least one of us in it. The first lap was relatively slow, but attacks started to pick up on the 2nd lap, by Robin Carpenter (Swarthmore), Adam, and a few others, but nothing really stuck. On the third lap, Robin and Adam really started attacking on the flats and the field strung out a bit, and after a few moves without any results I thought I would join the fun and tried a hard attack up along the side of the peloton. The attacked worked well and I quickly had a large gap (maybe 10-30 seconds?), but no-one else came along and I assumed the effort was doomed. The pack slowed way down and I pedaled easily for a while, taking the hills at a slower pace and relaxing for the the inevitable catch by the peloton. I was caught at the end of the fourth lap, and Spencer attacked right away; I jumped on his wheel and we stayed away for about a couple minutes through the technical sections of the course before being caught by the pack. The final lap was quite reasonable, until we hit a hill with ~3 miles to go and the pace picked up. At the top, I asked someone how many laps were left and was surprised to hear that we were on the last one (cue jokes about MIT students being unable to count to 5), but I was still feeling pretty good and decided that I should roll the dice and try for a last-minute breakaway to avoid a field sprint. As we turned onto a small ramp/descent onto the final flat section of the course, I saw the pace was slow and noticed a gap along the right, so I jumped hard from the middle of the pack and got away, with Erik Levinsohn (Williams) joining me. Adam and Joe helped slow the pack by blocking on the front and Erik and I got a sizable lead, with Erik taking the win. I made it to within 100 meters of the finish line before being caught by Robin Carpenter, netting me third place and Adam 6th. A great result for me, but my antics probably cost Adam a few places and thus hurt his standing for the yellow jersey.

Men’s A Crit: To be honest, with all the pain and adrenaline I can’t remember much of the crit, and it was probably one of the hardest efforts I’ve done. Some bits and pieces that I can recall:
1) I started in the middle of the pack, dropped to the back of the back with bad cornering, then forced myself to fight my way to the front. I remember briefly seeing Joe, Spencer, and Andrew at various points, then just Joe and Spencer, then just Joe, but I didn’t know what was happening with the pack. (blank)
2) Somehow Robin got away (I think on the downhill) with Ed Grystar (Brown), opening a gap of about 10 seconds. Knowing this was bad for Adam, I went to the front and ramped up the pace, but did it too fast and my effort got me off the front without Adam (mistake). I bridged solo about 80% of the way to Robin and Ed before realizing that no-one was with me and I probably couldn’t make it, and dropped back into the pack (disappointing, but probably better for Adam). We took some long pulls together and got the gap down to about 5 seconds, but then a UVM rider bridged and the other blocking UVM riders stopped our efforts. After the bridging and chase efforts, I felt destroyed. (blank)
3) With a few laps to go, I was near Adam and near the front, and worked to chase down a few attacks. Halfway through the last lap Brendan (USMA) attacked hard, I caught him, then went hard to the final corner with Adam on my wheel. Adam launched out of the final corner into a group of lapped riders at the finish line, and won the sprint, taking fourth place overall. I know I slowed down and got swarmed by several people and took 7th out the pack sprint (10th overall), but I can’t even remember/picture the finishing stretch. (blank)
4) Katie gave me some of her birthday cake, and I started to feel better

The crit didn’t go as well as we hoped, but it showed me that I could survive in a pack in a classic 4-corner A crit and still be competitive and make things happen, something that I had convinced myself at the start of the season wasn’t going to happen. I also think it’s one of the first times that I’ve felt I’ve really been able to help out a teammate in a race. The previous best help was the C-crit in Philly last year, three teammates got off the front and TTT’d to the win; I helped block in the pack, but they were so strong together it probably wasn’t needed.

Philly Summary

by Spencer Schaber

For the team time trials Saturday morning, MIT men’s A came out and crushed it, defeating the second fastest collegiate team by 1 minute 23 seconds and handily beating even the fastest open USAC racers with TT bikes.  MIT’s second A squad took 7th place, and was within 30 seconds of the fastest non-MIT team.  The MIT women (Katie Quinn, Shaena Berlin, Jen Wilson, and Elizabeth Mayne) won by over 30 seconds as well, despite having a mixed squad consisting of one woman each from A, B, C, and intro.

On Saturday, Kuat Yessenov won his men’s D circuit race, with a powerful attack up the final hill, earning him the coveted intra-team “most aggressive rider” jersey.  At the criterium on Sunday, as Sebastien and I walked backward around the course to get a feel for all of the different sections, we watched the men’s D crit, and Kuat showed he had what it takes to keep the red jersey by spending many laps in a solo breakaway.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching him stay away solo for much of the race.  His face got more red with each passing lap in order to match the jersey and show he meant business, and he took home a second win!  Matt Smith and David Koppstein also looked very comfortable in the pack.  After watching the division 1 men’s D race, they knew they needed to stay in the top ~10 places to finish the race, and they were among the ~50% of starters who hung on until the finish.

At the Temple University criterium, we saw many more successes after Kuat won the men’s D race.  Elizabeth took 1st among the collegiate women in women’s intro (there were two non-collegiate women in front of her), with a beautiful final sprint.  In the men’s C race, a breakaway of two won the race, and Ben Woolston took second in the field sprint for fourth overall.  After the finish, he did a very classy on-bike high-five with the winner of the field sprint and looked pretty satisfied with the result.  For the women’s A/B crit, Shaena Berlin looked remarkably good—she was in great position throughout the race, taking 1st in 3 of the four prime lap sprints and 2nd in the 4th sprint.  It was awesome to keep seeing her in such great position for such a hard course (typically top 5 in her group, but not doing too much work on the front).  Afterward she said it was one of her most enjoyable crits ever.  Katie Quinn won overall in style, doing most of the race off the front by herself, having ridden in the breakaway with Mary Costelloe (Kutztown) for a few laps and finally shelling her.

In the men’s A race, the last collegiate race of the day, the field strung out single-file almost immediately and remained that way for almost the entire 60 minutes.  I did some terrible cornering in the first half, which added to the yo-yo effect from being farther back in the pack and meant I had to sprint to catch back on at almost every corner.  Eventually, the “elastic” broke for me and I dropped back with the second pack.  I worked with them for a while, and finally we were lapped by the breakaway consisting of Robin Carpenter (Swarthmore), Matt Buckley (UVM), and Ed Grystar (Brown).  I hopped on the back of their train, after confirming it was allowed with some of the other racers, but I didn’t do any work.  It was much easier to stay with them since (i) they took great lines through the corners, (ii) I was 4th wheel, and (iii) I didn’t do any pulls.  Meanwhile, Adam Bry and Zack Ulissi were busy attacking and covering moves in the peloton, and Zack led Adam out for a field-sprint win, 4th overall.  Adam said that all of the credit goes to Zack for that.  Zack led out the final lap at a very high pace, and ramped it up coming into the final corner, delivering Adam to the finishing sprint in 1st wheel, which Adam maintained.  Le maillot jaune reste avec MIT.

Kuat Yessenov wins from a solo breakaway
Kuat Yessenov wins men's D crit from a solo breakaway

Columbia/Stevens: Crit and Circuit Men’s A Races

by Zack Ulissi
The crit at Grant’s Tomb was my first A race, and I entered without any expectations since I’m not much of a crit-rider and the course wasn’t hilly like Rutgers. Also, Grant’s tomb last year as a C rider was my second crit ever, and the only race I’ve crashed out of. I started out in the middle of the pack, and was amazed at how fast people took the technical corners and how aggressive the other riders were with people bumping each other in corners, but after a couple of laps things calmed down, I got more used to the corners, and I worked on moving up towards the front of the pack. About a third of the way into the race, Robin Carpenter (the pro who won the Rutgers RR) attacked solo and got a small gap, which he maintained for a lap. I found Adam to see if he wanted me to bring the attack back in, but Adam shook his head and said that I could try and bridge if I wanted. I attacked alone on the slight uphill near the finish, making sure to start the acceleration from fourth wheel to build up speed before leaving the pack, and caught Robin within half a lap. For the next 10 laps or so, we settled into a rhythm of trading pulls and nailing the corners as fast as we could (much nicer without the pack around). Eventually we were joined by a bridge group of three more riders (Ed from Brown, Alan from Shippensburg, and one other), and we worked to maintain the gap until the finish. Two of the riders dropped from our breakaway as the pace picked up on the last lap, and I found myself entering the the finishing straight on the front with Robin and Alan on my wheel (a huge miscalculation on my part, I think I should have attacked out of the technical corners with half a lap to go), and they came around leaving me with third place. An amazing result for me and much better than I hoped for, but it also shows how much I have left to learn.

The Stevens circuit race on Sunday was also exciting, and a great way to start in A’s since it was much shorter than many of the other road races in the season, and relatively hilly. Since I’m still not 100% confident in my handling skills, I wanted to stay near the front of the pack for the first time down the descent so I started out the race aggressive. I did more work than I should have, and the field was hammering the small hills harder than I expected. By the end of the second lap, I already felt exhausted and was hurting on the hills, but I think everyone else was in just as much pain. Adam then started his moves, and continually attacked until he broke away on a small narrow section of pavement; it was really amazing to watch him do exactly what Nicole has told us so many times: attack at the hardest points of the race, and repeatedly until you get away. Adam was joined in the break by riders from UVM, F&M, Brown, and Columbia, so the two largest teams (UVM & F&M) were both represented. The remaining UVM and F&M riders did an amazing job blocking; together they had 6 riders left in the pack and worked together to literally block the road (yellow line to the roadside) four-abreast. I suffered through the final laps and a few other riders were encouraging (Preston from BU, Matt from Dartmouth, and others); complimenting yesterday’s performance and someone gave me a small push to close a gap I opened on a flat bit, and while I was too buried in pain to be social or thank them I definitely appreciated it at the time. I attacked early on the hill before the sprint finish, but was swarmed at the line as expected, getting 20th (100% of A races in the points!).
Zack U with Robin Carpenter

Training Camp 2012 (Adam’s report)

MIT sent a group of 16 riders to the warm deserts of southern California to prepare for the upcoming road cycling season. No one on the team had been to Borrego Springs before, but flights to San Diego were cheap and google revealed Borrego (2 hours NE of San Diego) as a cycling hot spot. The locale more than delivered. A tiny town of 2500, Borrego is surrounded on three sides by mountains but is pancake flat on the fourth side.
A five minute ride from our rental house, Montezuma climb formed the backbone of many of our training rides. With 3600 vertical feet over 10 miles, it’s known as the “glass elevator” because when descending you can see the desert floor, thousands of feet below, all the way down. To the south, Yaqui pass provided 1500 ft of climbing with a slightly shallower grade which proved perfect for shorter (painful) intervals. When it came time to practice the team time trial or sprints we used the flat and empty stretches of road around town, and for variable paced “hammer rides” (i.e., make each other hurt as much as possible) we rode east towards the Salton Sea. To top if off, it’s against town policy to install stop lights and the entire week we never saw one. I don’t think you could design a town or terrain more perfect for cycling training, not to mention the weather was almost perfectly reliable at 70 degrees and clear skies all but one day.
The Group
In-line with coach Nicole’s training plan, many of us put in 30 hours over the 8 days with upwards of 30,000 ft of climbing and 500+ miles. The group also highlighted another trend for MIT cycling: PowerTaps! Eight people started camp with PowerTaps and two more actually placed orders while in Borrego. FXDD indicated an interest in displaying team power data. We’re still crunching the numbers for them, but the gist of it is individuals did close to 20,000 kJ of work over the week (equates roughly to calories burned) while averaging about 200 watts (while pedaling). The max instantaneous wattage for the week was 1342 by Sebastian GP (look out men’s B field).
Riding Past Palm Trees
Perhaps the most beautiful part about training camp is the simplicity of it – to maximize on-the-bike gains, time spent not riding should be spent resting, recovering, and eating. Joe Near led the way in in this department, firing up the house’s hot tub immediately after a ride and mixing up some chocolate milk. By the end of the week he had most of the group following suit and I’m sure it showed in the quantity of milk and chocolate syrup we went through.
If an army fights on it’s stomach, a cycling team certainly trains on it. Thanks to alumnus John Detore, we arrived in Borrego with a Jeep full (literally, FULL) of food. Katie Q and Jen W went above and beyond in planning and organizing meals, and everyone else chipped in as chefs, sous chefs, and bus boys. The result of the effort is that we ate like kings every night. From chicken tikka masala, to buffalo stew, to homemade pizza, to apple crisp desserts, everything tasted good and there was a lot of it (remember that bit about burning 20,000 calories?).
Overall the experience was incredible and the training was excellent. MIT is ready to race; look out ECCC.

Adam’s report from Rutgers

On the third of five laps of the 65 mile road race the strong guys got very active on the narrow, rolling stretch of road on the backside of the course. In a couple of attacks, a group of ~7 had been established off the front featuring three of the biggest names in the field. I was disappointed to have missed the moves, but happy that Spencer had made the selection. The peleton strung out and splintered as riders tried to attack and bridge up. With Spencer up the road I was in position to do zero work in chase groups and I ended up getting a nearly free ride up to the breakaway.

With two laps to go a group of ~12 came to the bottom of the biggest hill on the course. Robin Carpenter (Swarthmore) went to the front and hit the gas. I wasn’t comfortable, but I knew I could hold his wheel. With Stuart McManus (Harvard) on my wheel we reached the top of the hill with a substantial gap. Robin pulled off and I took a long hard pull to show that I was ready to work and make the break happen. Stuart looked and sounded pretty toasted and Robin and I split the work ~60/40. He was clearly the strongest rider and wasn’t afraid to take punchy pulls up the rollers to remind us of it.

When we started the hill on the last lap my legs were starting to feel lactic-acid-deep-fried. Robin again led the entire way up the hill and this time I had to dig pretty deep to stick it. As we cruised over the rollers, Stuart seemed to be coming on and doing more work while I was fading. At one point I got gapped while digging for a gel in my pocket and had to go fully into the redzone to catch back on over a steep bit. After a very painful stretch we reached the predominantly flat/downhill part of the course and it seemed our lead was safe.

I knew we were getting close to the finish, but I didn’t have good landmarks for 5k to go, 2k to go, etc, and unfortunately I ended up taking the last pull downhill into the finishing kicker. I knew there was trouble when I flicked my elbow and for the first time all day no one came around. I sat up, flicked again, and still nothing. Turning over my left shoulder I saw Stuart and Robin jump simultaneously. Robin exploded up the road for the win and I couldn’t close Stuart down before the line. It was still an amazingly fun race and a result I was thrilled with… afterwards Zack informed me I might be interested to see the ITT results and I was almost speechless* to see my name on top. Robin hadn’t done the ITT and Stuart was down a bit which meant I was leading the points competition…

Getting the yellow jersey had been a “pie in the sky” training goal for the year, but going into the crit the possibility was a stressful reality. Robin was 2nd in the points competition and I knew in a flat sprint he could easily finish 1st with me in 21st and that wouldn’t cut it. If it came to a sprint I would need help, and if I could get into a smaller break to lockup a high finish, I needed to do it. Spencer and Joe offered to setup a lead out if it came to a sprint which calmed the nerves a lot and let me focus on riding smart and trying to get away. Luckily the course had a serious hill on it which I knew would suit me compared to a normal flat crit, even though the finish line was at the end of the flat stretch.

The first half of the race I mostly sat in. When dangerous guys went to the front I made sure I was in position in case something went off, but I was still focused on conserving. With ~15 minutes to go a two person break was in the process of getting reeled in and I was starting to feel really good. I noticed a lot of huffing and puffing in the pack and decided it was time to try something.

I didn’t want to ride alone so on the next two climbs I rode off the front without fully “attacking” to try to invite a strong rider to join me and go for the win. The 2nd time around, with four laps to go, Erik Levinsohn from Williams came across and went past me like he meant business. I held his wheel until we were at the top and then took a hard pull down the hill and through the flat. He led up the hill again, and when I turned to look at the top, the pack was way back.

Having mismanaged the break the day before (largely because I was just so happy to be in it!) I was very focused on riding smart for the win. I started timing my pulls so Erik would have to share the work on the flat and I eased off on my efforts when I was at the front, especially down the hill. I knew he was a climber more than a sprinter and thought that he would try to get me on the hill. When we came through for the bell, I made sure he was on the front to start the climb. He took the bait and nailed it up the hill. When we got to the top he signaled for me to come through but I sat on.

As he led into the descent the goal of winning an A race was starting to come into focus: find the right gear for the sprint, jump at 200 meters, stay focused, stay low. We rolled into the flat, I found my landmark and jumped to his outside – as I came around him I knew it was over.

Two Yellow Jerseys!
Two Yellow Jerseys!


This weekend meant a lot to me personally, but the results are truly the team’s. I’d never set foot on a starting line before Rutgers two years ago and pretty much everything I know about bike racing I learned from people on the MIT Cycling Team. The incredible success of our women has been a huge motivator and positive example. Racing, training, being pushed by, and developing with our current crop of strong guys is what made this possible. In particular races last summer with John and Spencer stand out as when we all started to realize we could make good things happen in hard races. This weekend, Spencer’s presence in the break made it possible for me to get there with “fresh legs”. Spencer and Joe’s willingness to provide a leadout in the crit was enormously helpful, selfless, and appreciated.

Zack Ulissi’s amazing start to the season

The weekend started as expected for an ECCC opening weekend – wet and cold Saturday, with a much-too-early “prologue” short time trial. While we were warming up, Sebo and I discussed what power we were targeting; I mentioned a (much too aggressive) goal of my personal best + 25W, and in the process got Sebo to go much harder than he had planned (he was well over 400W on the actual run, and I just managed my previous best; he’s a beast). We all expected to see results before the road race, but the officials didn’t get the sheets printed in time (probably because they had to enter about 350 people for the first race of the season). In hindsight, it might have been good that we didn’t get the time trial results before the race. Sebo, Matt, and I had come 2nd, 8th, and 1st respectively, so we had the two fastest men and we were the only team to have three riders in the top 10 of B’s. If the other teams had known this, they might have been more careful during the road race.

The hours before the road race were somewhat stressful, since we had some trouble coming up with a clear strategy. The course was four laps of a 13-mile non-technical hilly loop, starting with a modest 500ft climb, then about 4 miles of rolling hills, then a sharp descent and about 5 miles of flat road back to the finish. Laura (women’s A) was joining us, and had by far the most experience in tactics, reading fields, and making things happen. We thought it probable that I would be one the fastest climbers / time trialers in the race (and one of the weakest sprinters), but the substantial amount of flat roads suggested that breaks that formed on the first hill would likely be caught later on in the loop, and we were uncertain if a breakaway could actually succeed. I was nervous because I knew that the only hope I had of a strong finish was to breakaway, but I had never broken away in a race so didn’t really know what to do. Sebo was both strong at sustained efforts and had a great sprint. After input from all the A riders, we decided that Sebo, Matt, and Laura would attack the field early in the race to tire other riders out, I would try and go for a breakaway on the second or third lap, and if that failed we would rest for the fourth lap and do our best to give Sebo the lead-out train he deserved.

The race started with the sun finally coming out and the course starting to dry up, turning out to be a beautiful day. The first lap was taken at a crawl, and on the first climb Laura led with a Harvard rider and chatted about their studies (to the amusement of the rest of the pack). Laura and I maintained top-5 positions through most of the first lap, and Sebo and Matt worked their way up from where they started at the back of the pack. At the end of the first loop, a rider in the middle of the pack hit a hole in the road and crashed, taking out a good portion of the field; Sebo and Matt just avoided crashing out, but had to chase to get back onto the main group.

The second lap began with the hill still at a crawl, and a Pittsburgh rider attacked and managed to break away solo. I figured that the move was too early to be successful, and that most of the riders were still quite fresh, so didn’t bother trying to follow. At the top of the hill Sebo and Matt made their way to the front, and Laura made sure that I was still in good shape. She led the first attack on the field, and in doing so turned the group ride into a proper race. For the rest of the lap, the four of us stayed near the front as various riders from other teams made small attacks and took turns pulling; I’m still not sure why other riders were doing work at the front, but it helped to tire the field. The Pitt rider continued to dangle off the front just in sight, and most people thought the move was going to fail.

At the start of the third climb I was starting to get worried, since I knew my window for making a move was about to close. Luckily, the pace up the hill stayed high, and it was clear some people were starting to suffer. A Rutgers rider attacked halfway through the climb and the pace surged, a bit more than Laura could handle. As she dropped back from the front, she screamed “Zack!” and I made my move with a moderate seated sprint, followed by a few minutes of hard work up the hill. I bridged to the Rutgers rider, realized he was hurting more than he should, and bridged again to the Pitt rider at the top of the hill. I was a bit worried he’d already be exhausted from a solo lap, but he said he was feeling OK and willing to do work to make the break work. We took turns pulling for the rest of the third lap, but by the end of the lap it was clear he was suffering.  He had dropped his bottle and had run out of sugar/water, so I gave him my last bottle of sports drink to try and get him through the end of the race , since we still had 15 miles left with the field chasing and no idea of how far back the pack was.

On the final climb, it was clear that the Pitt rider was too tired to match my threshold pace, so I kept the pace steady and spent the next 30 minutes riding alone; at every turn I looked over my shoulder expecting to see a surging peloton. I crossed the finish line alone, thoroughly exhausted, and slightly in shock (my first breakaway ever and my first win ever), with an unexpected 2:20 minutes on the main field.

Sebo and Matt stayed with the field while I was away, and covered every attack by other teams to try and catch the breakaway. Their blocking worked perfectly, and I’m told that at one point someone (UMD?) asked Sebo pointedly “are you going to do any work?”, to which his answer was “no”, of course. Matt led out Sebo for the final finish, and Sebo ended up with fourth place and Matt with 10th. Our strategy ended up working, and this was a perfect example of how much you can do with a strong team. Without Sebo and Matt controlling the group pace, there’s no way the breakaway would have ended up working.

The last event of the weekend was a hilly crit, with one non-technical turn, a small 80-ft hill followed by a sweeping descent and short flat bit (not much of a real crit, but it certainly suited me). Once again, we were pretty nervous about our chances of winning the race; I had never gotten a top-5 in a crit, can’t really sprint, and I assumed that anything I did would be immediately covered by the other riders after winning both events on the previous day. Our plan was basically the same as for the road race; Sebo would go for the first prime and keep the pace high, I would attack on the hill after the second prime, and if things failed we would give Sebo a lead-out for the win.

The plan worked perfectly; Sebo got his prime and when I made my move on the second one, two others tried to cover (a strong Dartmouth climber, and the same Pitt rider from the previous day). Only the Dartmouth rider managed to hold my wheel, and the two of us worked together for a couple of laps; he did some great work on the downhill/flat sections and we built up a lead of about 40 seconds. After a few laps he started to fade on the hill, and I took off solo for the next four laps, afraid that time lost on the hill would doom the effort. I finished on my own again, followed by the Dartmouth rider. Sebo blocked for most of the crit until he was sure that I was going to be OK on my own, and then broke off with a UMD rider, whom he beat in a sprint finish, taking third overall, with Matt in the points in the pack finish. As on Saturday, this was an amazing team effort, with a better outcome than any of us expected.

Combined with the huge success in the Men’s/Women’s A fields, Men’s C field, and the great work in the other fields, this weekend turned out far more exciting than I expected.