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Ben Woolston’s Philly Phlyer 2013 race report

Despite the brutal weather Saturday, this weekend was one of the most fun I’ve had so far in collegiate racing.

Team Time Trial
I got called up to do the Men’s A TTT with Zach, Cameron and Joe. To say I was nervous going into this was an understatement—all these three are much stronger than I am—and I was expecting to get dropped pretty early on. But somehow I managed to stay with the group and take (short) pulls throughout most of the the 14-mile course. Coming into the final hill, I was completely spent, and dropped off the back as the other three finished (the time for the team is taken from the third rider to cross the line). We came first by a margin of ~25 seconds, averaging 27 mph for the whole course. It was amazing (and painful) to be part of that group.

Finish photo from the men’s A TTT
Finish photo from the men’s A TTT (courtesy velocityresults.net)

Men’s B Crit
The collegiate crit on Sunday started pretty fast, and strung out quickly around the corners. After a couple of laps, I put in an early attack to try to get away, and got into a group of 4 that immediately began working together. We got caught pretty quickly though, and I sat toward the back of the pack for a little while to recover. While I was doing that, another attack went, and another strong group of 3 got off the front and started to grow a significant gap on the field. I wanted to be part of that break, but because I was toward the back of the pack, it took me a couple of laps to get into a position from which I could attack and attempt to bridge. By this time, the gap had grown to about 25 seconds, and though I bridged as hard as I possibly could, after a lap-and-a-half I realized I wasn’t going to catch them by myself. I eased up and got back into the pack as it came past, then after a lap of resting I got Kuat (MIT B rider) to come with me up to the front to try to organize a solid chase. Unfortunately, one of the guys in the breakaway (Queens University) had strong teammates in the field, and they successfully blocked our best attempts to chase. Exhausted again, I realized our best chance in this race was to try to get our sprinter (David Koppstein) into a good position to sprint for 4th place. I dropped back through the pack to find him, but having already won two prime laps (his goal for the race), he had dropped off the back a little while before. With a couple of laps left to go, two other riders individually got off the front to try to avoid the field sprint. On the last lap, I knew we had to catch them, so I went to the front to lead the chase to catch them. Right before the last corner we caught them (one of them swore quite violently at having been caught so close to the end). Having been first wheel for basically the whole last lap, I was expecting to get swarmed as we rounded the corner into the final stretch, so I took the hardest line I could through it and opened up my sprint coming out of it. I’ve no idea how this worked, but no one came around me and I won the field sprint, for 4th overall.

Men’s ¾ Crit
Having not had enough racing up to that point, and desperate to get some USAC upgrade points, I entered the Men’s ¾ USAC crit (about 90 minutes after the B crit ended). This race got started quite similarly to the B crit. There were a few early attempts at breaks (some of which Joe Near or I got into), but none of which stuck. Several laps from the end (I can’t remember how many), two guys got off the front and started to open up a gap. Having learned my lesson from bridging too late in the last race, I attacked and chased all out. It took me three quarters of a lap and a lot of suffering, but I eventually crossed the gap, and then there were three of us trying to stave off the pack for the remaining 3-4 laps. By the time I got there, one of the guys in the break (by build, very much a sprinter type) was basically exhausted so the other two of us did most of the work to stay away. As I took my pull on the straight before the last corner, I heard one of them yell “Here they come” and knew the pack was close. I didn’t want to take the last pull into the corner with a sprinter in the group, but didn’t think I had a choice with the pack closing so quickly. I came through the corner first, and sure enough the sprinter came around me before the line to take first. I took second, and third place went to the last guy in our break. The pack was right behind us, crossing the line at the ‘same time’ on the official results.

I left Philadelphia feeling exhausted but really happy. Partly because of the racing, but probably most because of the delicious Cheeseteak we stopped for before leaving!

Finish photo from the men’s 3/4 crit (courtesy velocityresults.net)
Finish photo from the men’s 3/4 crit (courtesy velocityresults.net)

Finish Photo from the Men’s ¾ Crit

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.