We all awoke on Saturday morning knowing the weather would cooperate with the start of the season. But as the early racers warmed up on trainers, and everyone else stood in line for the annual ritual of registering, the spandex layers began to come off. Soon the mercury hit 75°F and almost everyone was down to shorts and jerseys. Freezing temperatures might have handed an advantage to hardy New Englanders like ourselves. But nobody was complaining. The generally festive atmosphere of a collegiate bike race, plus the general enthusiasm of the Rutgers season opener, plus the clear sky and warm air and bright sun, cheered even the least-trained and most equipmentally challenged riders (like yours truly).
The D men were the first to go off, and when D riders Ian Rousseau came in at 6:36 and David Quinn at 6:46, MIT scored its first points of the weekend. Zack LaBry surprised even himself with a time of 6:17, placing him 11th (out of 93) in men’s C, and Jon Dreher came in second in the category, only four seconds over six minutes. Those times were so good they would have put Zack and Jon in eleventh and fifth place in the men’s B category—which was in turn won by MIT’s own José Soltren in a scorching 5:45, the fourth best time of the day, period. Tim Humpton, racing in A’s for the first time, beat half the field. All the while, MIT’s women were tearing up the course as usual. Rachel Bainbridge placed third in her first race in the women’s intro. Laura Ralston came in fifth, Melissa Gymrek came in 11th, and Lindsey Holland was 29th in the B time trial, and Yuri Matsumoto and Zuzka Trnovcova, at eleventh and twelfth in the As, were exactly 1.01 seconds apart. Everyone did well, which isn’t to say that everyone was thrilled with their performance—some people felt they could have gone harder from the gun while others felt they’d gone too hard—but nobody had time to grumble. It was time for the crit.
By the end of the morning the whole of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference had uprooted and replanted itself forty-five minutes away in the comically picturesque town of Princeton. Everyone hopped on their bikes and checked out the course and its hill, not long enough to be a real climb but not short and steep enough to be a “power climb” either. That hill was where, after crashing early on (and taking advantage of the “free lap” rule), Ian broke away and won the D crit solo (after scoring in both prime laps, too).
In men C, Jonathan Dreher came in a superb sixth after beating the pack to second place in all three prime laps (behind only the Princeton rider who had soloed off the front). But Zach LaBry, feeling good after his time trial, was taken out on the first corner of the first lap by a pair of crutches bizarrely stuck into the road. Fortunately scrapes and bruises were the only injuries. (It was a bad day to start your name at the end of the alphabet: Zach Ybarra had been taken out while cornering in the D race.)
The pace slowed a bit for the intro races, where Rachel Bainbridge came in fourth on the women’s race. Matt Blackburn and Leo Luo, two other new racers, placed tenth and eleventh in their intro race. Spencer Schaber, who was trying racing to see if he liked it, not only came in sixth in men’s intro, but won the contest for best race face of the weekend hands down.
Then came the B races, and MIT simply cleaned up. Laura Ralston won the most points in the primes and then beat everybody else with a perfect sprint to the line while the B men, warming up near the start finish, cheered her on.
Then, in the men’s race, when a pair of riders from Vermont took off, José hauled them back himself. He then proceeded to stay away with one of the UVM riders for the rest of the race and beat him to the line, putting out so much power that he won the sprint without getting out of his saddle.
Yuri and Zuzka racked up plenty of points in the sprint out of a shattered women’s A field. But a short crit was never going to be Tim’s kind of race, especially not when Princeton’s time trial phenom Nick Frey decided to show off to the hometown crowd. Having missed the start signing autographs or something, Frey jumped into the race a lap late, and decided to try lapping the field (à la Easterns last year), which he almost—almost—did.
So at the end of the day the tally showed that MIT had flat-out won, aside from the men’s B time trial, the criteriums (criteria?) in men’s D division 2, women’s B, and men’s B. In other words MIT had won three of the seven races it entered and placed in the top five in two others. And it had been a nice day, too!