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