Annondale-on-Hudson, NY – The ECCC descended upon a sleepy Bard College last Sunday for a campus criterium that saved the calendar from the dark emptiness of a missing weekend. Attendance was down compared to established two-day events, but the enthusiasm of the northern teams more than compensated for the numbers. Patchy sunshine was a welcome addition to the later races, and paved the way for some top-notch spectator participation.
The course was fast, with four corners and a sharp little rise to the dead-flat finishing straight. Even the small hill was enough to encourage attackers, and every field was shattered by accelerations. Breakaways ruled the day, as pelotons imploded and the smaller field sizes limited teamwork. The Women’s C and Men’s B races were both won by solo moves, showcasing strategies that often get squashed in larger races.
The Women’s A/B race was one of the more cohesive events, but by the end Hayley Wickstrom (University of Pittsburgh) pulled out a twelve second advantage on the field and crossed the line with the victory. Jasmine Hansen (US Military Academy) came in second, and B rider Lucie Vagnerova outgunned the remaining A’s for third.
In the Men’s A event, the pace was scorching right from the whistle as an early breakaway of four escaped. Riders in the move were Benjamin Grass (Dartmouth), Will Dugan (UVM), Spencer Gilbert (Yale) and Peter Vollers Jr. (KMS). By the midway point in the race, the main field had splintered into chase groups of all sizes, and most were pulled in the second half. The four-man breakaway increased it’s advantage, as Dugan (UVM) repeatedly tried ditching his three companions. They stuck to his wheel every time, and with under 10 laps to go, the group lapped what was left of the field: about 12 riders. In the final lap, Benjamin Grass of Dartmouth powered to the front of the field, beating Will Dugan into second and leaving third place for Spencer Gilbert.
Bard’s first attempt at hosting a race weekend went very smoothly, with safe and organized racing. Rumor has it that they are looking to host a full weekend next year, and it seems the ECCC would be excited to adopt a new northern classic into the schedule.
My teammates and I had stopped at a crossroads in Greenville, South Carolina. It was day one of our spring break training camp, and already the mood was a bit deflated. The weather wasn’t as nice as the year before, and the group was disorganized. I felt fat and flat, just turning the cranks over in a monotonous grind. I had lost any reason for riding, and each pedal stroke reminded me that I was slow, lazy, and unmotivated. Paris Mountain loomed on the horizon as yet another billboard advertising my woeful ineptitude.
As I sat at the intersection stewing in this cocktail of dejection, I heard riders approaching from behind. Following the sound of a spinning cassette, I saw the grinning face of a man I watched for 10 years as he raced through the mountains of France. He pulled in front of us and said “Hi, I’m George.” As I held in my surprise, I managed to ask where he was headed. The response:
“Caesar’s Head, I mean… Paris Mountain! We’re on a lunch ride. You guys coming?”
I looked to my teammate: our eyebrows had migrated beyond our hairlines in shock. We gave some affirmative mumbles, and suddenly found ourselves on a ride with George Hincapie. I could tell you that I threw my bottle at him on behalf of cycling fans everywhere. I could tell you that I yelled at him and called him a liar, asked him why he cheated, why he tricked us. I could tell you that I was mad, and that I found myself wishing he hadn’t showed up. The truth is, I didn’t even think about it.
Yes, he lied. He cheated. He perpetuated a toxic culture of high pressure doping and he wasn’t alone. On that ride however, we were both cyclists riding Paris Mountain. George is retired, and I will never be a professional rider. I can’t say we were on even ground, but that day we were on common ground. I sat at the front of the group, riding shoulder to shoulder with someone I never thought I’d meet.
I told him as I huffed and puffed up a small rise that I was working on losing some significant off-season weight, a detail that he could plainly see as I more than filled out my UVM jersey. He replied that retirement was giving him some trouble in the weight department as well, which was about as far from truthful as his career on the Postal squad but I appreciated the sentiment. That was the extent of our interaction. I faded to the back to wait for riders who had fallen off, and I started mulling over the 30 second conversation. George won’t remember my face, my name, or our little chat but I will. I thought to myself: why aren’t I angry? Where is my integrity? This guy is a fraud, and I believed in him for 10 years while he worked the system.
The answers came to me as I labored up the climb alone, pushing all my excitement and confusion through the pedals. Cycling is a sport that has struggled to survive for its entire life. It is difficult to watch, difficult to predict, and difficult to market. The reason that it has survived and will always persist is that the people who find it never leave. Everything about the sport is based upon group dynamics, and this includes college kids on the road in South Carolina. Cyclists find each other and stick together both on and off the bike because we share the love of a singular pursuit. We all share the challenges and triumphs of cycling, and we ride the same roads whether we are ProTour champs or chubby club racers. When George found us out on the road, he found people with the same passion that drove him forward.
How can I resolve to hate someone who has cut their life’s work out of the cloth I am made from? This is not to gloss over the mistakes that he and many others have made,but in that moment I enjoyed the simple fact that we were both doing exactly what we wanted. We were riding bicycles in the spring, and our lives beyond that did not overlap. As I lumbered through the switchbacks, the idea of the ride for its own sake was reinforced. George was on a lunch ride with some friends, and I was doing the same. He was not getting paid, searching for victory, or proving anything, he was just riding. In the past, he had clearly forgotten about these rides. He had forgotten about the reason for them. He had become tangled in pressures from the outside and perhaps from his own motivation, and he lost his way.
I was climbing the same mountain, and I was leaving behind similar flaws. School had become too much; I lost my fitness and then my motivation. I wanted to reach my potential but I couldn’t even bring myself to swing a leg over the bike. All winter I told myself I would interrupt the pattern of over-eating and apathy, but spring arrived and I was more entrenched than ever. Sometimes it takes a storm to clear the air, and I had mine on that climb. George had his already, and I don’t know when it hit but I’m glad it did. He will always have to live with his mistakes and I with mine, but now he is through the worst of it and the damage can be repaired.
Do I forgive him? That’s not my responsibility. As a fan of cycling, I am inspired by the hard work of talented athletes. This is my only task, and I will leave the anger and guilt to the people who have reason for those feelings. George may be never be able to enjoy his accomplishments under the shadow of his past, but that is more than enough motivation for the next generation to avoid the same fate. Now he can enjoy riding again, and I can look forward to following the future of our sport.
When we finally park the van, empty the bikes, dispose of the half eaten sandwiches, and depart to our separate dwellings every Sunday night, we all let out a little sigh of relief. There’s no denying that the exciting weekends of the ECCC are exhausting. However, each week, the anticipation built up for the following weekend of racing manifests in a number of highly unproductive ways. I like to think of this as the ultimate race to the race.
The whole process involves a complete preoccupation with all things collegiate cycling. It’s taxing on your work. Your friends become strangers. Your professors think you’ve suddenly become very ADD. It’s what gets us through the week, and it generally goes something like this:
Monday: Recovery ride. Your spaghetti legs reaffirm your concern that you in fact did not train hard enough. First stop, coffee (espresso preferred in order to boost your euro swag). Second stop, Internet. You begin to obsessively search Twitter, Facebook, and road-results.com for pictures. You relive the races, seeing yourself with all the glory that never existed (unless you’re Robin Carpenter or Lenore Pipes).
Tuesday: Two to three hours with a couple of zone four intervals. Legs are still tired, but you’re hopeful that you can finally make your solo break stick this weekend. Do laundry, but only the things necessary for next weekend (not even the bank has enough quarters to get through the whole pile of laundry).
Wednesday: Feeling the building excitement for the upcoming weekend, you do some sprint drills. You begin to wonder, albeit halfheartedly, how you are going to manage to produce all this research before the end of the semester. The lab that should have taken you 2 hours has now kept you awake until two in the morning because Ryan T. Kelly won’t stop tweeting about how he wishes he were in grad school.
Thursday: Time to get serious. Race is in two days, gotta loosen up the legs. 2 hours, easy pace. Get home, take careful time to plan out each day’s kit. You make it to class, but only end up looking over the race flyer and studying the weekend’s courses. You plan your strategy, and begin recruiting your teammates for a lead out. A massive pasta dinner ensues, complete with reruns of last years Giro.
Friday: You’ve strategically structured your class and work schedule to be completely open on Fridays. You head out for a ride with a couple of short hard efforts to open up the legs. Head to the grocery store and buy a week’s worth of bread and peanut butter, knowing that it’s not enough. Lube the bike, grab your bibs numbers, and head out to get in the van. Finally, the weekend is here and you are reunited with the only people who understand how long the week has been. You pull out some homework, but never glance down at it. The Katy Perry tunes are cranked up way too loud for that, and besides, it’s almost race time. You’re race to the race is really just beginning.
Saturday presented itself with difficult conditions, especially if one hasn’t had much practice riding in them. The Women’s C riders braved rain, snow, and a little bit of sleet while taking some daring descents and facing long stretches accompanied by a headwind. It’s really surprising to see that those racers that did well in the Circuit Race appeared to DNF in the Crit. Difficult to say exactly what happened but there were two noteworthy consistent riders this weekend. Rebecca Gripp from the University of Delaware placed 6th in the Circuit and then 5th in the Crit. Georgia Lagoudas of MIT placed 8th in the Circuit and then finished in a remarkable 2nd place for the Crit. It’s very difficult to have this kind of consistency, especially on two days and two courses that presented the riders with challenges.
In the end it was Portia Cornell (Harvard) in third for the Women’s C circuit race, with Marissa Rorabaugh of UVM in second and Samantha Summers of Penn State taking the win. In the crit on Sunday it was Anna Janas of Columbia on the third step of the podium, while Georgia Lagoudas took second and Julia Schlesinger (Yale) took victory.
New York, New York. It’s the final criterium of the day and it has finally warmed up enough for the A men to show off their shaved legs. Alan Atwood repeats the words we’ve come to both anticipate eagerly and fear in equal parts: “Gentlemen, have fun, be safe; you start on my whistle.”
The whistle blows. Most people get clipped in the first try but woe is the person who misses, for the race is already on. Attacks come hard and frequently. The field stretches and contracts, slithering rapidly across the course like a snake intent on the tasty meal just ahead. The meal is the elusive race-winning breakaway, it’s the opportunity to snatch up prime points in the green points jersey competition, but most of all it’s the opportunity to cross the finish line with arms held high to the cheering from the surrounding crowd.
The race is hard. The snake sheds layers of skin, dropping riders to await the lap when they hear the dreaded line from the race official:“That’s your finish.” Up ahead, riders try to escape the jaws of the snake. It takes courage to go off the front knowing that you might be gobbled up because your move didn’t have the right timing, composition or firepower.
For 45 minutes the race has been tough for everyone. Two riders get off the front together. One is a prolific winner and racer for a premier development team, the other an up and coming junior. Their lead blossoms and it become clear the snake is not going to catch its prey in time. The prolific winner adds another victory to his collection – his second on the day. The junior crosses the line with a slight wave of his hand, knowing finishing runner up was quite the commendable feat on this day. The snake pounces, but it is too late – only the final position on the imaginary podium is left up for grabs.
Sunday’s race quickly becomes the most anticipated one so far this season as ECCC series leader Robin Carpenter is nowhere to be seen. His absence is noticed early on as the field began with its first sluggish start this season. However, after ripping down the big descent of the course, a few riders went to the front to smash out the cobwebs, resulting in the race finally beginning in earnest.
Predictable attacks are made on the climbs and false flats on course but the elastic doesn’t snap at first. The race winning breakaway wasn’t going to come until approximately 2 laps to go when a number of the strongest riders in the field got away in a move that quickly built a significant gap. Some looked to bridge or chase down the breakaway but most were disrupted by excellent implementation of blocking tactics by the teams represented in the large breakaway.
John Herrick (UVM) jumped from the break to take the win, followed by Zachary Ulissi (MIT) and Alan Royek (Ship) finishing off the podium. An exciting result for what is shaping up to be another exciting season in the men’s A field. Next up: The Philly Phlyer!
Monday I woke up, listened to my alarm for a couple minutes, shut it
off, then listened to my roommates get ready for work, rolled over,
and woke up again to my second alarm. I got out of bed and it felt as
though house was tilted, maybe swinging back and forth, and my heart
was slamming against my chest. Light headed and hazy-eyed I made it to
the bathroom, drank some water and washed my face.
My mind struggled to put together the pieces from the night before.
That is because I was not doing keg stands all night. It is not Sunday
afternoon. Instead, we were racing bikes for the first time in months.
It is Monday morning. This is the Rutgers Hangover.
Let’s back up to 4:00 AM on Saturday in a moonlit parking lot. To one
side, headlamps light up a Box O’ Joe and to the other side a halogen
lamp lights up a box of numbers – our collegiate identity for the next
nine race weekends. Vans idle with the heat blasted and stuffed with
anxious bike racers deprived of their sleep and continental
The moon finally sets, the sun rises, the blasted heat turns to music,
and we hear the first call to staging. The party begins.
It’s 70 degrees in the van and 38 degrees out side. Throughout the
morning, we hop in and out. For some of us, our head becomes congested
and our noses start to run before noon. We could geek out about the
effects that this temperature inconsistency has on our body’s
defenses. We won’t.
Lets just say you are now two beers deep.
We could also evaluate the effects of riding six to eight hours on six
to eight hours of sleep over the course of a weekend. Again, we will
It’s kind of like four beers deep.
In addition to our current buzz, a 48-hour diet of stolen snacks from
the hotel, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fast food must
equate to a couple of beers.
It’s not that race weekends are miserable. Just as every beer adds to
the experience of a night, so does every incremental slap to your
body’s face. If we didn’t like this sort of stuff, we would not race
After six hours of travel time and logistical decision-making from
Jamesburg, N.J. to Burlington, Vt., you are greeted with euphoria at
your first step out of the van. You drag your luggage home, it begins
to snow again, you walk into your apartment and everyone is fast
asleep. It’s now approaching the early hours of Monday morning. You’re
exhausted. You open a beer and just sit down.
The Wonder Women of the ECCC are already strutting their stuff and we’ll only get stronger and faster from here! The beginning of the season is distinctly interesting in women’s racing because there are always women racing Intros that will end up winning the B category by the end of the spring. We see beloved old faces and new excited faces. We see beloved old bikes and new sparkly Six Series Madones that you look at and you’re like “mmm what’s cookin’ good lookin’?” There’s talk about spring break training trips and the elevation profile of Shippensburg; everyone exchanges knowing looks about the hill climbs of the following two months. Speaking of hill climbs… maybe we’ll overtake the Men’s B field, like we did in the Dartmouth road race last year, again this year. (I hope so…watch out men’s B racers.)
Although ALL the ladies in the place with style and grace deserve a shout out because we came, we saw, we conquered, and we’re gonna do it again next week, there are some gals that are consistently leading our packs. For the A women, MIT’s Shaena Berlin, Cornell’s Lenore Pipes, and Kutztown’s Bailey Semian are raking in mamajama points, not to mention Rose Long; who knows what else Rose Long will have up her sleeve upon her return to the ECCC? The big winner B women this weekend include Emily Paxson from UVM, Marina Brown from Yale, and Adriane Hairston from Temple. I bet upgrade is a word on their minds… Lucie Vagnerova of Columbia, Lisa Fawcett of Cornell, Fitchburg High Schooler Victoria Gates, and Georgia Lagoudas and Katherine Wymbs of MIT among others are bringing home the bacon for the women’s C field. Hanna Lauterbach coming from RPI, Katie Maass from MIT, and Julia Schlesinger from Yale have got it goin’ on in the Intro women’s field. Rock on and keep it up, girls!! Also a big shout out to Betsey Pettitt, our female coordinator! If you haven’t met her yet, you will — she’s the smiley girl with the long blond braids in the UNH kit 🙂
No matter what our finishing positions were this weekend, or whether or not you’re satisfied with your results yet, I think every Wonder Woman of the ECCC should be should be proud that we’re growing in force (in number and watts) and that we’re all racing our hearts out. There’s communication within the pack and we’re accomplishing things we couldn’t do on our own. Three cheers to that!
Among the glorious and notorious Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference as a whole, we hear Yale talking about overcoming cognitive dissonance while racing, MIT talking about testing bike aerodynamics in subsonic tunnels, UVM talking about Fox forks (wait what season is it?), and UNH talking about… who knows… well they’re probably just farting in the vans. But we’re all talking about how much we’re looking forward to the next couple months of bike racing! See y’all next week in the Big Apple!