Road 2014, Week 8: Easterns!

After seven straight weekends of travel, bikes and listening to conference director Joe Kopena’s sweet yet cruel words of “Be smart, race fast” at each race’s start, it seems hard that the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference could put forth a memorable final weekend. Brown University, Providence College and Rhode Island School of Design united to host the Eastern Conference Championships to blow everyone’s expectations- and race predictions- out of the water.

The criterum finish line being deployed!
The criterum finish line being deployed!

Scituate High School, Rhode Island, was the staging for Saturday’s races. “Scituate” pronounced “sit-CHOO-it.” Don’t lie, only the thirty people who are actually born and raised in Rhode Island know how to pronounce it. The day’s races- a team time trial and road race- would be complimented by the usual weather collegiate racers have been forced to know and love: cold, mud and rain. The weather was so unforgiving that racers described the day as a “battle of attrition” with each other and themselves, as everyone struggled to stay warm and race fast on the bike. Such harsh elements however would not deter Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) men’s and women’s teams from going aero and storming ahead to take the fastest times of the day: 35:51.92 and 42:04.01 respectively for the rolling 15 mile course.

The morning rain eventually managed to die off, just in time for race officials to decide to stage the road race. Not because collegiate racers cannot handle getting a little damp, but a decision had to be made to evaluate if the two miles of dirt section in the 23-mile race loop had held up through the water run-offs. The dirt hills- the first feature of its kind for the 2014 season- were the most defining and significant feature of the course. With each lap, closeted mountain and cyclocross riders were given their time to shine and they cruised ahead of roadies used to the ease and comfort of hard pavement. In the men’s A race, Bentley University graduate student and professional cyclocross racer Craig Richey made the mud climbs look easy as he pulled away from the field with each section. In lap two of three, Richey’s limbs proved to be harder than a pack of racers’ legs combined as he pulled away for a seven-minute victory. For the rest of the field that decided to brave the hypothermic-inducing conditions, it was Kai Wiggins of Middlebury College and race organizer Thomas Barnett of Providence College that took the bunch sprint to round out the podium.

Jules Goguely, race promoter from RISD, watches the pack split on one of the road race's long, wet, dirt rollers.
Jules Goguely, race promoter from RISD, watches the pack split on one of the road race’s long, wet, dirt rollers.

There was a surprise contender in the women’s A/B field. The top two tiers of elite racing on the ladies side have always been combined to give the lower rated riders a chance to learn from the best, and race reports on this site have tended to focus on just participants in the A field. Taking everyone to school however was B racer Rebecca Fahringer (Brown), in her debut appearance this collegiate season. A doctorate candidate at school and a cyclocross elite racer, Fahringer was a class ahead of the field at each dirt section. The A/B field splintered on the first of two laps at the first steep climb, and then settled to Fahringer and three A racers: Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia University), Michelle Khare (Dartmouth College) and Megan Northey (University of Delaware). Fahringer would take the field sprint and the day while Davis-Hayes, Khare and Northey would be top three for the women’s A field.

Sunday’s cloudy race- the last for the 2014 road season and seniors- was the Providence Criterium by the city waterfront downtown. Thankfully, the course was textbook: flat, wide streets for cornering and the smattering of potholes. Thomas Barnett’s appeal to get the course up and down Providence’s killer side streets was denied on the grounds that it would actually kill less experienced riders ascending and descending during a race. Whether or not such a course feature would hinder Cecilia Davis Hayes’ rampage for the sprint points, we can probably guess “not really.” The Columbia Lion was roaring through in front of the pack to pick up uncontested first for each set of sprint points and lock up the sprint leader title for the overall season. Davis-Hayes would take first in the end for the women’s A win- but behind B racer Rebecca Fahringer, who played the careful game to keep the home turf presence  strong and win. Keeping pace with Davis-Hayes in the A field was Shaena Berlin (MIT) and Michelle Khare (Dartmouth), taking second and third respectively. Berlin- who had a mechanical the previous day that kept her out of medal contention-  still finished the season with enough points to be crowned the 2014 season’s points leader.

Left to right: Rebecca Fahringer (Brown), Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) and Shaena Berlin (MIT) finish Sunday's criterium underneath the pink Providence banner
Left to right: Rebecca Fahringer (Brown), Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) and Shaena Berlin (MIT) finish Sunday’s criterium underneath the pink Providence banner (Photo by David DeWitt)

Representing the home course must have been foremost in the mind of Barnett. In the men’s A race, the Red Friar was involved in three major attacks on an otherwise complacent field. The first was a three man break with double jersey holder Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth College) himself, the second was a solo attempt for glory- but the third time was the charm. Craig Richey (Bentley), Gregory Ratzell (Pennsylvania State University) and Barnett managed to get away and find the energy to build a 28-second gap on the rest of the field. Barnett’s attacks netted him four out of six sprint victories, and was all but poised to make it a double victory in the elite criterium races. The final finish however was not to be, as Ratzell came across first with unmatched speed to take first for the day. Not bad for a freshman rider, albeit a young Category 2 rider. For the rest of the podium, it was a photo finish decision that gave Barnett second and Richey third. With Zachary Ulissi (MIT)- both the sprint and overall points leader for the first half of the season- sitting out the criterium to rest up for Nationals, any last-minute threats to take away Daniel Holmdahl’s (Dartmouth) double jersey domination was gone.

To tie in to Holmdahl’s victory, Dartmouth finished first for the championship weekend omnium with 410 points. Second was MIT with 408 points, followed by a tie for third between Columbia and Northeastern University with 246 points. For ECCC and Nationals overall school standings, MIT and Dartmouth were both first and second: 2112 points to 1495 points, and 2046 points to 1419 points respectively. Third in the ECCC season overall was the University of Vermont with 1260 points; Columbia was third in National season overall with 1236 points.

Gregory Ratzell (Penn State) raises his arms in triumph as he wins the elite men's criterium, beating out Craig Richey (Bentley, center) and Thomas Barnett (Providence)
Gregory Ratzell (Penn State) raises his arms in triumph as he wins the elite men’s criterium, beating out Craig Richey (Bentley, center) and Thomas Barnett (Providence) (Photo by David DeWitt)

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

 

*Feel free to e-mail the blogosphere race pictures or report corrections. There is no way that after such an epic weekend of racing that people do not have pictures to send in for race reports- or that this  was written with zero errors or mistakes. All related goods can be sent to ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer, who wishes cyclists headed to Collegiate Nationals to “be smart, race fast.”

Headline photo by Kristine Fong, series leader Shaena Berlin (MIT) in the road race.

Ride your bike: maybe it can cure what ails us?

As the entire Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference girds itself for the last epic weekend of road racing for the 2014 season, and looks to the start of the first full track racing season, there will be plenty of emotions abound— as there should be. Let’s set aside the nostalgia of those with college in the rearview mirror as they drive into adulthood and the real world. ECCC ‘14 has been incredible in the sense that the conference made strides towards improving itself, from an open women’s forum to improve the state of bike racing to official steps to include riders all across the board to race bikes on the weekend. Let’s not forget the ECCC declaration of  “2015: go big or go home-” the long term mission to solve some of the problems that plague the state of bike racing.

The state of bike racing. For the week after the Eastern Championships, getting on your bike for more pain and pleasure might be the furthest thing on your mind. Giving your body a rest after eight straight weekends of travel and competing notwithstanding, a lot of people will not think about racing bikes until next season. Then, starting at the November 2014 meeting, it will start all over again; the excitement at the upcoming season, the endless plans and preparation, the head scratching on how to improve the bike racing experience in the Northeast.

It is an incredibly hard thing to streamline and troubleshoot hosting major events for twenty schools with twenty different schedules in the Northeast during one of the most troublesome weather periods of the year- I can count the number of times I did not have to lather on layers or Embrocation for a race and weekends my team did not have some racing-related incident for this season on one hand. Despite all of the discomfort or frustration, I would not trade those experiences for anything. Invaluable bonding aside, those experiences are important lessons we all learn from to better ourselves for the future. Heck, call it ‘stretching things’  a bit, but arguably the skills you learned on and off the bike will be useful down the road. Probably the most valuable lesson I have ever on a bike is struggling during a race and telling myself, “Suck it up- everyone here is dealing with the exact same problems you are.” Talk about epiphanies of a shared humanity while deep in the pain cave.

We can learn a lot from bikes, in and out of the race. Eight weekends is only so much time to take it all in and absorb as much as you can. Shame there’s no other period of the year that has organized bike racing to participate in.

So, sarcasm aside.  As a daring and relatively unfounded statement, here’s a suggestion to everyone that wants to improve the biking experience in the saddle or behind the racing scene: get involved this summer. Go to Bikereg.com and sign up for some summer racing. Get involved with some biking community and see how they do things. Volunteer at a biking event, and appreciate just how much work race organizers do and more for us. Organize group rides, bring along someone new to biking and show them how great the sport can be. Have some amazing bike epiphany and write about it on the ECCC blogosphere. You put in this much time invested into collegiate bike racing, you certainly can afford a bit more to go hang out with other people on bikes.

If there is a ‘cure-all’ solution to improving the state of bike racing, it would be a pretty impressive one to tackle all of the usual problems; race organizers not going broke, creating a better pipeline to teach riders racing skills, addressing how latent sexism in a male-dominated culture hurts the state of bike racing.  Yes, whether you like it or want to argue the semantics, these are problems that hinder the process of bike racing that we as a conference are trying to solve. Eight weekends is not enough time to observe and test new solutions. Strong racing ability and a better spring racing experience is something everyone can work on and realize during the summer. You can learn something new to use in your next ECCC or USAC bike race. Who knows, maybe from your summer experience you will realize the ‘cure-all’ solution to ECCC’s “2015: go big or go home” challenge.

America! Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
America! Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

At the very least, enjoy camaraderie of  being on the bike with others while not freezing in the March rain.

Road 2014: Week 7, Nittany Cycling Classic

Black Moshannon Road Race. Fraternity Row Criterium. Pennsylvania State University. These are the legendary landmarks of the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference, and the popular races that draw riders from all over to test their mettle in the Nittany Cycling Classic hosted by Penn State. With finals starting for some schools and Easter Sunday, there was a noticeable drop in rider participation- nevertheless, teams still made the trek to hunt for more points for the season.

Saturday opened up to wispy blue skies and temperatures rising into short-sleeve weather. Race headquarters and trainers for set up for the day for a team time trial and road race at Black Moshannon State Park in the rolling heart of Pennsylvania. For the first morning race, there was a 9.5 mile team time trial with power climbs and descents that promised fast times for seasoned riders. Interestingly enough, some of the more veteran teams were absent from the races. The hosting Penn State did not submit a men’s A team, and Northeastern ended up seven miles off course. The winners of the A fields were incredibly unique- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) set the bar with a time of 22:48.50, with the regulated four-man team size comprised of two men’s A riders, a men’s B and a women’s A racer. On the women’s side, Columbia University was the sole entrant and default winner of the morning race.

The afternoon road race was the real fixture of the day, if not the entire weekend. A 21-mile loop of 50mph descents and three major climbs, the last of which is a grinding five miler that overlooks the valley. In the men’s A race, it was a constant game of hard solo attacks, the pack reeling in riders off the front and dropping even more off the back. Nearly half the field dropped out or was pulled from the three-lap struggle of a race. The final major surge was by Brett Wachtendorf (Penn State), who made his move at the base of the final climb and managed to stay away to win his home race. Wachtendorf passed Zachary Ulissi (MIT), Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth College) and Alan Royek (Shippensburg University), a group that unsuccessfully tried to pull away beforehand. The three however would stay away from the rest of the diminished field to hold on for the finish. With Ulissi and Holmdahl- respectively one and two in the men’s overall standings- so focused on watching the other’s moves, it was an easy thing for Royek to collect himself and put out an unstoppable sprint to take second for the day.  The final podium spot was taken by Holmdahl, as he managed to nip Ulissi at the line at the end of a very long race.

Rose Long of Icahn School of Medicine, Shaena Berlin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monica Volk of Penn State Lehigh Valley- all of them mere mortals at the top of Saturday's final climb in the road race (Photo by Andrew Black)
Rose Long of Icahn School of Medicine, Shaena Berlin of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Monica Volk of Penn State Lehigh Valley- all of them mere mortals at the top of Saturday’s final climb in the road race (Photo by Andrew Black)

In the women’s A race, there was a bit more of wait involved before the solo acts began. Making her move up the first time up the major climb was Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia)- whose wheel decided to flat at that moment. The move however encouraged the rest, and emerging over the top was Monica Volk (Penn State Lehigh Valley), Rose Long (Icahn School of Medicine) and Shaena Berlin (MIT). The three would work together to for most of the second of two laps. At the final climb however, Volk would peel off first Berlin and then Long to take the victory: no small feat for a freshman rider in her first collegiate season. For Long and Berlin, it was ‘just’ a matter of coming across the line to take second and third respectively in the conference’s toughest road race of the year. In an impressive display of fitness, Davis-Hayes managed to get another wheel from a support vehicle and rode hard to bridge back up to the pack to finish fifth for the day.

Brett Wachtendorf of Penn State ripping through the corners during the men's A race (Photo by Andrew Black)
Brett Wachtendorf of Penn State ripping through the corners during the men’s A criterium  (Photo by Andrew Black)

Teams setting up early Easter Sunday at Penn State’s Frat Row Criterium were greeted by cheery church goers and hung-over university students. The race was a flat six corner screamer of a race, changing from a narrow chicane to wide pavement turns for a great drag finishing stretch. In familiar fashion, Cecilia Davis-Hayes attacked on the first sprint lap and never looked back. Davis-Hayes would eventually lap and rejoin the main field- a move that all but locked up the win for the day and the lion’s share of sprint points to keep the green jersey. The pack however was not content to just sit idle, and a three lady chase group went off the field front: Shaena Berlin, Monica Volk and Elspeth Huyett (Kutztown University). The chase group roared around the course, but was unable to lap the field to catch up to Davis-Hayes. The three racers however managed to stay away from the rest of the field to take the rest of the sprint points. In the finishing sprint, it was Huyett that managed to outgun and outstrip to take victory in the pack sprint. Volk would managed to edge out Berlin for the final podium spot; Berlin however, had the last laugh, as she picked enough points to maintain the overall leader’s jersey over Davis-Hayes.

Penn State- lacking a rider in the women’s A/B race- was determined to show their worth as a fast cycling and hosting school on their home turf. From the gun their riders attacked and set up high speeds, stripping a full third of the field in the first five laps. In similar fashion to yesterday’s road race, no rider successfully managed to get away- even Brett Wachtendorf, the home road race winner, strung out the field towards the end but could not get away. Wachtendorf’s real plan however was to turn up the heat and draw attention away from his teammate Wes Kline for a field sprint win. University of Pittsburgh racer Michael Oltman however saw through the ruse and marked Wachtendorf’s wheel throughout the final laps of the race. Oltman’s hunch paid off, and he came into the finish with a head of steam Kline could not match to take the duel and the day. Kline- who flatted, crashed and rejoined the race on a free mechanical lap- did Penn State proud to take second, with Jules Goguely (Rhode Island School of Design) taking third. Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth College) picked up an impressive 20 sprint points to further his hold on the sprinter’s jersey- and a final position in the finishing sprint to finally overtake Zachary Ulissi for first in the overall men’s standing

The weekend omnium was won by MIT with 210 points. Hosting team Penn Sate finished second (197 points) by a scant point over Columbia University (196 points). With only one more weekend left in the books before the season’s and double points on the line for the championship weekend, riders everywhere look with baited breath to see who will take it all- the season leader’s jerseys for sprints and overall, the divisional victories for their school and the championship races.

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

 

Zachary Ulissi of MIT leads the field through the course. Just look at how breathtaking the man is. He and Shaena Berlin still managed to find time to e-mail the blogosphere for race details. Next you will tell me the man has a doctorate as well. Don't actually tell me- I could not stand that much awe (Photo by Andrew Black)
Zachary Ulissi of MIT leads the field through the criterium. Just look at how breathtaking the man is. On top of being fast, he and Shaena Berlin still managed to find time to e-mail the blogosphere for race details. Next you will tell me the man has a doctorate as well. Don’t actually tell me- I could not stand that much awe (Photo by Andrew Black)

*Reporting for this recap was made possible by a very detailed e-mail and generous help from MIT’s powerhouses Shaena Berlin and Zachary Ulissi. Still, ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer is prone to slip-ups and lacking enough pictures (there can never be enough). Feel free to e-mail him to help make past and future race reports accurate and awesome.*

Track Season on the Blocks!

With the road season wrapping up, we know you’re anxious to use that fitness you’ve accumulated. Hopefully you’re not quite finished with collegiate racing for the spring and summer, as we’re pleased to present you with the 2014 collegiate track season!

Showdown in T-Town

This year’s track schedule kicks off May 10-11 at the Valley Preferred Velodrome in Trexlertown, PA. As we finalize the full calendar over the coming weeks, we want let you know about two unique events coming up for the season opener.

  • Saturday, May 10: Collegiate Track Clinic
    Track racing brings a whole different dynamic to racing. The collegiate track clinic will be run by 2000 Olympic Gold Medal Sprinter Marty Nothstein, who will teach you the fundamentals of track racing from how to ride and control a fixed gear bicycle, safety in a pack, rules of etiquette on the track, how to make use of the racing surface, to basic track racing tactics. This clinic will qualify you for an automatic upgrade to Cat 4.
  • Sunday, May 11: Collegiate Team Omnium
    The collegiate team omnium is an exciting event that will be contested by teams of 6 riders (2 men’s A, 2 men’s B, and 2 women’s open). Each category will have its own set of three races, and individual riders places will contribute to the team’s overall score. The final event will bring all six riders from each team onto the track for a 6-rider, 6-lap team sprint. Events are as follows:
  1. Men’s A: Win-n-Out
  2. Men’s B: 12 Lap Snowball
  3. Women’s Open: Miss-n-Out
  4. Men’s A: Flying 1km Team Time Trial (Leadouts Only!)
  5. Men’s B: Last Man Standing
  6. Women’s Open: 12 Lap Tempo
  7. Men’s A: 12km Points Race (Sprints every 2km)
  8. Men’s B: 8km Points Race (Sprints every 2km)
  9. Women’s Open: 8km Points Race (Sprints every 2km)
  10. All: Collegiate Team Sprint
MIT works on their Madison.
MIT works on their Madison.

The Basics

What exactly is track racing? Is is just like road racing?
My favorite description of track racing is that it’s like playing a match of chess on two wheels at VO2max. It’s not pure strength, and not every race is a simple first-across-the-line wins. It’s part strategy, part mind games, and only part turning the pedals as fast as you can. Don’t worry, we’ll explain every race before we run it, but we promise to challenge your notion of what a bike race is.

Do I have to attend the clinic to race on Sunday?
In short, yes. If you are a Cat 3 or higher on the track, you may show up just for the racing on Sunday, however unless you have extensive track experience you’ll likely learn a lot from Saturday’s clinic. If you are a Cat 4/5 on the track and have either done a formal clinic or have significant racing experience, talk to us first if you are thinking of skipping the clinic. Our main concern is safety, and there are track-specific rules and etiquette that you need to learn, even if you are a Cat 1/2 on the road.

I’d like to come, but I don’t have a track bike.
Don’t worry. T-Town has rental bikes that will be available for the clinic and for racing. These bikes are not normally available for racing, but a special exception is being granted for the ECCC.

How much experience do I need to show up?
None! We’ve specifically designed this event to give you an introduction to track racing. If you’ve never raced on the track or even ridden a fixed gear bike, we’ll teach you what you need to know at the clinic to have fun and race safely on Sunday.

Brandon Masterman (NYU) gets ready for his first velodrome ride---on the challenging FCV track no less!
Brandon Masterman (NYU) gets ready for his first velodrome ride—on the challenging FCV track no less!

How do I decide what category to race in?
Because this event is geared toward new riders, we’re not basing the racing categories strictly off of your USAC track category (we assume most of you will be Track 4/5s regardless of your fitness), and the events for each category have been chosen to be fun and beginner friendly. We want everyone to have an appropriate field to race in. We’re relying on you to self-select a category based on your fitness. Here are some guidelines:

  • For the women, we have a single open category, however if you are a Cat 3 or above, you may elect to race in one of the men’s categories (taking one of those spots for your team). If there is enough of a split in rider strengths, we will split the women’s field into Women’s A and Women’s B. We want everyone to have fun and have a proper field in which to race.
  • For the men, if you have a Cat 3 or higher on the road or track, you should race the Men’s A. If you are a fast collegiate B on the road, you should also consider racing Men’s A. Cat 4/5 riders should race Men’s B.

The Collegiate Omnium looks cool, but what if I don’t have a team to race with?
No problem! While we definitely think you should encourage your friends and teammates to come try the track with you, mixed teams are encouraged if you have friends from other schools you would like to race with, but even if you don’t find a team. Even if you can’t find a team, sign up. We’ll make sure everyone has a team to race with.

What’s this sprinting clinic I heard about on May 10-11?
Indeed, we’re sharing the weekend with an advanced standing start and sprint clinic, which will be running both mornings from 9am-1pm, for the more experienced riders. We’ll be sharing details about this event as we get closer to May.

Summertime Action

Looking ahead to the rest of the 2014 track season, there’s a lot already planned.

In June the ECCC goes international, so get your passports ready! We’ll be heading north to London, Ontario to the Forest City Velodrome, the world’s shortest and steepest permanent velodrome—138 meters and 52 degrees!

Banking at the FCV track in Ontario!
Banking at the FCV track in Ontario!

In July, we’ll first be going to Kissena Velodrome in Queens, NY for track clinics and racing. Afterward we’ll stop at the Bud Harris Track in Pittsburgh, PA for a day of racing.

Finally the season will return to T-Town in September for full two days of racing and preparation for collegiate nationals, including a team pursuit clinic.

Stay tuned for dates as we finalize these events, and get your legs ready for some fixed gear racing!

Horses and Cubes

Earlier today, Craig Richey from the brand new Bentley University team (and elite rider for Trek Red Truck Racing) made a great comment:

As fresh eyes on the scene one possible improvement would be to have some sort of weekend omnium podium after the race on Sunday. Yesterday it was clear people wanted to hang around for a bit of socializing and wrap-up of the weekend’s events, a podium would do this and would give some photos for universities to brag about, which in turn would drive awareness for collegiate cycling. Without some sort of official end to the weekend’s events, it seemed like things kind of fizzled after the race on Sunday. It would also be an opportunity to officially thank the event organizers and cadets (maybe this is just a Canadian thing).

All of those points and ideas are absolutely spot on and insightful, touching multiple dimensions toward growth in numbers and quality: More exciting events and a better social experience, building prestige and support within administrations, outreach to potential recruits and sponsors, acknowledging the volunteers making it all happen.

So, the question is: Why doesn’t the ECCC have podiums? It’s a simple thing, but actually a deep question that hits on a lot of fundamental traits and critical current projects in the conference.

Horses and Cubes

One answer is that we do! Of course at Easterns we hold big semi-formal presentations each day for the race and season winners. Sometimes it’s pretty emotional.

Ben Grass (Dartmouth): Cancer survivor, doctor, green jersey winner.  Photo by David Berg.
Ben Grass (Dartmouth): Cancer survivor, doctor, green jersey winner. Photo by David Berg.

Lots of other races have special trophies and ceremonies. Last year featured two of the very best in ECCC history: The golden stallion from the Shippensburg Scurry Horsekiller Road Race, and the pink & metal cubes from the RISD/Brown/PC Rhode Race.

For the accuracy inclined, Horsekiller Road actually killed horses on the descent, as brewery carts lost control on the steep pitch. But the riders found the ascent just as deadly.
For the accuracy inclined, Horsekiller Road actually killed horses on the descent, as brewery carts lost control on the steep pitch. But the riders found the ascent just as deadly. Photo by Nathan Goates.
All will be assimilated into our post-modern vision of bicycle racing. Resistance is futile.  Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
All will be assimilated into our post-modern vision of bicycle racing. Resistance is futile. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

An important fact to understand is that other than Easterns, the conference in terms of the entity and leadership largely leaves this whole aspect of our events up to the host schools. Our role is to ensure the fundamental conduct of the races. Though important, trophies and podiums are essentially polish or frills on top of well run events that we leave to the promoters to individualize and accentuate their events, or not. The conference could potentially have stacks of medals and drive standardized ceremonies, but they would pale in all meaning to a RISD/Brown/PC cube, Shippensburg horse, East Rock jersey, Boston beanpot, Army black and gold, UVM chainring, Northeastern woodcut, UNH rocks, PSU pint glass, or all the other unique awards that have memorialized promoters’ hearts and efforts over the years.

Have Weather, Will Travel

The question still remains as to why more races don’t have podiums.

One superficial but paramount fact is just that the weather faced by collegiate road racers in the great northeast is more often than not… less than welcoming. Nobody wants to stand around for a podium when it’s 20 degrees out or, worse, 35 and raining. With indoor facilities rare and hard to come by, podium ceremonies frequently get literally flooded or frozen in our unreliable, spiteful road season weather.

Similarly, travel is a fundamental imperative concern. Each weekend, nearly everyone is looking at a long, long drive home. Many attempts at holding some sort of podium ceremony are marred by absent riders. This past Sunday, UVM actually had really sweet, professional looking chainring medallions for the A race podiums. But by the time results were in, protest period over, and the organizers ready to do awards—not an overly long process—much of the podiums had already hit the road, let alone the rest of the crowd. Even at the national level people often don’t stick around for awards; I have a whole box of unclaimed national championship medals from years past.

Excited as they were, none of the survivors of the 2014 MIT X-Pot Crit were going to wait around for awards. Photo by David DeWitt.
Excited as they were, none of the survivors of the 2014 MIT X-Pot Crit were going to wait around for awards. Photo by David DeWitt.

Joie de Vivre

In general though there are fewer podiums, trophies, jerseys, etc., for our races than there used to be, and those two factors have always been there. They don’t account for that decline.

There are undoubtedly multiple reasons, but I believe a large part of that dropoff is the sheer crushing difficulty of putting on races these days. Last year’s RISD/Brown/PC debut event was actually really satisfying to me personally because it felt exactly like the very first year my closest friends and I put on the Philly Phlyer: Ambitious, extravagantly expensive courses; over-the-top race flyers and posters; oft-overlooked touches like support cars or pit support; marshals from the entire community; and an overall joie de vivre toward race promotion of which the standout cube podium trophies were just an outpouring.

That zest is hard to come by. It’s amazingly difficult to put on a bike race, particularly the complicated full slate of events and great courses that are the hallmark of every ECCC weekend. That first year of the Phlyer was the largest, most organized, and most committed the Drexel and UPenn teams have ever been, we had half a dozen core committee people working on the event, financial and procedural supports from the clubs and schools, and I still wound up dropping my classes to make it happen. Every promoter of the simplest business park crit will testify that it’s a lot of work no matter how many years they’ve been doing it. Here in the ECCC we’ve got first time promoters from tiny clubs putting on 2–4 distinct events in a weekend; logistically challenging downtown circuit races, campus crits, and long road races; and all of it in the worst weather on the tightest of shoestring budgets. Every year costs go up, townships and school administrations get less enthusiastic, procedural work mounts, the weather grows wilder, and the boom of automatic growth in youth cycling continues to fade.

It’s hard to remain hyper excited about your event when looking at heavy cash losses year after year, months of grueling stress, and days of frantically pulling together just enough marshals to prevent chaos. Of course awards and podiums get dropped as a forgotten afterthought and unnecessary expense. Other things fall by the wayside too, some of them more critical to actual event conduct: On the one hand it’s great that our racers are understanding that the majority of our road races at this point don’t have wheel vans behind most of the fields because its so difficult to come up with vehicles and drivers, especially for so many fields. On the other hand that’s really unfortunate for the quality of our events, and it’s sad that the expectation no longer exists.

Ernie Lehman (PSU) discovers that not all race day crises are covered in the ECCC Promoters' Guide.  Photo by Tianle Chen.
Ernie Lehman (PSU) discovers that not all race day crises are covered in the ECCC Promoters’ Guide. Photo by Tianle Chen.

Do It For Love

We can do something about all of that. We have to do something about all of that. Addressing the existential challenges to grassroots competitive cycling in general and collegiate racing in particular is the entire purpose of our multi-year ECCC 2015: Go Big or Go Home initiative. Along the way we’ll manifoldly expand our capabilities. We do that by thoroughly reworking the whole model and mechanisms of race promotion to make our races more sustainable; to grow our events bigger and more dramatic; to empower our development of beginner, women’s, and elite cycling.

Some of the specific ways we’re working toward those ends include:

  • Fundamentally shifting the financial model and risks of race promotion from single clubs and individuals to a community cooperative, with everyone collectively shouldering the costs and liabilities of the events we all enjoy and from which we derive so much.
  • Similarly expanding the peoplepower responsibility for race production from single clubs and individuals to the community, fostering and mechanically enabling coalitions of host teams and an espirit de corps in which the entire community contributes critical human resources.
  • Aggressively developing and training on new best practices and systematized procedures to reduce workload and improve product, such as simpler approaches to coordinating marshals.
  • Building a conference backbone of professional staff, ensuring quality events and continuity while guiding and developing student leadership and mitigating unsustainable volunteer tasking.

All of that is extremely lofty, ambitious, and an awful lot of work, but it’s also feasible and necessary. The factors behind a decline in podiums and trophies are all the same factors challenging the overall sustainability and growth of our events and the conference as a whole. If we can address them we’ll put ourselves on a totally different path to a much more upbeat, manageable, exciting future.

As a byproduct, maybe there’ll be more horses and cubes down that road…

Make it happen. PennState sweeps the 2013 conference championship criterium, weekend, and Men's A individual season omnium on their own frat row. Photo by Joe Kopena.
Make it happen. PennState sweeps the 2013 conference championship criterium, weekend, and Men’s A individual season omnium on their own frat row. Photo by Joe Kopena.

Headline photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Road 2014: Week 6, New England Sufferfest

Another springtime weekend, another set of bike races. The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference headed to the far northern New England for bike for a time trial, criterium and road race. The sixth weekend of racing hosted by Dartmouth College and the University of Vermont (UVM), looked to be an exciting episode of fastest bike racer in the Northeast.

Sunny skies and fair temperatures greeted racers as they assembled for the day in Hanover, New Hampshire at Dartmouth campus. The 2.7 mile time trial was the first event of the day, featuring power climbs, fast flats and a wall of a finishing hill. Taking the fastest time of the day was Dartmouth’s top male rider and race coordinator Daniel Holmdahl, powering through the course in 7:38.42. Rounding out the podium was Zachary Ulissi of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and David Ziehr of Harvard College, finishing the course with times of 7:42.86 and 7:50.50 respectively.

On the women’s side, it was Columbia University’s Cecilia Davis-Hayes that beat all the collegiate ladies- and a lot of collegiate gentlemen too-, taking the morning’s race in 8:52.29. Behind her was Michelle Khare of Dartmouth and Shaena Berlin (MIT), in 9:04.26 and 9:09.06- the former defending her home race, the latter the conference points leader’s jersey.

Teams packed up and moved camp to the other side of campus for the infamous Frat Row Criterium race, where wide roads and smooth corners let racers try all tactics to win on their terms. Terms, that Elizabeth White of UVM, decided would be of her choosing. White jumped at the gun and built up to a fifty-second lead on the women’s A field for most of the race to collect three easy sprint victories for herself. The field seemed content to let White think she had the race. Halfway through, they decided to put pedal to the metal, catch a tired White and eventually drop her. In an exciting show of dueling racers and finishing finesse, the wily veteran Rose Long (Icahn School of Medicine) surged forward to win the bunch sprint, ahead of Khare (Dartmouth) and Davis-Hayes (Columbia). Davis-Hayes had- surreptitiously, with most of the focus on White’s breakaway- won all pack sprints and points to claim the green sprinter’s jersey, taking back the lead from Berlin.

The field in the men’s A however would not let any rider imitate White’s breakaway performance. Several riders put out strong moves, and every time the pack would let them wear their legs out for a lap before bringing them back into the field. The sprint points was a battle of Dartmouth’s lone wolf Holmdahl versus the MIT men getting their man and conference sprint leader Ulissi- not to mention the rest of the bloodthirsty men’s field, in the hunt for glory and points. Holmdahl would take an impressive 25 points for the day over Ulissi’s 9- enough break Ulissi’s six-week stranglehold on the sprinter’s jersey. The final few laps saw solo riders still making attacks in attempts to break the field, but to no avail. In the end and coming out ahead of the pack was Jules Goguely of Rhode Island School of Design. Strung out behind him was Mathieu Boudier-Revéret  of the University of Montreal, and Cory Small of UVM.

Sunday morning’s weather was at odds with riders’ experience from the previous day. Cold, rainy and blustery winds- all the elements New Englanders have come to expect with the unpredictable spring weather. Racers had little choice but to bundled up on rain gear and lathered on warming cream to for UVM’s road race up near Burlington, VT. The uncooperative weather was not enough to have the planned finishing climb up Mount Philo, instead forcing race organizers to pick one of the many climbs and false flats for the finish. Cecilia Davis-Hayes (Columbia) was up to her usual tricks, and went out hard to put an eleven minute gap on the women’s A pack. The only one to go with her and match her pedal-for-pedal was Shaena Berlin (MIT). Davis-Hayes however would burn Berlin on the final climb and win the race in 2:39:04. Berlin- in no less of an impressive show of fitness- would finish second, only thirty-four seconds back. Coming in third and ahead of a very splintered women’s combined A/B field in a time of 2:47:26 was Michelle Khare (Dartmouth), putting out three for three in podium appearances for the weekend.

Midway through the day, and second wave of races, the sun broke out and temperatures rose from mid-thirties to high fifties. In the men’s A race, the weather change and race course did little to break up the bulk of the field. Thomas Barnett (Providence), David Ziehr (Harvard) and Samuel O’Keefe (Middlebury) would turn on the after burners and take the race for themselves. The three would finish in order, in minute gaps, ahead of the field a commanding show of race ability and grit.

Thomas Barnett of Providence (left) and Jules Goguely of Rhode Island School of Design posing together Sunday. Both had victories in races, and are hosting the ECCC Championships on 4/26-27/14
Thomas Barnett of Providence College (left) and Jules Goguely of Rhode Island School of Design posing together Sunday. Barnett won Sunday’s road race, and Goguely won the criterium Saturday.  Their schools, along with Brown University, are hosting the ECCC Championships on 4/26-27/14 (Photo by Thomas Barnett)

The weekend omniun was won by Dartmouth College (255 points), breaking MIT’s winning streak of six weeks for overall points. MIT was second with 235 points, followed by UVM with 174 points.

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

*feel free to e-mail ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer  pictures for race reports, corrections or for bike rides- All things everyone could do more with*

Road 2014: Week 5, Army Spring Classic

The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference got a reprieve of foul weather with a treat of sunshine and above freezing temperatures for the Army Spring Classic. The fifth weekend of racing, hosted by and held at West Point College, featured four races: a hill climb, a criterium, team time trial and road race.

Dawn broke clear over the exposed slope of West Point’s campus, where a 2.6 mile individual time trial would present a fairly challenging climb. Going for the consecutive time trial win was Erik Levinsohn (Yale), taking the fastest time of the day with 10:37.12. Taking second was Craig Richey (Bentley University) in 11:21.11, followed by Dominic Caiazzo (Northeastern) in 11:25.77.

Back on top and in form was Shaena Berlin (MIT), fastest woman of the day in a time of 13:56.4. Right behind her was Michelle Khare (Dartmouth), back only by 5.13 seconds. In third was Monica Volk of Penn State Lehigh Valley, with a time of 14:14.44.

The day grew overcast but the weather held out for the afternoon criterium. Held at Campground Buckner, the course featured a windy highway stretch, gradual slopes and curves- perfect for a fast showdown. Levinsohn however decided to turn the screws on partway through the Men’s A race and gap the main field for the win by 40 seconds. The only racer to successfully follow Levinsohn was Daniel Lazier of Bucknell University, who was nipped at the line by two seconds. Winning the pack sprint was Julian Georg (Syracuse). While pulled early from the race, Daniel Holmdahl (Dartmouth) managed to pick up five sprint points, putting him two points behind taking the green jersey.

There would be no breaking away in the Women’s A race however; the group stayed fast and tight from the bell to the line. Taking the field win in a fast face-off was Katherine Wymbs (MIT), followed by Rose Long (Icahn School of Medicine) and Elspeth Huyett of Kutztown University. The four different sprints and four placings were split between six women- no doubt a sign of calculated determination to bridge the gap on Berlin’s pacing from the rest of the field. With three weekends of criteriums and sprint points left, there is still plenty of ground to be made up.

Sunday’s races- the team time trial and road race- were staged and held at Lake Harriman and Lake Welch Parkway. The morning time trial was fraught with some typical misfortunes; flats, crashes, lost riders. A particularly unfortunate example among them was MIT Men’s A team- with one rider getting a flat at the start and the rest of the team later crashing out on a sandy turn. Taking the victory for the day was Northeastern University, in a time of 17:54.75, followed by Dartmouth College (18:28.1) and the University of Delaware (19:19.22). On the women’s side, MIT went three-for-three in team time trials for another victory, in a time of 21:26.63. Trailing was was Columbia University (22:51.98), and Yale University (23:22.15).

The afternoon sun and temperatures rose for the road race- the first one successfully held this season due to bad weather shortening the other planned races earlier in the season. Showing his trademark strategy- make a break and make it stick-, Levinsohn once again turned on the engine and won a third straight individual race in dominating fashion, finishing the 70 mile race in 3:13:54. Levinsohn’s flawless, albeit time trial-esque, weekend was enough to move him ahead into first overall in season points. Second in the road race was Brett Wachtendorf (Pennsylvania State) in 3:15:01 and Holmdahl (Dartmouth) in 3:15:06. Holmdahl’s work put him into third overall in the men’s standing, putting him in the precarious position to take both the sprinter’s and leader’s jersey by season’s end.

The Women’s A race, on the other hand, was a more familiar story with road races: a suffer march of last (wo)man standing takes all. That day, it was Khare (Dartmouth) that took the victory in a time of 3:00:44- more proof that the Big Green’s tough legs and tougher riders deserve to be ahead of the field. Back by one second for the next podium step was Volk (Penn State Lehigh Valley), followed by Semian Bailey (Kutztown) in 3:00:58. At the end of the weekend, Khare and Wymbs (MIT) were the ones to consistently to work the gap on Shaena Berlin’s double- and potentially insurmountable- hold on the sprinter’s and leader’s jersey.

The weekend omnium was won by MIT (327 points), followed by Dartmouth College (296) and Yale University (216) With the conference traveling north to a joint hosted event by Dartmouth and University of Vermont next weekend, racers look with baited breath to see who will snatch the coveted points for the season’s overall standings

Full results are available from the ECCC calendar.

*feel free to e-mail ECCC writer Benjamin Kramer  pictures for future, timely race reports. Apparently waiting  long enough will convince other people to post just the pictures, but Kramer is more than willing to cooperate to compensate his camera-less-ness*

 

Women’s Meeting, Gender Identity Policy Study

Alongside its exciting, high speed course through frat row, this week’s Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord will feature an important ECCC event on women’s cycling, and the next step in an ongoing project on gender identity policies in collegiate sports.

Women’s Meeting

At the start of Saturday’s criterium, right after the first Men’s D race begins, all of the conference’s women cyclists are invited to meet by Turn 2 of the course, at Main St and Clement Rd/Maynard St:

ECCC Women’s Meeting
Saturday, April 12, 2014
10am (start of the criterium, after the ITT)
Dartmouth L’Enfer du Nord Campus Criterium
Turn 2: Main St & Clement Rd/Maynard St
Hanover, NH

There is two hour block in the schedule at that point without women’s races, yielding plenty of time to meet. The hope is to have a free ranging discussion among all of the conference’s women, collecting input and generating ideas on multiple fronts, including:

  • General feedback, e.g., on the new Women’s D category;
  • Ideas for riders, teams, and the conference to recruit and retain more women cyclists;
  • Empowering women to better push back on negative culture, and approaches to combatting latent sexism and actual harassment.

As a concrete example of the latter, the conference is currently planning for 2015 to require all teams to have a designated contact go through the US Olympic Committee’s SafeSport program, much as USA Cycling officials do currently. However, all observations on existing issues and ideas for future progress in women’s cycling are welcome, needed, and fair game to discuss in this meeting. The intent is to gather wide-ranging input and proposals  in order to determine priorities and develop new plans.

Announcements will be made about alternative plans for the meeting in case of inclement weather.

Betsey Pettit (UNH) in the 2013 Women's A/B Rutgers circuit race.  Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.
Betsey Pettit (UNH) in the 2013 Women’s A/B Rutgers circuit race. Photo by Jan Valerie Polk.

Transgender Policy Study

In addition, this Saturday the ECCC is going to be visited by Kristine Newhall from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a prominent researcher on gender and inequality in sport. Dr Newhall is well known as a contributor to the Title IX Blog as well as TED Talks on that subject. She is currently beginning a study of gender identity and inclusion policies in collegiate sports outside the NCAA, and is looking at the ECCC as one example.

To that end, Dr Newhall wishes to interview current ECCC riders, coaches, and officials. She has already talked with a number of people at the MIT X-Pot criterium, and will be at the Dartmouth crit as well as possibly the RISD/Brown/PC Eastern Conference Championships to do the same. In addition, she is interested in potentially traveling to nearby teams to meet and conduct interviews outside of race weekends. The official recruitment letter for this study is as follows:

Dear ECCC riders and officials,

I am a lecturer in the McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Currently, I am engaged in research about the creation and implementation of gender identity policies in non-NCAA collegiate sports using the ECCC as a case study. I am looking for potential interviewees who would be willing to discuss their opinions on the new gender identity policy implemented by the ECCC this year. In order to participate you must be currently participating in ECCC events as either an athlete or administrator and of legal age to consent (18).

Interviews would likely last one hour or less and will be arranged at a mutually convenient time and location. Interviews will be recorded but only I will have access to them. You will not be identified by name in any publications or presentations which result from this research.

If you agree to participate, I will contact you to arrange a meeting place at which time you will receive a detailed consent form that further outlines this research. In the meantime, I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to consider participation in this research.

Sincerely,
Kristine Newhall, PhD
knewhall@isenberg.umass.edu
McCormack Department of Sport Management
Isenberg School of Management
University of Massachusetts Amherst

By participating in this study, the conference hopes to both learn more about itself as well as push its open, inclusive worldview to other sports and cultures. Anyone specifically interested in talking with Dr Newhall about the ECCC’s new gender identity and inclusion policies should feel free to email her in advance, or find Joe Kopena or Ian Sullivan this Saturday to be pointed in her direction.

Headline photo by Jan Valerie Polk.