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.*