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.
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.
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.
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.
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.