Cow Cyclists battle snow, wind; dominate Rutgers weekend

Despite rain, snow and gusting wind, the cycling team finished the first race weekend of the season with an impressive showing at Rutgers. The Ephs placed cyclists in every race and earned both points and respect as they fought against the strongest teams in the East.

The weekend consisted of two races Saturday and a third on Sunday. The courses were set up across New Jersey and on various Rutgers campuses. A time trial Saturday morning was followed by a 0.8 mile loop criterium in the afternoon, while the next day was devoted to a 1.5 mile loop road race.

After arriving early for the time trial, the temperature rapidly dropped while the Ephs warmed up and soon a driving snow began to fall. After an inch had accumulated, the race coordinators canceled the time trial and the teams repacked and headed across the state for the criterium.

The snow changed to rain and after a 30-minute delay the criterium opened underneath sunny skies and warmer weather. In the D race, the team’s deep roster dominated from start to finish. The Ephs pulled nearly every lap of the short 9.6-mile sprint, and set the pace despite having three of the six cyclists crash on the wet course. Certain laps of the race were declared premium laps, which meant that the first four riders to complete them would gain team points. The Williams cyclists took first place in the first premium and first, third, and fourth in the second. In the finish, Aaron Applebaum ’01, Tom LaRocca ’00, John Wiedower ’00 and Reed Wiedower ’00 teamed up for a third through sixth place sweep while Nat White ’99 reached the top ten, pushing Williams to the top of the scoreboard quickly.

By the end of the D race, the wind speed had picked up and gusts were beginning to turn the wide pack into narrow pace lines. In the C race, Steve Hibbard ’00 and Will Ronco ’01 helped Andrew Gow ’00 to reach eleventh place as they battled the wind and the other top teams from across the northeast. Gow gained team points several times by sprinting to win premium laps.

Katie Bishop ’00 was unable to draft off of fellow Ephs in the women’s B race as she was the sole entry for Williams. However, Bishop stayed with the pack for most of the race and worked hard with members of the other teams. Erryn Leinbaugh ’99 and Jim Rowe ’98 continued this effort in the B race as they pulled the pack and kept a roaring pace. They too won premium points.

In the women’s A race, Megan Lawson ’98 completed the Herculean task of pulling the pack practically every lap. Despite the best efforts of the University of Pennsylvania riders to wear her out by blocking and refusing to lead, Megan held off the deeper teams and finished second.

Captain Jed White ’98 and Ben Stafford ’98 completed the Saturday races with strong showings in the men’s A race. They tackled the now incredible headwinds and rapidly approaching darkness with more speed than in any previous race, and finished together near the front of the pack.

After a perfect dinner the cycling team snatched a few hours of sleep before rising early Sunday morning for the road race. Though the snow and rain had disappeared, the strong winds proved to be a major factor in the race. The winds discouraged single breakaways and made it difficult for the pack to catch smaller, more organized groups. The race course was also extremely difficult as it contained an 180-degree turn, a tough upwind leg, and an 135-degree turn into the uphill finish.

The D racers continued their strong performances from the previous day in the first race. Cycling both more aggressively and smarter, the Ephs pulled the pack less and worked together more often to stay at the front of the other teams. As the spotted jerseys sprinted uphill across the finish line, J. Wiedower took third while Applebaum followed him into fifth. Matt Walton ’98, R. Wiedower, and White also finished strongly.

Gow also continued to build upon his Saturday finish in the C race. The Eph stayed with the pack and fellow teammate Ronco throughout the 15 miles, and saved his sprinting energy for the final stretch. After rounding the last tight turn Gow and four others sprinted to an extremely close finish, Gow taking fourth by half a wheel.

The women’s B and A races were combined, though the B cyclists had to complete seven laps while the A’s did ten. Bishop improved greatly by staying with the pack the entire race, and guided her Bianci to a strong finish in the thick of the main group. Lawson, in the A race, again began to lead the pack for the first two laps. Soon she and the UPenn cyclist who beat her broke away from the main pack and began to accelerate.

Despite the emergence of multiple chase groups, Lawson and her opponent increased their lead and even lapped the B racers before they finished. After working together for most of the race, Lawson fell a few lengths behind on the headwind leg and was unable to catch up. Even so, she crossed the finish line only seconds behind the leader and nearly a minute before the first chase group arrived.

Leinbaugh and Rowe kept the point scoring streak going in the tough men’s B race. Both men stayed within the pack most of the race, and navigated the tight turns and windy conditions expertly. As in the earlier races, the uphill sprint to the finish proved both exciting and extremely close. Rowe powerfully passed cyclist after cyclist as he accelerated towards the line, eventually trucking across in second place. Though Rowe missed first by less than a foot, it is clear that he will continue to dominate through the season.

The final race of the weekend for the collegiate cyclists proved to be as exciting as the first. Breakaway and chase groups, a tricky pack, strong winds and a rogue car on the course provided a great finish to the Rutgers road race. An initial breakaway was reeled in by the main pack, but a counter-attack successfully accelerated away soon afterwards. White and Stafford stuck with the main group for the first few laps, but the pack seemed content to let the first group ride away as cyclists dropped off the rear. Soon a few lone cyclists in between the first group of four and the main pack coalesced into a chase group, but Stafford was stymied in his attempts to pull the pack into contention.

As the cyclists neared the end of the 25.5 miles, it was clear that the first eight places had been decided by the first two groups. However, Stafford led the pack into the home stretch and another wonderful finish. As the thirty odd riders roared up the hill, Stafford increased speed and sprinted into twelfth place, capping both an impressive day and weekend.

“This is the fastest the Williams team has been for many years,” Captain Jed White commented. The other cyclists agreed that a high standard has been set for a promising season with the excellent finishes at Rutgers.

White said, “I was pleased with our opening performance this weekend. We showed the potential for a tremendous season.” It is clear that with the increased training over spring break, the Williams Cycling Team will be a major force among regional teams and the perpetually strong Eastern Division.