The Eastern Conference Cycling Championship is the final regular season race weekend for every collegiate cyclist. This year the ECCC was held at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and was attended by dozens of schools and the best cyclists on the East Coast.
On Saturday the cyclists faced a technically challenging road race consisting of a five-mile loop with moderate hills, tight corners and fast descents. At seven the A race began, with the C race following after five minutes. The Ephs carefully kept up in position while avoiding the holes of one dangerous downhill. In the C race, Tom LaRocca ’00 and Aaron Applebaum ’01 reeled in breakaway after breakaway until the final uphill sprint, in which Applebaum grabbed thirteenth place. In the longer A race, captain Jed White ’98 and fellow senior Ben Stafford continued to display both their intelligent strategies and excellent conditioning as they did in their last few races. As the two sprinted up the final short climb across the line, Stafford beat White by less than half a wheel to take eleventh and thirteenth respectively.
In the D category, Matt Walton ’98 and Reed Wiedower ’00 worked hard but were disabled due to mechanicals. In the B race, Jim Rowe ’98, Andrew Gow ’00, and Steve Hibbard ’00 all displayed fine form as they fought both wind and the rising temperatures. A break during a feed zone switch proved tough to catch, but Rowe and Gow both finished strongly.
The final races of the day occurred afternoon with the women’s A and B races. In the B race, Katie Bishop ’00 bounced back from a recent illness to stick with the strong and fast field. Though Katie had missed a few races, she displayed no lack of effort with her finish. Megan Lawson ’98, the only cyclist from Williams in the A race, added to her already impressive string of victories with a standout performance.
Determined to win a bid to Nationals, Lawson simply dominated the race from start to finish, never allowing anyone to doubt either her ability or willpower. She broke away early from the field with a strong set of riders from Yale and Wellesley, and after working with them throughout the race, hammered away on the final hill to win clearly.
The second event of the ECCC was the Team Time Trial on a rain-soaked Sunday morning, in which Williams entered a B squad consisting of Erryn Leinbaugh ’99, Rowe, Gow, Hibbard, Applebaum, and LaRocca. The Ephs attacked the short seven-mile course perfectly, carefully timing their pulls so that they could finish with the minimum three cyclists and the maximum speed. Their efforts paid off with a strong fifth place finish.
The final event, a points race, was run on a fast, wet and gravelly course that resulted in many crashes Sunday afternoon. In the D race, Walton and R. Wiedower improved upon their Saturday performance greatly but neither earned enough points to place overall. An early wreck in the C race forced Applebaum to attach a new wheel, but it was a large wreck in the final four laps that ended up killing any chance for Williams to take points.
The lead cyclist from Penn State attacked through a corner, lost control of his bike and went sliding across the rain soaked asphalt. The sliding steed forced John Wiedower ’00 to hop a curb and damage his front wheel and also pushed Applebaum off the course and onto a side street, while to taking out other cyclists.
The Ephs rebounded in the B race, as Leinbaugh and Rowe put on an impressive display of teamwork and sprinting ability. By sprinting every other premium lap, the two Ephs were able to win both points and time in which to recover from the sprints. However, a major crash on the last lap nearly nullified Leinbaugh’s chance to earn points. It took both guts and sheer will for Leinbaugh to force his injured body and bike through the final lap to claim his position. Rowe avoided the wreck neatly, and then skillfully maneuvered around two cyclists to claim second place in the final sprint. This gave him enough points to take ninth place.
Lawson emerged fresh and ready to win in the women’s A race, and showed this to the large crowd by once again destroying the field, winning every premium lap in a sprint including the final lap. Clearly the effort and time Lawson has poured into her racing career has paid off for every Eph watching her compete at such an incredibly high level.
In the men’s A race, Stafford and White were equally set upon gaining team points in the fastest race of the day. While racing against the best cyclists in the country would be difficult in itself, sprinting against these riders for the top four positions every three laps seemed nearly impossible. Despite the daunting task, both continued to stay in contention through the thirty plus miles. An incredibly difficult lone breakaway by Stafford during the closing laps allowed him to grab third place and enough points to secure twentieth in the final standings.
The Williams Cycling Team had not finished taking points and individual medals for the day, as the awards ceremony soon revealed. First came the announcements that both Lawson and Stafford had been invited to Nationals. This will be the fourth year that Lawson has received this ultimate honor, while it will be the first time for Stafford. Both cyclists have displayed their incredible strength and intelligence throughout the year, and will represent Williams well. The crowning touch to the race weekend proved to be the Division II Conference Standings, in which Williams took third place. This great honor is a tribute to both the incredible leadership and the dedication of every Eph on the team. Soon two cyclists of Williams will head to South Carolina to continue to represent our school, and the best efforts and wishes of every Eph go with them.