Cyclists open season battling snow, course

The Williams Cycling Club began its season with a number of obstacles to overcome. The loss of five experienced seniors, including two sent to Nationals and three Class A riders, left a gaping hole in the roster. In addition, the remarkably poor weather during the first two months of the year confined the cyclists to indoor training. It was clear that at the end of the first race weekend, hosted by Bloomsburg University and the University of Pennsylvania, the team would find out if it was ready to compete against some of the largest and fastest teams in the East.

The bitter cold that had plagued Williams throughout the pre-season was also present at the Individual Time Trial at Bloomsburg, held early on Saturday morning. The course was both fast and technically challenging, as it included several tight turns, a stiff headwind on several stretches, and a one hundred eighty degree turn at the halfway point. Reed Wiedower ’00 shook off the sub-freezing temperatures to set the first Williams mark, claiming fifth place in the D field with a time of 15:58. Not to be outdone, John Wiedower ’00 raised the mark to 14:48, claiming eleventh among the C riders. The Williams cyclists continued to surge on in the B trial, where Aaron Applebaum ’01 notched a time of 14:02, good for thirteenth. The highest speeds registered by Williams occurred in the A ITT, as Andrew Gow ’00 and Will Ronco ’01 finished in 13:40.15 and 13:03.71 minutes respectively. Ronco’s time was not only good enough for an impressive fifteenth place, but it earned both him and the Williams team their first points towards Nationals. More impressively, four of the six cyclists who raced at Bloomsburg, including all three A riders, raced in a higher class than they ever had before. By the end of the time trial, it was obvious to see that all were comfortable in these more challenging classes, and that none would be content to merely stick with the pack.

Despite delays in starting the time trial, the criterium was started on time. This meant that the D and C fields barely had time to cool down from the trial before having to warm up for the crit. The two classes were part of a combined start, but both enjoyed the rapidly rising temperatures and noonday sun. In the D race, R. Wiedower rode his Merlin to claim fourth on both premium laps, sprinting to claim precious team points. A two-man break emerged through the race, but Wiedower grabbed second place among the pack sprint to earn him fourth place overall. The C field raced the same distance as the Ds, 16 laps over the flat, square, .8 mile loop, but at a greater speed. Despite the continued attacks by larger teams from Penn State and UMass, J. Wiedower used his sprinting skills to claim second place on the first premium lap and fourth place on the final premium. Though the two larger teams broke away on the final lap, J. Wiedower successfully fought his way up to win fifth place by half a wheel over the nearest Penn State rider.

The early success in the combined C and D races was only to be repeated in the B race, as Applebaum continually jockeyed for position amongst the larger teams. An early, one-man break by Penn State proved tough to reel in, as the rest of the pack seemed unable to thwart the blocking intentions of the other State riders.

Applebaum showcased his extensive training over the last year to spring to fourth in the pack sprint, thus ensuring him fifth place overall.

The three A riders, Gow, Ronco, and Erryn Leinbaugh ’99 also displayed their strength in the fast A race. Though Gow and Leinbaugh did not finish, both stuck with the pack for as long as possible, and showed that they will be able to secure many points for Williams over the season. Ronco continued his dominance in the criterium as he hung with the pack through premium sprints and the wide but sharp corners. By carving out a good position before the final sprint, Ronco was able to pass several riders en route to an impressive twentieth place finish.

On Sunday the team traveled to Norristown, Pennsylvania, to compete in the 2.2 mile circuit race hosted by the University of Pennsylvania. The circuit course was at best technically challenging, but at worst fairly dangerous. It combined a hairpin turn with a fast downhill, and tight corners with narrow roads.

The largest obstacle was the second of three bridges on the course, a decaying concrete monster that featured a three inch drop and a gaping hole on the right side. An unmarked support pillar and uneven pavement lay in the middle, while the left side of the bridge featured a low guardrail. The bridge was somewhat deceptive, for the true test followed it in the form of a ninety degree downhill turn immediately after the bridge ended. The race finished on a short, mildly steep uphill.

If one combined all the features of the course with the rapidly dropping temperature and threat of snow, the circuit race became much more fun than the Saturday criterium, but considerably more challenging.

In the D race, R. Wiedower and the field faced five laps of hard sprints, unsuccessful break attempts, and a steadily shrinking pack. Wiedower pulled through for a well-fought fifth place, as the Ds only allowed one rider to break away near the finish to claim first. The C race faced similar conditions with a larger pack, as they accelerated across the bridges and up the hills seven times. J. Wiedower jockeyed for position between Army and UNH riders, reeling in breaks and joining in the occasional flyer himself. Through positioning himself in the top ten for the final uphill climb, Wiedower was able to sprint past several riders atop his Litespeed Vortex for third place.

Both Leinbaugh and Gow faced the same tough course, though with twelve laps to cover. In addition, the snow that seemed so far away only a day before began to fall at an increasing rate as they prepared to start the A race. The tough curves became treacherous, and several riders were carried away by ambulance at the day’s end. A four-man break in lap four soon changed into a five-man break with a seemingly insurmountable gap by lap ten.

Gow and Leinbaugh both sprinted constantly to stay competitive within the large pack, and while Gow was unable to finish due to mechanical problems, Leinbaugh completed the race in the middle of the pack sprint. By the end of the race the snow had covered everything within sight, including the cyclists, and so the finish was a testament both to their strength and endurance.

The great performances by all Williams Cyclists signaled that this year the team was both ready and willing to make a push for Nationals. After the Bloomsburg races, Williams was second among Division II teams in the points standings, trailing Dartmouth by only one point. Cycling will be in the Boston area and beyond during Spring Break.

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