On Saturday and Sunday. the United States Military Academy hosted the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Championships at West Point, which showcased the tremendous depth and power of both Williams cycling and the entire Eastern Conference. The two-day event featured a challenging road race on Saturday, a hilly team time trial Sunday morning and a fast points race Sunday afternoon.
As the mists cleared Saturday morning, Williams cycling began the day impressively. In the women’s B field, Britta Hult ’02 started the charge down the harrowing first descent of the 13.5 mile loop. Minutes before, the Men’s Cs had braved the hairpin turn at the bottom of the descent and begun the long trek to the top of the largest hill on the West Point course.
Sebastien Bradley ’02 and Reed Wiedower ’00 climbed well, and while Wiedower eventually was gapped, Bradley hung on to finish off the pack in 20th. Soon afterwards, Hult completed the 40-mile course with a solid 16th place. The next trio of cyclists upon the course included the Men’s B race, the women’s A race and the Men’s A race. In the Bs, several teams opted to place down former A riders into the B field, which resulted in an extremely powerful group of cyclists. Senior John Wiedower sadly was not up to the challenge, and after being gapped on the top of the hill, removed himself from the race. Williams bounced back though with a vengeance, as Aimee Vasse ’01 churned up the 54 miles and a bad cold to wrest ninth place and Nationals points away from larger schools.
The real highlight of Saturday’s racing was the Men’s A road race, not merely because the 68 miles would chew up and shell many riders, but also because it would hold the most points for whichever cyclists were strong enough to finish well. In addition, the downhill finish had resulted in many thrilling sprints over the last few years, and so was eagerly awaited by both cyclists and spectators.
By the time the As were midway through the race, and many had succumbed to the intense pace and hard attacks, the day had warmed up beyond being pleasant. Williams cyclists fed their A riders, as the pace quickened and the attacks became more frequent. On the second to last lap, first-year Peter Hult broke away with two other cyclists, holding a precarious 15 second gap over the ever advancing pack as they cruised through the start/finish area and down the treacherous descent. While junior Aaron Applebaum tried to block, last year’s Easterns road race champion Marc Lanoue from Middlebury began organizing a chase group. Though Williams and Middlebury have enjoyed a friendly relationship, this seemed strained as Lanoue charged up the road and seemingly brought P. Hult’s chances of finishing well to an end. However, due to Applebaum’s decision to continue to block, few followed Lanoue and none successfully bridged to the break group other than the Middlebury racer. With the pack hot on their heels, P. Hult led out the final sprint and took an unbelievable second place right behind a UMass cyclist and a wheel ahead of Lanoue.
The pack roared through seconds later, with Applebaum spinning into eleventh. Senior Tom LaRocca also rode hard, though he fell off the pack in the final laps, while fellow senior Andrew Gow managed to impress as well with an excellent day. Hult’s second place not only grabbed him and Williams hundreds of points, but was the best finish by a Williams man in the A field ever.
Sunday morning arrived too soon for the exuberant Williams team, which despite losing some mates to work and sickness, quickly steeled itself for the team time trial, though few believed that they could even hope to equal Saturday’s thrilling performances. The A cyclists of LaRocca, Applebaum and Hult joined up with J. Wiedower to attempt to duplicate last year’s much heralded team time trial, which gave Williams a ticket to Nationals. The course was run on a large road with several hills, uncommon for a time trial course, but the Williams team used quick pulls to maximize their strength over the 15 miles.
Needing only three cyclists to actually complete the course, J. Wiedower pulled as hard as possible before falling off the pace on the second turn, after which he completed the course in case any accidents befell the trio of Ephs. From this vantage point, it was easy to see that Williams was riding faster than most, as other teams equipped with fancier and more aerodynamic bicycles seemed to pale in comparison. The three A riders stayed together as planned, and sprinted hard at the end to secure what they believed was a respectable time. When the times were announced though, some were surprised to discover that Williams had placed third overall, seconds behind the University of Vermont and UMass, traditional powerhouse teams with loads of cyclists. This rocketed Williams up in the standings, and provided even more of a boost towards Nationals than last year’s storied feat.
In the afternoon, the remaining five cyclists knew that they would have to work hard in the tight points race. The last couple of years, rain had slowed the fields somewhat on several dangerous turns, but the sun came out on Sunday and produced near perfect road conditions, which meant that the various packs could stick the turns very tightly indeed.
In the men’s C race, R. Wiedower used a good start to stay up with the leaders on the first laps of the eight lap race. Sprinting every other lap, the cyclists faced one short, steep hill and several descents around the course as they jockeyed for position. Wiedower fell back to the main pack for much of the race, and then hung on to finish just off the main group. The men’s B race featured two more laps, with one more sprint, and an extremely talented group of riders. J. Wiedower led the charge up the hill on the first two laps, before betting his legs on the first sprint. As the cyclists accelerated down the final descent before a long turn leading into the finish, Wiedower’s nimble Litespeed Vortex found itself boxed in behind a UNH rider who wasn’t sprinting while Penn State attacked up the right. Frustrated by picking the wrong cyclist to attack, Wiedower soon fell off the main group and finished early. In the A race, tired legs from two races and increasing heat made the short race seem longer and tougher than one would have initially believed. Cyclists jostled each other on the short hill, causing P. Hult’s rear skewer to release, which took him out of the running for points. LaRocca worked hard with Applebaum and helped the latter gain points in multiple sprints, as LaRocca took over the pace on the off laps. Finishing with the pack, LaRocca finished thirty-second while Applebaum took 13th.
After all the points had been tabulated, Williams took third place in the overall Championship thanks to all the hard cycling and especially Peter Hult’s standout performances, which gained him third place individually for the weekend. Now in the driver’s seat for Nationals, Williams cycling comes home for the famed Williams Criterium next weekend, and then travels to Cornell, where they finish off the regular season.