Fresh off of last week’s Eastern Conference Cycling Championships, Williams Cycling returned home to host the 13th annual Williams Criterium. Though the day featured both glory and tragedy, the cyclists rode strong to earn their second consecutive trip to Nationals as a team.
The Williams Criterium course is one of the oldest, most exciting and most feared in the conference. All the races begin on the back side of Mission before taking a left up the hill on Park Street. From there. the course swings left again onto Mission Park Drive, where it weaves through several of S-turns and then descends rapidly past the infamous Dodd corner. Another dangerous turn immediately follows onto Southworth Street, where cyclists get a too brief respite before braving an uneven road and a bumpy turn onto Lynde Lane. Lynde Lane features the longest straight section past the original start line, before cyclists must turn uphill onto Park Street towards the finish line. This .9-mile loop, ordinarily a highly technical course, becomes even more dangerous when one adds in the fast, large fields and rainy conditions that often arise.
Saturday’s race was no exception to the rule, and the men’s D race began under dark skies and rain. The lone Williams cyclist was junior Jake Ni, who ditched his mountain bike for a borrowed Cannondale and braved the wind, cold and awful road conditions to start the day. The D field quickly shattered on the harrowing course, which resulted in most of the riders riding by themselves, but Ni stayed atop his steed to finish in a solid 12th place.
By the time the men’s C race started, the rain had tapered off, but the streets still held several large puddles including some nasty grooved holes that would be deadly for any unfortunate wheels. The C field picked up the pace and cruised past the Dodd and Southworth turns without incident until halfway through the race, when the day’s first victim appeared as a Northeastern rider. While Reed Wiedower ’00 hung with the pack, the Northeastern cyclist off the back laid down his bike coming onto Southworth and shredded clothing and skin as he skidded sideways. Jason Lemieux ’01 battled strongly to stay up with the top ten cyclists, steadily increasing his place until a miscommunication with the pace car resulted in him dropping out. Soon afterwards, Wiedower finished the final few laps just behind the main group to claim 15th.
Erin Graham ’02 continued the Williams onslaught in the interesting women’s B race. A slew of Army cyclists had been tearing up their B opponents over the season without upgrading to the A races, and Williams turned out to be yet another example for their continued dominance. However, Graham rode a tough race and refused to be intimidated by her sandbagging peers, eventually finishing an impressive seventh in her first race of the season.
After a short break, the largest field of the day took the course in the form of the men’s B cyclists. The B men ran the spectrum from a few UNH and Army A riders who decided to downgrade to some brave C men who were willing to be punished over the grueling race.
The difference in skills proved to be fatal for those who could not keep up with the fastest climbers and most daring descenders, as the criterium blew the pack apart quickly.
John Wiedower ’00 looked to continue his dominance at Williams, where he had finished first and second in the last two years respectively. Wiedower started strongly, leading the charge up the hill on the first couple of laps, but tragedy struck on the third just past the Dodd corner. Counting on the increasingly dry conditions, Wiedower approached the Southworth turn with a speed in the high 30s, and while leaning his bike, felt his rear wheel slip out from under him. Quickly, the lone Williams cyclist pulled out of the steep turn and hit the curb on the opposite side of Southworth before plowing into the yard on the other side. In less than a second, he reestablished control and aimed away from an impending mailbox and back towards the course. Suddenly, Wiedower felt another bump as he flew off a second curb into a side street and, before he could angle back onto Southworth, hit a third curb.
This curb proved to be too much for the Look HSC carbon fork, which immediately exploded, sending Wiedower head over heels into the ground. For the first time since last year’s Nationals, Wiedower’s nimble Litespeed Vortex had been crippled fatally.
Williams turned around the bad luck quickly in the women’s A race, where cyclists faced both a technical course and somewhat questionable officiating. Aimee Vasse ’01 started strongly, determined to improve upon her solid finish at Easterns last week.
However, a break of five took off on the hill during a prime sprint, and Vasse was forced to endure the intimidating turns alone as she dangled in between the front and the rear. Staying focused, the Williams cyclist demonstrated why she is one of the best in the conference, as she never faltered en route to sixth place and the most points yet for Williams.
Not in many years has Williams featured such a deep team in the two A races, and the four who began the Men’s A race were a testament to the strength of this year’s squad. Seniors Tom LaRocca and Andrew Gow teamed up with junior Aaron Applebaum and first-year sensation Peter Hult to give the Williams men a real chance at success. The A race proved well up to the challenge.
The pack stayed together as long as was possible, while cyclist after cyclist tried to unsuccessfully break from the peleton. None could hold on for more than a prime sprint, at which point the pack would swallow them up. Finally, halfway through the race, a group of three pulled away and stayed away through two prime sprints, during which Applebaum grabbed fourth place for team points. A subsequent mechanical problem forced the third in the break to quit, but the other two began to lap riders at a furious pace, resulting in many cyclists being pulled including Gow, LaRocca and Hult. The leaders finally caught up to the pack, where they were unable to add any more time to their lead. However, Applebaum took advantage of the fast pace and his knowledge of the course to overcome bad position in the field sprint and pass several cyclists, taking eighth overall.
The only thing that could cap Applebaum’s performance was the knowledge that Williams was heading to Nationals for the second straight year, an accomplishment that was a combination of team support and outstanding individual efforts.
The Williams Cyclists plan to continue training hard to gear up for Nationals, where they will attempt to surpass last year’s fourth place finish overall.