Duke Cycling continued its streak of success at CollNats this year with a big win in the Criterium! Michael Mulvihill took the individual win, with breakaway companion Rob Ferris notching in at 5th right in front of Matt Rinehart (6th). Matt Howe narrowly avoided several crashes in the final laps and managed to push his way through the field traffic for 32nd. That makes 4 out of 4 Blue Devils in the points, placing Duke as the best DII mens team in the criterium.
Here's how it happened:
Mulvihill got a callup when lining up at the start for his ACCC championship. Howe, Ferris, and Rinehart gathered on the right side of the field as we cycled through team callups. At the gun, we eased into the first-stretch uphill. Surprisingly, all racers seemed pretty chill for the first ~20 minutes, with few moves going and no early crashes (a welcome change from last year). At about 20 minutes, Howe snuck in behind a Yale rider to take points on the first prime.
Not long after, Rinehart followed wheels and found himself in a small move off the front. This move did not last long, and Rinehart slotted in toward the front. On the next prime lap, maybe 5-10 minutes later, Rinehart moved to the front and strung the field out. Air Force chased with two in hopes of slingshotting for a couple prime points, but were unable to reel Rinehart back in.
With Duke comfortably controlling the prime laps, a couple of riders slipped off of the front here and there. All four Blue Devils spent significant time toward the front of the race patrolling and watching for the right wheels to follow when the breaks were reeled in.
About 40 minutes into the race, another prime was called. This time, Rob Ferris came to the front and strung the field out. Rinehart hopped on his wheel, and the pair went 1-2 to continue Duke's dominance. Not long after, Rinehart initiated a couple of intense attacks and strung the field out. As gaps opened up, Matt Howe picked his way up and hopped into a hopeful break of 5. This break consisted of Duke's Howe and Rinehart, along with one rider from each of Colorado Mesa University, Brevard College, and Mars Hill College (4 out of 5 from NC teams, not bad!).
This move looked dangerous and had the right mix to potentially stay away. After several laps of work, the field decided that this break would not succeed and chased hard. Howe and Rinehart kept the race fast even after getting caught, and Rinehart put in a couple more digs with other riders that merited a shoutout from USAC as the most aggressive rider on the day.
Howe and Rinehart's hard work through the thrid quarter of the crit perfectly set up the next move: Mulvihill plus one rider from each of University of Denver and Colorado Mesa University put in an attack that the field was content to let go. Not long after, American University's Payne Griffing launched a blistering move to bridge, and towed Duke's Rob Ferris along with him.
With two riders in a break of 5 and about 7 laps remaining, things were looking very, very good for Duke. The field never let the break out of their sight, but did not ever get an organized chase together. At about 2 to go, two different battles were playing out. Back in the field, Rinehart and Howe battled for position to set up a field sprint, while Rob and Mike worked like animals to keep the break up the road.
Coming through the last lap, Rob Ferris took up the work in the break. He powered through the first half of the lap, took a breather for a straight or two, and then returned to the front to shield Mulvihill from the wind and set up a sprint. The plan worked beautifully: Mulvihill came around Rob leading into the final turn and took a perfect line. No one else had a shot at passing him. Rob held on and avoided AU's Payne Griffin (who crashed through the final corner), and gave it everything he had to finish 5th. Meanwhile, the field roared forward and Rinehart surfed wheels to find the right position for the field sprint. Coming out of the final turn about 4th wheel in the field sprint, Rinehart passed a couple other riders and pulled up to Rob's back wheel to sneak in for 6th place. On the last two laps, Howe dodged two or three crashes that were within an arm's length, and battled through the field to slot in at 32nd. Points are awarded 50 deep; combining our individual results with prime points won throughout the course, Duke Cycling easily dominated the race.
That's it for now, though we will update more later on (including photos!). Now we are headed down to the awards banquet to collect our hardware and jerseys from two days of Blue Devil dominance! Two days, two races, two big wins.