Race report by Kaleb Naegeli.
This past extended weekend (May 2-4), Duke Cycling finished it's season with a trip to the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships in Richmond, Virginia. Two of the three events were to be used as test events for the 2015 UCI World Championships in September of next year. In my four years now at Duke, Nationals have always been fun and well-run, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity to race on very cool courses with huge amounts of support from the host city. The Richmond Police basically had portions of the downtown shut down just for us all weekend.
Duke took 10 riders up to Richmond to compete. Our men's team was comprised of Alex Fulton, Matt Howe. Jacob Miller (RR only), Kaleb Naegeli, Eoin McDonnell, and Jason Stamm (RR only). Our women's team was comprised of Abby Birrell (TTT only), Becky Johnson, Gina Turrini, and Nicki Zelenski (TTT only). Given the proximity of Durham to Richmond, a lot of friends, family, and teammates were able to also attend and provide great coaching, support, and encouragement all weekend.
EVENT 1: TEAM TIME TRIAL - Friday, May 2
The course for the TTT was two, 15.5 km laps of the course that will be used for the ITT in the 2015 World Championships. After about 2km, the course hit the iconic, brick-cobbled Monument Avenue. After a turn-around on Monument, we made our way back towards the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, crossed over the James River, came back across, hit a short descent on Main Street and then, at 1km to go, we hit the short, steep climb of Governor St (200m at 7%) and then we turned into a headwind to run the last 700m to the finish line. Then to a second lap of the same thing! In the end, it was a very technical course.
We as a team came in with big aspirations for this event - Duke had won the previous two national championships - and we had practiced a lot to be fast on this type of course. But, in short, it was not to be on this day. We lost 0:40 to the leaders (Colorado Mesa University) on the first split (one lap) but were in contention with most everyone else still, and we knew we were gaining time on the team that started one minute front of us (US Air Force).
On the second lap, we started to falter a bit. I felt good, Alex felt great, but Matt started to struggle with the speed at which we took the corners. We split coming off the cobbles on Lap 2 and then struggled to maintain good lines and high speed in the wind. I led the team up the second ascent of Governor Street and Alex and I drove it hard to the line, but we ended up in 6th place, 1:47 back of the winners (Colorado Mesa), 0:23 back of third place (Notre Dame), and 0:00.9 out of fifth (King University). A frustrating result, all things considered. (The ladies finished 8th in their TTT).
EVENT TWO: CRITERIUM - Saturday, May 3
After taking some time to process what happened on Friday and refocus our priorities for the weekend, we woke up Saturday ready to race hard again. The course was a six-corner, 1.5km loop. The first four corners came in the first 0.4km (one every 100 meters) - and the first three were narrow (two lanes of road for each), while the fourth was a fast, downhill turn into an uphill drag. The uphill crested 200 meters later, and the rest of the course was flat/wide open until it funneled down to two lanes again at the start/finish.
The fields for mass start races like this are staged with one rider called from each school, then a second rider from schools with more than one, then third riders, and so on. I was Duke's second rider of the day and started in about 50th position. From the gun, the field strung out close to single file as attacks flew at the front. The narrowness of the course effectively left no opportunity to move up until after the top of the climb.
The first 15 minutes were brutal. Every single time up the climb, gaps would open up between riders and one had to drill the pace to close them back down. At least five times, Iriders in front of me just sat up and gave up. (Below is a photo of my closing down one of the many, many gaps that opened up). But after about 20 minutes, I made it up to about 20th position alongside Alex. Further back in the field, a crash in Turn 6 had ended any hope Matt and Eoin had of moving up in the field (they did not go down).
Alex hit an uneven manhole cover and cracked his rear wheel, forcing him to take a free lap. Upon his return to the race, a surge up the other side of the road shuffled me back towards the back. Gaps opened up again and this time I wasn't able to close them down. I got caught off the back in a chase group of three. They pulled our group (and many others) that fell more than 20 seconds or so back out of the race and I outsprinted the other two in the group for 39th (Eoin was pulled in 49th and Matt in 59th of 83 listed starters).
Alex continued to race well and stayed near the front until dropping his chain across some rough pavement. He could not take a free lap for this and was pulled from the race in 34th place. An awfully unlucky and rough day for all of us yet again. (For what it is worth, only 28 riders finished the men's Division II crit).
The criterium was won, coincidentally, by Charlie Hough from Furman University, the team now coached by Duke's former coach, Rusty Miller. It was great to see Rusty have successes already in his new position.
EVENT THREE: ROAD RACE - Sunday, May 4th
After two rough days of racing, we lined up six guys for the biggest race of the weekend. The road race course was a 15.6-km loop with four major features:
- 2.7km of the cobbles of Monument Avenue (from the TTT) starting at 3km
- 200m of downhill cobble section at 9.3km
- the 350m cobbled climb (6%) of Libby Hill
- the 200m ascent of Governor St (from the TTT) with an added uphill drag leading to the climb proper (making for a longer climb of 0.7km at 6-7%) that crested with 700m to go.
This is the same as the course for the 2015 World Championships. The elite men will add one climb between Libby Hill and Governor St. We raced seven laps of this course (70 miles).
Our field started with over 100 riders and I took the fifth of six start spots for the team - so I essentially started at the very back of the bunch. The field took off like a rocket as people worked to move forward. I made my move to the front alongside Alex on Belvidere St before the cobbles started. When we hit the cobbles, John Pratt (Notre Dame) attacked and I, perhaps foolishly, followed in excitement. I even got a call-out by USAC on Twitter here and here.
Our little group of three was caught by the turn-around on Monument Ave, at which point I dropped like a stone back through the field. Bad decision, as it left me sitting pretty far back for the cobbled descent on Cary Street. I eased up a bit to see how riders would approach this second (the answer? Fast) and to allow myself space to dodge the 20+ jettisoned water bottles all over the peloton (we at Duke put some sandpaper/grip tape on our bottle cages to avoid this).
After Cary Street, a touch of wheels took down 20 riders or so near the front of the field. Unfortunately, Alex was one of them, thus capping off two of the worst weeks of luck I have ever seen anyone have in bicycle racing (he missed out on a shot at winning the individual conference title a week prior due to an untimely flat tire). Alex dislocated his thumb and tried to chase back to the group on a neutral support bike to no avail. No further injuries or damage to his bike, though.
The first time up Libby Hill (pictured below) was fast as riders at the front pushed the pace. Gaps opened up, but I was able to close down onto the lead group before the base of Governor St and thus maintained contact through the first lap. Duke lost Jacob Miller on the climb of Governor and Jason Stamm in the craziness after the crash when some riders got split off the back, but we still had Matt, Eoin, and I.
For the next five laps, attacks came and went. When gaps got over one minute, the larger teams (namely, Colorado Mesa) would come forward and chase. And every time we went over Libby Hill, the peloton got smaller and smaller.
On Lap 6, a dangerous move of four including Steven Vogel (Wake Forest) and Charlie Hough (Furman) got 30 seconds of advantage on Monument Avenue. Colorado Mesa came to the fore and drove the pace hard to close the gap back down, stringing the peloton out single-file in the gutter in a stiff crosswind (and expending four of their five remaining riders in the process). The group came together just before Libby Hill, at which point Matt Howe launched a solo move.
He came over the top of Libby solo and the peloton behind shattered. Five riders caught up to Matt on Governor St and that group of six shattered into four leaders chased by a group of ten, which included both Matt and I. I worked hard with a rider from Dartmouth and a rider from Middlebury College to bring the four leaders back. The gap came down, but not quite enough and those four, though they shattered, stayed away (Brian Dziewa from Saint Louis University would emerge victorious with a margin of 0:15 to second, 0:43 to the next two chasers, and 0:51 to our group).
Riders accelerated going up Libby Hill the last time and I had nothing left and was dropped. I got caught by one chasing rider 100 meters from the line and rolled across in 15th (my best finish in the RR at nationals in my four years). Matt was 8th and Eoin was 22nd. All in all, a pretty decent day. As a men's team, we "won" the road race (highest combined score) and earned enough points to propel Duke from 10th to 6th in the team rankings.
That road race was, I am pretty certain, the most fun I have ever had racing my bike. The course was spectacular, the crowds were really cool (seriously, there were a lot of spectators), and the results weren't bad.