Duke Cycling fielded 23 bicycle racers in the first weekend of 2013 ACC Conference road racing, including 10 contestants who lined up as Blue Devils for the very first time. Since October we've trained and waited, waited and trained. World Domination is finally underway.
Duke debuted two women in a combined B/C field with almost 30 riders. Women's racing in the ACCC is no knitting circle; Saturday saw strung-out, single file racing for much of the day and Sunday was marked by constant, aggressive attacking that shattered the field. Becky Johnson stomped up the Saturday finishing hill to win the Women's C (second among the B's!) and followed up Sunday with another resounding C victory. Gina Turrini battled to secure 6th-place points in the B field on Saturday and Sunday. And Brittany Stokes, in her first collegiate races, learned to suffer and hang tough in a charging pack, finishing 4th in C's both days.
Becky Woodruff battled back from weeks of recent sickness to score 5th on Saturday in Women's A, a bigger point haul than any of our men would manage.
More Duke debutantes in Men's D: Rob Aldina survived a collision with a race motorcycle (the motorcycle did not win.) Freshman Steven Boyd was stymied by a crash on Saturday, but used his world-beating calves to seize a fine 5th on Sunday. Brooks Mershon dove into racing and came out with smiles and a context into which he can now ground his many excellent questions about what to do and when and why and how. Tony Dibiase soldiered valiantly to a top-20 placing. And Fuqua sent us John Feeney and Mike Simone, who discovered that bike racing is more fun than triathlon training. We hope to see those guys all season long.
In Men's C, Zhan Khaw totaled a Giant frame on Saturday but came out all day on Sunday to support his teammates while he dreamed about a replacement Felt. That's the spirit of Duke Cycling expressed in one gesture. Furthermore, Alex "Tank" Fulton raced his bike three times. Alex Fulton is a humble 22 year-old Minnesotan who bought his first bike six months ago at Durham Cycles. He is also a killing machine. Fulton entered his first 4/5 race last weekend -- and won. On Saturday morning, in a 75-man 4/5 field, he won. Saturday afternoon, in Collegiate C, he won. Sunday collegiates, won. Rockstar.
Men's B saw Scott Valentine emerge from his triple-major foxhole to sprint to a fine 4th on Saturday. Jonathan Crimins made smart, strong attacks all weekend to reveal himself on the verge of a breakthrough ride. Crimins' first win is in the mail. And Kurtis Gruters proved that even after a month of sub-suboptimal training, he can put himself in position to win a bicycle race with 200 meters to go.
In Men's A, our dream team of nine stallions entered the season opener intent on World Domination, and we got our butts whooped. Rob Ferris and Mike "Bear" Mulvihill spent 63 miles off the front in a two-man team time trial, and got caught one mile from the finish line. It was an audacious move. It was us saying to the Atlantic Conference: Two of Our Guys Are Better Than All Y'all. And despite two epic, heroic efforts, it came up short. Our remaining guys failed to communicate before the finale and failed to execute in the closing kilometers. Kaleb Naegeli, our top finisher, had to reconcile a personal-best 7th place within the context of team humiliation. Perhaps the brightest spot of the day was to see Mike Niemi, on the way back from injury, not only finish the race but drive Duke's leadout effort in the finale.
The day was a lesson on the cruel beauty of sport: Once you're on a start line, it doesn't matter how much you've trained or how many guys you show up with; the only thing that matters is what you do with that fitness and those people.
We took our lumps and resolved to get it right on Sunday. And get it right we did. Mulvihill and Jacob Timmerman drove the first serious break of the day. Jacob Miller, Jeff Reid, and Kaleb Naegeli triple-teamed to strangle all attacks from the field. Their fierce defense at this phase set up the entire end-game for our team. Mid-race, a six-man move went up the road with Matt Howe and Ferris representing. A lap later, Matt Rinehart and The Bear tore apart the race when they bridged to the break with one other. Now with four men out of nine, Duke drove the break until a few miles remained. Mulvihill then went clear for a convincing solo win. Rinehart dispatched all others in the sprint, with Howe nearby in 4th. Ferris valiantly rode the last lap alone to score crucial points in 8th. Timmerman stretched his legs at the end to solo for 11th. Naegeli took 4th in what was left of the field.
First. Second. Fourth. Eighth. Duke Cycling put it together, as a team, in a tough race on a tough course. World Domination is finally underway.