What a messy, messy day.
The first drops of rain fell just as the first race got under way and continued all day, with the juniors and women’s P/1/2’s getting the worst of it. The rain ceased occasionally but there was only about an hour where the roads approached being dry. Thus many people’s goals on the day shifted from “winning” to “staying upright,” and the pros in particular seemed to be taking it easy ahead of tomorrow’s action. But despite the weather—
which I’ll also note was about 30 degrees cooler than last weekend; armwarmers, already?!? —
some excellent, exciting racing transpired.
Women’s 3/4: Teammates Jennifer Greenberg and Val Brostrom (XXX Racing-AthletiCo) each took a dig off the front, but this one came down to a sprint with Kristen Meshberg muscling past Christine Roettger (X Plane Team Revolution), a reversal of last week’s outcome at the Tour of Elk Grove. What will be the tie-breaker?
Men’s 3/4: Remember when I said Thursday that this race would be extended to a whopping 30 minutes? Apparently the promoters neglected to tell the officials, so we were back to 20 minutes on this one, despite the field’s protestations and attempts to stall in order to sort things out. “Don’t you believe what you read in the bible?” one wag yelled out.
Remember also how I said that a 30-minute race would be more safe and interesting? This race was neither, although I blame most of that on the rain.
The field was strung out most of the way, not necessarily because of speed but because of nervous cornering. But by the time you got a handle on the turns, one racer told me, the race was nearly over. Crashes were all too common: Matt O’Keefe (XXX Racing-AthletiCo) took it the hardest, breaking a collarbone about halfway through with a crash in Turn 1.
Young Adam Leibovitz (MOB Squad), who placed 2nd in the 15-16 time trial at junior nationals, stayed off for more than half the race—
an entire 12 minutes! A hard chase came close but would have needed about 10 more meters of contested road to catch him.
Chicago riders Jeffrey Whiteman (Northbrook/Garner) and James Holton (Team Get a Grip Cycles) gapped the rest of the field but had to settle for second and third, respectively.
Juniors 15-18: This was one of the more competitive juniors races I’ve seen around here. A group of nine came together after a few laps, with two out-of-staters getting a huge gap by the time they came around Turn 8 for the last time. Chris Brinkman (Saturn of Toledo) won ahead of Minnesotan Jens Brabbit (Bianchi/Grand Performance). Brandon Feehery (South Chicago Wheelmen) was the top local finisher with third.
Men’s 5: We may as well call the Cat 5 races at Downers Grove the Sandbagger’s Delight. You end up with guys who’ve been training hard all summer, but who haven’t quite raced enough to cat up, racing against curious cyclists turning pedals in anger for the very first time. Guys with Zipp wheels and Powertaps going against guys with down-tube shifters and vintage jerseys. Because of Downers Grove’s technicalities, the new guys don’t stand a chance, and I’m not sure either group has as much fun as they’d like.
But so it goes. Fortunately there’s an elegant solution: Race more! The slow people will get faster, and the fast people will become the 4’s problem.
But this is not to say the winners here don’t deserve kudos.
In Heat 1, Peter Strittmatter (XXX Racing-AthletiCo) and Mike Halsey (Unattached) rode the rest of the field off their wheels early in the race, but it was Strittmatter coming around in the sprint.
In Heat 2, Rob Ehrman (Vision Quest) was part of a six-man break that formed early. You may remember Ehrman from his CBR interview after winning the Spring Prairie Road Race. With the help of a teammate, Ehrman attacked with one to go and held a sizable gap the rest of the way. (Scott Claiborne (Apache) got a scare when he unclipped coming out of Turn 8, but he recovered nicely.)
Masters 1/2/3: Abercrombie and Fitch looked to be in control in the final laps of this fast one, but a group of three slipped away on the final turns, with victory going to Superweek champ Michael Heagney (PYOC), inches ahead of Pete Hanna (Bianchi/Grand Performance) and masters national champion Jason Snow (Cycle Science).
Masters 4/5: Jon Dugas (XXX Racing-AthletiCo) put in a valiant flier with three laps to go, but he would get caught in the final few turns. The burden of chasing was spread out, but it paid off most for ABD, which put Tim Keeley on the podium in first place ahead of Voytek Glinkowski (WDT) and Texan Jason Danvir (Sugar Cycles).
Women’s P/1/2/3: I went to get a sandwich and when I returned, a break of four was off, including Brooke Miller (Tibco), whom you read about last week. Miller and Alison Power (Colavita) had gone off the front after an early prime and had been joined then joined by Katharine Carroll (Aaron’s) and Laura Bowles (Team Advil).
With 20 minutes left to race, the break had more than a minute on the field and was gaining seconds every lap, but suddenly the foursome became a threesome when Carroll took a spill in Turn 7. Losing Carroll would have been costly for the break, not just for her own strength but for the excellent work her teammates were doing to keep the chase in control. Fortunately for the break, Carroll was able to make it to the pit, make her repairs and re-enter the break with no harm done.
Power, formerly an elite skier, attacked with half a lap to go but wasn’t able to get away. Miller followed her wheel out of Turn 8 and came around for the win.
I asked Miller whether she had saved anything for Sunday. “You bet,” she said. “This is just warming the legs up.”
Most of the major pros either sat this one out or bowed out after a few warm-up laps. I don’t think Rahsaan Bahati stayed long enough to slip out of his rain shell, and Tour of Elk Grove stage winner Ivan Dominguez was seen wearing a kilt.
There was still plenty of firepower left, and again a group formed early with representatives from Slipstream, Navigators, Kodak Gallery, Kelly Benefits, Nerac and BMC. They never got much more than 30 seconds and appeared destined to be caught. Colavita was the most interested in bringing them back, sending nearly all its riders to the fore.
With about 10 to go, chaos interrupted when a crash on the backside split the field in two. Suddenly about 50 riders showed up at the wheel pit. It was like the emergency room after a nuclear bomb. I believe that normally only riders who have crashed or have mechanical problems are allowed to take a free lap, but officials were too overwhelmed to sort things out. In fits and starts the fractured peloton helped itself back into the race, causing no end of confusion to both the break and the chasers.
Ever closer the pursuers came to the break, but never quite close enough. As Nerac and Kelly Benefit Strategies pulled up the uphill homestretch with one to go, the break dangled no more than 30 meters away from the chase. It appeared Darren Lill (Navigators) attacked on the backstretch: When the lead group came around Turn 5 with half a lap to go, they were without Nerac and Kelly Benefit Strategies and held a mere 7-second gap.
That was enough, however, and Ken Hanson (BMC) led the foursome over the tape with virtually no gap separating fourth place from the field, certainly the most exciting finish I’ve seen in any race at Downers Grove, and a most exciting cap to an otherwise dreary day.
Tomorrow should be even more exciting. Let’s just hope we have a chance to see what these men and women can do when it’s dry.