West Branch Classic - The Race That Lived - 06/05/2012
Two weeks before the race, West Branch wasn’t going to happen. Low sponsors and registrants meant that the race was on a knife’s edge, and registration quotas would push it either way as the deadline drew near. A very concerted and strong showing from Hagerty Cycling in no doubt played a part in the success of the race, and a flood of blue made the trip for both the road race and criterium.
Flood, it would seem, was an appropriate term for the road race. A steady and gusting downpour, coupled with sustained 20+mph winds, made for less-than-ideal conditions at the start line. Never before have so many riders packed it in after one lap during a road race. The tempting location of the parking lot just atop the Mur de Huy finish line was too strong a siren for some, and multiple categories saw huge percentages of their fields DNF for a variety of reasons.
In the ever-competitive Master’s 35+, it was Tim Barrons flying the colors to a 14th place finish out of a field of nearly 35. It was a day where finishing was no small accomplishment, and Tim managed to keep the power on to finish with the main pack, which spent its stormy morning chasing down a break that included Tom Linck and David Baar.
In the Master’s 45+, Norm Licht took a podium finish on the hard work of his teammates Craig Webb, Steve Andriese and Pete Warden. Licht finished just behind the leaders but ahead of the main pack for his 3rd place, with Webb taking 12th and Andriese a solid 17th. Here’s a sparkling tale of that adventure, with a few lessons embedded. (Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?)
Entitled: “Slowing down the break, speeding up the race, or, Schooling by a Canadian National Champion.’ The great thing about racing your bicycle is how much you learn every race. The Masters boys raced well together and still learned a thing or two in the process. What could be better than that?
Saturday's extremely threatening weather turned to big wind with little rain for the W. Branch road race. The Hagerty masters 45+ were well represented with Norm, Hal, Peter, Craig, and Steve. The race started off as it often does, with the boys in blue throwing the first punches. In fact, within the first 5 miles, Hagerty attacked three times. Norm Licht was that third attack. Mind you this was approximately 5 miles into a 66 mile race. Don't you usually assume those early attacks aren't gonna stick? Well, lesson #1: they do and his did! Norm was joined by a Canadian Masters National champion (Charley) riding for Team London, and by Craig Geitzen of Priority health. Charley knew how to slow their break down at critical times to keep them all together, he encouraged Norm and Geitzen to eat and drink, he knew when and how to use those boys power and speed (and he knew how to go down hill really fast). Norm, the observant student of cycling that he is, also related that Charley would looked his break compatriots up and down frequently; he wanted to know if they were struggling, getting goose bumps, pedaling squares etc. Well Charley recognized when Geitzen lost his focus slightly and when Norm was vulnerable, accelerating at the right moment to ride away and take the win. Norm came in third, and the rest of the Hagerty boys threw their arms up in celebration of an Norms Hurculean effort, and incredibly hard won podium position. Many learning opportunities occured as the rest of us worked the field to try to help keep that break away. Finding out that the peloton got to w/in 1 minute of Norm highlighted Lesson #2: you may be closer to the break away than you think - don't take anything for granted!
As is becoming a trend, the Master’s 55+ team dominated, clumping two onto the podium with Don Fedrigon taking the win and Cliff Onthank joining him on the 3rd place step. Lars Welton took home a very impressive 4th place, leading the chasing pack over the summit to the line ahead of a very strong field that was splintered in the wind and rain.
Ian Durand once again made the Top Five in the Junior’s 13-14 category, taking 3rd place before being ushered away before the podium ceremony. Oh, those poor podiums girls bad luck at his absence. Sean Brownell, however, stuck around to claim his 3rd place accolades in the 15-16 group. The Hagerty-TOLaw U-25 riders are leading the younger squad in podium finishes by a long shot.
The CAT 5 contingent was well-prepared for West Branch, and they crowded the results page. Bryan Carps was the protected man on a day where the wind and rain wreaked havoc, and he repaid his teammates with a strong 6th place finish on the day, holding tight to an elite group that formed heading into the final climb. Ethan Kronka held on for 13th, with Brian Beauchamp and Richard Bielweicz just behind in 15th and 16th, respectively. Jimmy Argyle came in 23rd as he prepares his sprinting legs for Mount Pleasant next weekend, and Nat Shuff took 30th in his first ever road race. Shuff struggled with knee pain in the days preceding West Branch, and will make sure to recover before a return to racing later in the year.
The CAT 4s went in with Jake Ellis and Wes Sovis as the protected men, managing to keep both upright and out of trouble through the first tense miles and the worst of the downpour. Pre-race, Wes had hoped that the team could “keep the race hard”, and Cody went out on a mission to do just that. Riding on the front and putting in multiple attacks, the race broke apart as Cody found himself in a small break of four rounding the corner to the finishing climb. Too much effort put him on the defensive, and he lost contact with just about everyone at the base of the climb. Wes, Jake and ‘Super’ Dave Bucholtz safely made the split, tacked on to the main pack, with Larry Brownell tucked safely in with another group. Jake hit the final climb after a very fast second lap and took a well-earned 14th place, with Wes and Dave a short ways back in 22nd and 24th, respectively. Cody enjoyed a two-man time trial with pal Greg Jenkinson for the remainder of the race, catching and passing the debris shelled out of the back of the lead group to take 35th place. Larry Brownell did the lion’s work in his chase group, hauling three other riders up the final climb as he hung on for 41st out of a field numbering an amazing 66 riders.
The ever-spritely Bridgitt Widrig put on quite a show in the women’s CAT 3 race, riding away to take the win ahead of a chase group over five minutes back. Her win may just be enough to bump her up to CAT 2, where she will be a massive, yet very short, ally for Susan Vigland and Lauri Brockmiller for the Cherry-Roubaix. Melissa Ryba took a very hard-earned 5th place in her first CAT 3 race, and she’ll have high hopes at Mount Pleasant.
Sunday’s Criterium was equally suitable for Hagerty, and the great results confirmed the team’s ability to perform over all types of terrain and formats. It was ‘Doctor Pain’’s turn to win, so Norm Licht and Hal BeVier lined out the field for the sprint, which Andriese took by over a second. Licht took 10th and BeVier 12th.
Ian Durand returned to take another 3rd place and podium spot, with Sean Brownell taking 2nd in the next age category up. The CAT 5 team put matters to right in the Crit as well, putting Ethan Kronka into 6th place with Jimmy Argyle just one spot back on the hard work of Bryan Carps, who happily returned the favor of working hard a day after his high finish. Richard Bielewicz was 11th, with Carps taking 9th.
The CAT 4 boys were reduced in numbers, but Larry Brownell did enough to put Jake Ellis into 22nd place while taking a great 25th himself on a tough day for the team. Without a doubt, the squad will be looking to put a rider into the top ten at Mount Pleasant, even without Jake Ellis, who will be taking the weekend to train at altitude on Tenerife.
Mike Okma, flying solo in the CAT 3 class, took 19th place in a very fast race that gave brave chase to the lone leader for much of the race. Also riding on their own against the world was Susan Vigland, who battled against some of Michigan’s best racers to hold onto a 5th place finish. With two women up the road, it was a chess match and a game of cat-and-mouse as the rest of the field jerkily gave chase.