The first weekend at Rutgers marked the opening of another ECCC road season. Despite a weather forecast that called for doom and gloom, 31 racers from Happy Valley suited up, loaded up, and descended upon central New Jersey with a ferocity unparalleled by any other team in the ECCC that weekend. When the spray settled and the points were totaled on Sunday after a very wet Men's A points race at Thompson Park in Jamesburg, NJ, Penn State Cycling stood atop the ECCC team omnium scoreboard with 209 points to second place MIT's 172.
Weekend number two was intended to be a split weekend, with Columbia University in New York City hosting a race in Manhattan on Saturday, and Stevens Institute of Technology hosting a road race on the Jersey side of the Delaware Water Gap on Sunday. Unfortunately, mother nature felt like throwing a big wrench into the plans for the weekend, with multiple inches of rain falling on the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania on Thursday and Friday.
While the weather cleared by late on Friday, the significant amounts of rainfall had led to a partial inundation of the Stevens road race course, which ran parallel to and was level with the Delaware River at certain points. Thus, it was announced at midnight on Friday that Stevens had no choice but to cancel what would have been an otherwise spectacular road race through the beautiful scenery of the Delaware Water Gap.
The deluge from the heavens was not enough to shut down the show for Columbia University's Grant's Tomb criterium event in Manhattan, where there was plenty of sunny weather and dry pavement to be found. Strong performances from Wyatt Stoup (2nd in Men's A), Lauren Shirock (2nd Women's A), Jessica Kutz (5th Women's A & multiple prime points), Kevin McGuire (Men's B), Jonathan Cochrane (solo breakway in Men's C), and the rest of the Penn State squad solidified yet another team omnium victory over MIT.
Weekend number three, at least for as long as I have been racing in the ECCC, has traditionally been occupied by the Philly Phlyer, and this year was no different. While the weather was neither wet nor warm as it has been in years past, it was reasonable and definitely prime for an awesome day of racing. Saturday began with the first TTT of the season; nearly every TTT team that Penn State fielded managed at least a 4th place finish or better that morning.
Immediately following the TTT was the infamous Schuylkill Scrambler circuit race. As usual, the strong headwinds on the river flat section served to shatter the legs of many that day, those who were able to conserve their power and work the wind to their advantage were the ones who came out on top that day. In Men's A, Wyatt Stoup took 2nd and the field sprint; Lauren Shirock and Jessica Kutz worked together to nail down 3rd and 4th place in the Women's A race; Jonathan Cochrane lit a full book of matches on the Men's B field sprint and came away with second place; Adam Capatch brought home a 3rd place in Men's C, and Matt LaMonte snagged 6th in Men's D.
The Sunday morning light revealed a new beast known as the Temple Campus Crit: a fast and unforgiving course characterized by its potholes, trolley tracks, and the occasional rogue urbanite stumbling off the curb in front of the peloton. On first impression, it made many yearn for the smooth and safe pavement of last year's Naval Yard Crit. However, aforementioned hazards aside, it still proved to be a fast and fun course that favored those with superior handling skills, flat out power, and impeccable luck.
The various teams of the ECCC had to wait with bated breath to hear about the weekend results due to an upset in the scoring of the Men's A circuit race: UPenn racer Robin Carpenter was not actually a UPenn racer, but was discovered to be a student from Swarthmore instead. When the final results were released, it was determined that Penn State had come out on top once more, beating out MIT for the third straight weekend in a row, this time by 14 points. According to professional ECCC racer and Penn State grad, Ryan Smolko, that was a groundbreaking feat. Following a quick perusal through results dating back to 1999, he proclaimed that, "Penn State had never won three consecutive weekends, until now."
The release of results to the public also revealed something else: Wyatt Stoup happened to be in contention for the yellow jersey of the ECCC.
And that brings us to ECCC weekend number four at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who managed to jump through numerous political hoops in order to host their first race: The Tour de Troy.
Given that Penn State Cycling had brought home the big 'W' for three weekends in a row, the team set out on Friday afternoon in search of a fourth team omnium victory and the yellow jersey. Nearly two-dozen racers headed north into the Empire State. The forecast appeared brutal: clear, but cold and windy. In actuality, the race conditions proved to be downright abysmal, with temperatures dropping into the teens overnight and never cresting 34°F by midday. Wind chills were in the teens, and snowfall from the week before had left sand and gravel on much of the road surface; winds kicked the sand and dust into the eyes of numerous racers. Balaclavas, ski suits, and wind-blocking gloves were commonplace, and absolutely necessary in order to maintain mobility and stay warm throughout the race.
However, the arctic conditions were not enough to slow the blue and white steamroller from State College down. In the ITT, Wyatt Stoup (3rd Men's A), Joe Halo (2nd Men's C), Matt LaMonte (2nd Men's D) put in solid efforts that resulted in solid finishes.
The circuit race that followed the early morning ITT kicked it up a couple notches, with distances set much higher than the rest of the races in the season thus far. The entire loop was 7.5 miles long with very little shelter from the wind and enough climbing to test the legs of those crazy enough to compete; Men's A would do 7 laps, Men's B 6 laps, Men's C 5 laps, and Men's D would do 3 laps.
Wyatt Stoup, in an effort to snatch the yellow jersey, put forth a valiant effort in the circuit race, finishing 5th in the Men's A event. According to ECCC director Joe Kopena, last minute registrants managed to blow up the Men's C field to a total of 83 racers, which would normally result in a split field of C1 and C2. Unfortunately, it was deemed to be too late for a last-minute field-split as no extra pace cars could be found, and all 83 racers were released on course at once. This resulted in a large mass of inexperienced cannon fodder that was unable to negotiate small rollers successfully, popping many frustrated racers off the back of the pack as the field yo-yoed around the course. Men's C racer Adam Capatch still managed to make the most of the situation; he battled through the field and dropped the hammer on the final climb for a solo breakway that netted him a 1st place finish. In Men's D, Ian Bensco & Matt LaMonte finished in 5th and 6th, with Matt Drury in 8th.
The next day brought slightly better conditions for some, but not for all. The temperature at the start of Sunday's events was a balmy 20°F, which was enough to make one's hands go painfully numb by the end of a race. However, the winds had died down overnight and would not return until later in the afternoon, much to the dismay of those who had been tortured by the dust it kicked up the day before. Also, the course was beautiful, with wide streets and relatively smooth pavement. What had been predicted to be a technical course that would result in crashes ended up being a brutally fast one that tested the staying power of many racers.
In Men's D, Matt LaMonte led out teammate Ian Bensco to a 2nd place finish, Charlie Spanjers snagged 3rd in Men's C following the prime efforts of Andy Godish, and Mariano Garay put forth his best efforts in a messy Men's B race but was waylaid later by ongoing issues with sand in his eyes from the wind that plagued both Saturday and Sunday.
The Men's A race turned out to be the show of the day. Early on, Penn State racer Kevin McGuire jumped off the front for a solo breakway that strung out the field and prompted a sequence of breakaways that popped off regularly throughout the race. In the closing minutes, Robert Burnett from F&M managed to hang onto a solo break for several laps, however, he barely held off a hard-charging Kevin McGuire for the overall win. Not long after the first three crossed the line, the field rounded the last bend and laid eyes on the finish. At the head of the wave was the dynamic Penn State Frenchman, Arnaud Borner, with teammate and yellow-jersey contender Wyatt Stoup in tow. In an impressive display of baby-stomping power, Arnaud dropped the hammer and launched off the front, leaving the rest of the pack in his wake. At the line, Borner was edged out of the field sprint victory by a 'sketchy' racer from Queens, but still managed to hang to a 5th place finish, with Stoup 2 spots behind in 7th, and remaining Penn State A-racer Rodney Santiago in 12th.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the team were not enough to keep the winning streak afloat without any female racers to help bolster the scores of the men; a number of unfortunate events and illnesses kept many of the female contenders from Penn State home for the weekend.
While the team omnium win streak may have ended, the glory has not vacated the team; the collective efforts of Wyatt Stoup, Rodney Santiago, Kevin McGuire, and Arnaud Borner have helped push Wyatt into first place in the individual racer standings. Thus, the yellow ECCC jersey has returned home to Penn State for the first time in many years.