Week 5: Army Spring Classic

Widely considered the best race of the season by Penn State cyclists, the Army Spring Classic was the most anticipated race of the 2016 lineup.  The courses at Army have been the spot of many Penn State victories over the years, and consistently push riders to their limits.  This year, the tradition of Penn State wins, warm weather, and post-race burritos continued.

Saturday 4/16, Team Time Trial

Brisk morning temperatures receded as the sun came up, and arm warmers were shed before 9 a.m.  The TTT course began in the parking lot of Lake Welch, and took riders for a 7 mile loop.  The first half of the race was downhill, but a turnaround at the halfway point brought them back up for a challenging ascent.  Potholes on the final straightaway were large enough to swallow a 700c wheel, 
and required alertness and caution.

Women’s A:  Kirsten Pearsons, Monica Volk, Jess Bunchek

A racers Monica and Jess teamed up with B racer Kirsten to compete in the TTT.  They easily powered through the straightaways and downhill segments, but differences in riding skills separated them on the final climb.  A late revision in TTT rules required all three riders to cross the line before the clock was stopped.    As a result, the team placed 5th, but scored points nonetheless.

Penn State D riders compete in the TTT

Men’s D:  Jake Brown, Noah Stauffer, Sam Banks, Will Gowen

The TTT was an optimal warm up for Men’s D riders, and prepared them for road race.  The team 
placed 7th after some directional difficulties.

Saturday 4/16:  Harriman Road Race

The road race began in a mass start in the Lake Welch parking lot.  Laps were 14 miles long, and took the contestants through the scenic Hudson River Valley countryside.  Riders were warned that the first downhill could facilitate speeds up to 60 mph, which caused a stir of anxiety and excitement in the peloton.  A hairpin turn at the bottom of the hill stunk of burning brake rotors and carbon wheels.  Riders who misjudged the turn found themselves on the grass, rubber side up, or both.  The course then featured a series of challenging hills, some broken up by straight sections.  When the course finally flattened out again, riders were rewarded with the scenic view of Lake Tiorati, before a final upward slog to the finish line.  Category A riders were allowed a feed zone, which required teamwork and participation.

James takes a corner in the road race (image courtesy of Jan Polk)

Men’s A:  James Read

The A’s faced a brutal 70 miles on the already challenging road race course.  By the second lap, two riders broke away, and created a gap that expanded to six minutes by the end of the race.  James stayed locked in with the group, but the series of ascents divided the riders into two groups.  Although James rode hard in the second pack, he decided to pull himself on the fifth lap.   

Monica leads the peloton in the road race (image courtesy of Jan Polk)

Women’s A/B:  Monica Volk, Kirsten Pearsons, Jess Bunchek

Monica and another pro rider broke away on lap 1, and eventually created an impressive 18 minute gap between themselves and the peloton.  They took 30 second pulls throughout the 56 mile race, but then split up for final showdown to the finish.  Monica took 1st in a close race.  Jess stayed with the peloton, but laid down too many watts and busted her power meter cranks on lap 3.  Kirsten pulled over to help, and they decided it was in Jess’s best interest to pull herself from the race.  Kirsten finished strong on lap 3. 

Cobie, Lucas, and Dan get ready for the road race

Men’s C:  Cobie Arnold, Lucas Buseck, Dan Kozar

The steep first descent led to a massive pileup in the men’s C field.  The accident took down Lucas, but he managed to avoid serious injury.  The crash broke his derailleur hanger, and he was unable to finish the race.  After a wildly successful career in D’s, Cobie upgraded to C’s to roll with a faster crowd.  He kept up with his new racing companions until halfway through the final lap, where he got caught by a nasty bonk.  He finished 47th in the massive C field, an excellent result for his first race in a difficult category.  Dan finished right behind at 63rd.   

Women’s C:  Sarah Rutledge
The women’s C field put in 42 miles on the course.  The peloton became divided as the race progressed, which led to a 2 minute gap between groups.  Sarah stayed with the second pack, and 
finished 16th.

Bill sprints for the finish in the road race

Men’s D:  Jose Aguilar, Sam Banks, Jake Brown, Will Gowen, Noah Stauffer, Bill Wahl
The speedy descents were unsettling for the D riders, but they managed to avoid crashes on the intense course.  Will stayed with the front of the pack throughout, and passed 3 riders on the final sprint, which earned him 4th.  Bill also finished with the front pack, and locked down 21st.  Sam stayed up towards the front until lap 2, where he eased off and got 35th.  Though he had optimal positioning, Noah Stauffer threw his chain on lap 2, an unfortunate end to a promising race.  Likewise, Jose nailed a pothole and flatted his rear tire. 

Sunday 4/16:  Shea Stadium Criterium

The rolling geography and gothic architecture of West Point’s campus made for an exciting criterium.  The course took place next to Shea Stadium, and featured short laps of .7 miles.  The course began downhill past the bleachers, and then a sharp turn guided riders alongside the railroad tracks.  The straightaway section featured many bumps and potholes in the right lane, and riders congregated to the left side.  Only the most determined riders sprinted through the right lane to get to the front.  After the finish line, laps began with a brief climb, which allowed climbers to gain ground on a course otherwise dominated by sprinters.    

Men’s A:  Kevin Bernstein, James Read

Kevin chased down a breakaway on the final lap of the A race.  Although he seemingly had a solid finish locked down, a rider in front of him went into the final turn too hot, resulting in a crash.  Kevin grabbed the brake, but was unable to avoid the accident.  James stayed in the peloton for the entirety of the race, and finished 27th.   

Women’s A/B:  Monica Volk, Jess Bunchek, Kirsten Pearsons

Monica secured the first two prime sprints, and Jess took the 4th for good measure.  Monica kept up her lead at the front of the pack, and finished 2nd after the 19 mile crit.  Kirsten finished 6th in her category, earning points in both the prime sprint and her finish.  Jess crossed the line in the center of 
the pack for 16th.

Cobie leads the pack in the crit

Men’s C:  Lucas Buseck, Cobie Arnold, Dan Kozar

Thanks to the downtown bike shop, Lucas scored a new derailleur hanger in time for the crit.  He stayed in the pack throughout the entirety of the race, and finished 25th.  Dan and Cobie lost the peloton halfway through the race, and formed pacelines with other riders to catch back up.  Unfortunately, they were pulled before they could regain ground.

Jose races the men's D crit

Men’s D:  Will Gowen, Bill Wahl, Sam Banks, Jose Aguilar, Noah Stauffer

Noah Stauffer attacked from the back of the peloton, and made his way to the very front.  In the process, he picked up Will, and together they attempted to hold a breakaway.  Although Noah burned his matchsticks getting to the front, he helped Will secure an ideal position for the remainder of the race.  Will kept up with the precarious peloton, and finished 11th.  Bill stayed up at the front with Will until the 2nd to last lap, where a crash on the sharp turn forced him off his bike.  He defied all odds by jumping back on and catching up again.  Bill and Sam finished 22nd and 27th, respectively.  Jose raced hard through 8 laps before becoming disconnected from the group.  

Week 4: L'Enfer Du Nord

For week four of the ECCC racing season, Penn State riders ventured up to Vermont to compete in L’Enfer Du Nord.  While school and work obligations kept many Team riders at University Park, Jose Aguilar and Charlie Li roadtripped up to the Northeast in the Club Sports van.  The ECCC’s take on the classic Paris-Roubaix course of the same name proved difficult.  Hosted by Dartmouth and UVM, the courses led riders through mountainous New England terrain.  Winter weather still lingered up North, and Jose and Charlie bore temperatures under 32 degrees on both Saturday and Sunday.  Unfazed, they still competed in all events except for the TTT. 

The most challenging course of the weekend was Sunday’s road race.  A gentle morning snowfall dusted the riders at the starting line, and only the most dedicated braved the elements to race.  The course itself guided riders through ten mile laps in scenic Vermont.  The constant change in elevation offered no flat straightaways for riders to take advantage.  Brutal ascents followed by blisteringly fast downhill segments rocked riders of every category, and called upon all their skills to finish.  The final lap of the race demanded a difficult climb up Mt. Philo, where riders slogged up a 20% gradient to the finish line.   

The punishing weather as well as health problems kept Charlie from crossing the finish line, but he nonetheless put forth a good effort in the challenging races.  Jose completed all of his races, a victory in of itself given the nature of the courses.  


Week 3: The Shippensburg Scurry

Shippensburg Scurry Circuit Race

A Saturday morning drizzle receded into lively spring weather, and Penn State riders donned lightweight jerseys and arm warmers.  The wind peaked at 25 mph, a fast clip but nothing compared to Sunday’s gale force winds.  The circuit race course began with a neutral rollout, and proceeded counterclockwise around a 2.2 mile loop on scenic Shippensburg roads.  The course consisted of gentle rolling hills that provided an even playing field for both climbers and sprinters.  Turns were tight, which made precise handling skills a must. 

Men’s A:  Kevin Bernstein

The A’s raced for one hour on the small course, and the seemingly endless number of loops ensured mastery of every turn and incline.  Two riders broke away early in the race, and maintained a large gap between themselves and the peloton.  Kevin hung with the aggressive pack for the first half hour, but found himself disconnected after a hill climb.  The rising gusts of wind made it difficult to regain lost ground, and Kevin pulled himself from the race.

Women’s A:  Monica Volk, Jess Bunchek

The afternoon wind divided the peloton into small groups.  Monica broke away with three other riders, and held a two minute lead against the remainder of the racers.  The breakaway group was milliseconds apart in the final sprint, and Monica earned 2nd.  Jess finished 8th, continuing Penn State’s domination of women’s cat A.

Cobie Arnold moves to the front in the Men's D Ciruit Race

Men’s D:  Cobie Arnold, Will Gowen, Jacob Brown, Noah Smith, Noah Stauffer, Sam Banks

The men’s D circuit race was unusually safe, and the only crash involved a rider hitting a mailbox on the first turn.  Cobie launched a solo breakaway on lap 2, which upped the speed of the peloton and added to the already-competitive atmosphere.  After leading for one lap, he dialed back his effort and sat in to save his energy for the final sprint, where he took 3rd place.  Will sat in with the peloton for the entirety of the race, but attacked on the final hill climb and sprinted for 6th.  First-time racer and steel bike enthusiast Sam powered his way to a 16th place finish, past competitors on carbon superbikes.  After crossing the finish line, he proudly propped his bike upon its kickstand so he could observe the looks of shock uninterrupted.  Jacob worked his way to the front of the peloton during the first several laps, but eventually decided to drop back to catch a draft, and finished 21st with Noah Smith right beside at 22nd.  Noah “Why So Sirrus?” Stauffer finished 30th, and overtook many carbon-wheeled competitors on his converted hybrid road bike. 

Women’s D:  Rebecca Storch

As the rain shower passed over and the clouds cleared, a strong wind took its place.  The conditions demanded excellent drafting skills from the women’s D division, and the course led them through 25 mph headwinds.  Rebecca tactically positioned herself within the center of the peloton.  This ensured that she had the ability to get to the front, yet ample riders to draft.  The wind made it difficult for her to hold on to the peloton, but she still crossed the line 14th.   

Shippensburg Scurry Time Trial

Saturday afternoon’s TT course led riders 6 miles up South Mountain in a mass start.  The first two miles of the course were flat, and allowed the contestants to spin their legs before the serious climbing began.  The gradual ascent taunted many riders to expend their energy early, which divided riders.  Despite the short length and moderate incline, the course seemed to drag on endlessly as riders muscled their way uphill.  The road briefly leveled off in parts, tricking the racers into thinking they were close to the finish.  After cresting the mountain, riders had a ¾ mile straightaway to the finish line, which called upon all their remaining strength to secure good results. 

Men’s A:  Kevin Bernstein

Kevin scouted the course in advance, and planned out strategy for himself and his teammates.  Significantly fatigued from his first race, as well as jetlagged after his trip from California, Kevin did 
his best to stay competitive in A’s, landing 28th.   

Women’s A:  Monica Volk, Jess Bunchek

An afternoon tailwind shifted the importance from drafting tactics to pure climbing ability.  Monica and one other rider quickly scaled the climb, and she secured 2nd place in a close final sprint.  Jess racked up points with an 8th place finish, and held down a sub-30 minute time on a difficult race.

Men’s D:  Cobie Arnold, Will Gowen, Jacob Brown, Noah Smith

Riders in men’s D burned matchsticks early, resulting in the division of the peloton between climbers and non-climbers.  Throughout the race, riders continually fell out of the front pack, one-by-one giving in to exhaustion.  Will had a lock on third place, but with no energy to spare, he lost ground on the final sprint and earned 4th.  Cobie came in close behind for 5th place, maintaining a substantial gap between himself and the rest of the riders.  Jacob and Noah fought hard in the pack, and also earned consecutive finishes with 27th and 28th.  

Shippensburg Scurry Road Race

In addition to a severe drop in temperatures, punishing 50 mph winds reared up overnight, which sent the real-feel down to 16 degrees.  The gale force gusts bowled trees and power lines onto the road course, and ECCC officials were forced to nix the infamous Horse Killer Road ascent due to fallen debris.  The revised course was an 8 mile loop with mild rolling hills, although the weather ensured it was equally challenging.  Riders huddled in the heated community center, and only the most dedicated warmed up outside before their races.  Throughout the course of the day, cyclists were shoved across lanes from fierce lateral gusts, and tailwinds allowed riders to coast at 15 mph on straightaways.    

Women’s A/B:  Monica Volk

Determined to preserve her yellow jersey, Monica raced despite the unpleasant weather.  She and two other riders broke away, and created a substantial gap which caused the remaining riders to be pulled and placed.  The seven grueling laps eliminated the majority of the field, and the three riders battled it out for podium finishes in the final sprint.  It was a close finish, and they crossed the line within milliseconds of one another.  Monica locked down 2nd place, but 1st in her category.

Will Gowen sprints for the finish in the Men's D Road Race

Men’s D:  Cobie Arnold, Will Gowen

Cobie raced defensively for the first several laps, and let the inclement conditions weed out the weaker riders before pushing to the front.  Cobie strategically drafted off of the other riders, and finished 3rd in the race after 3 hellish laps.  Will asserted himself towards the front of the peloton throughout the first lap, but was unable to maintain his position, and lost touch with the group.  The hurricane-level gusts were impossible to battle solo, and he ended up dropping back to form a pace line with the remaining riders. 

After another exciting race weekend, Penn State riders have once again held their 4th place position on the ECCC leaderboard.  So far this season our riders have amassed 401 points, with many more to come in the next several weeks.


Week 2: NYC Metro Showdown

Rutgers University Criterium, 3/19

Spring arrived in full force on Saturday. To celebrate the weather at the second race of the season, the ECCC riders broke out their finest jorts.  The generous 10 am start time allowed the lower category riders to sleep in and prepare for their races.  The criterium course featured 3 turns, with one rounded, sloping side which led into a tight turn and a small hill climb.  Stereotypes about NJ infrastructure were confirmed, and the roads on the course were precarious.  Pocked with potholes, the sharp second turn became a highway to the Danger Zone for riders in all categories.

James whips around a corner (image courtesy of NYU Cycling)

Men’s A:  James Read, Kevin Bernstein

A two man breakaway launched halfway into the race, and the peloton was unable to close the gap.  James and Kevin worked together to draft off of each other, and swapped positions throughout the course of the race.  Kevin finished in the center of the peloton at 20th, with James only seconds behind at 29th.  Monica stretched her legs with the men’s field, and completed 5 laps before pulling the plug.

Women’s A/B: Monica Volk, Jess Bunchek, Kirsten Pearsons

The peloton held together on the first several laps, but Monica “Breakaway” Volk rocketed ahead with five other riders.  The peloton never saw the breakaway, and only heard rumors of Monica’s dominant win in the final sprint.  Jess sat in the peloton and sprinted hard on the final lap, earning 8th place.  Kirsten, a B racer, fought hard alongside the women in A’s, and locked down the first prime in her category.  Overall, Kirsten was 16th in the pack. 

Men’s C: Dan Kozar

Dan asserted himself at the front of the speedy C peloton, a position he held for the first two laps.  Wild cheers of “Damn Daniel” could be heard across the Rutgers campus.  Unfortunately, a pothole in the road sent him sailing over the handlebars.  Although he was uninjured by the accident, his rim was damaged beyond repair, and he was unable to continue with the race.

Will sprints to catch a draft (image courtesy of NYU Cycling)

Men’s D:  Noah Smith, Will Gowen, Jose Aguilar

The men’s D race raised the bar for criterium carnage with a whopping five crashes.  All crashes occurred on the precarious 2nd turn of the course; from a combination of riders slowing down on the uphill and other riders sprinting through potholes on the turn.  Will hung with the pack until the fifth lap, when a catastrophic pileup resulted in a bicycle being thrown 5 ft. into the air.  Will avoided the crash, but grabbing a handful of brake cost him the race.  Noah navigated through the disaster, but flatted on the final straightaway, in a hiss of broken dreams.  Jose raced defensively, and finished 54th.    

Rebecca gears up for the women's D crit

Women’s D:  Rebecca Storch

Rebecca advanced through the peloton during the first several laps.  Unfortunately, a crash KO’d Rebecca’s derailleur hangar and front brake lever, shearing them both in half.  She rushed to the on-staff mechanic, who managed to replace the hanger (with some convincing) in under a 1 lap.  Ignoring her own scrapes from the accident, she hopped back on the bike to chase down the peloton, and nailed down 20th.    

Rockland Lake Circuit Race, 3/20

Temperatures on Sunday took a dive into the low forties, and the overcast weather threatened rain.  The 3.4 mile course led riders on a scenic loop around Rockland Lake, and over serene country roads.  Halfway through the course, a series of small, rolling hills provided a 200 ft. elevation gain, which gently challenged the cyclists.  The final descent allowed riders to gather speed for a straight shot to the finish line.  Similar to Saturday’s criterium, the course on Sunday also featured unfavorable infrastructure, and the potholes once again plagued riders.  To further complicate matters, the race was conducted on open roads, which meant racers were only allotted one lane to attack and maneuver.

Men’s A:  James Read, Kevin Bernstein

The men’s A riders kept up a breakneck pace for the 44 mile race.  James stayed locked in with the pack throughout, and crossed the line 18th.  Kevin started out strong, but a pesky pothole released the air from his tire, which caused him to lose serious ground and left him unable to finish the race.    

Women’s A/B:  Jess Bunchek, Kirsten Pearsons

The race started out calmly, as riders wanted to save energy and wait to see who would attack first.  A number of surges occurred on the first hillclimb, but all were reabsorbed back into the peloton.  Kirsten propelled herself to the front on the climb, and led the peloton for an entire lap before dropping back to catch a draft. Jess worked her way to the front, bombing down the final hill and sprinting for 4th place.  Kirsten sat in close behind at 13th

Men’s C: Dan Kozar

A serious crash on lap 2 resulted in a rider being medevacked out, a process which spooked the remaining racers.  The peloton became divided, and Dan found himself in the 2nd pack for a 58th place finish.

Men’s D:  Noah Smith, Will Gowen, Jose Aguilar

The first three laps of the Men’s D race bordered on a leisurely ride, complete with brake checks and casual banter.  Nonetheless, two accidents occurred as a result of braking and potholes.  Having only 1 lane for a 48 man field made avoiding crashes and moving up in the peloton difficult.  The congestion caused Noah and Will to end up stuck behind riders who were too tired to sprint for the finish line, causing them to lose ground and place 27th and 17th.  Jose faced similar adversity, and hung on at 42nd

Women’s D:  Rebecca Storch

Some last-minute starting line derailleur repair was required to get Rebecca’s bike race ready.  Rebecca laid down so much power at the criterium that the replacement hanger screws were knocked loose.  She secured an excellent position during the first mile of the race, but the inability to shift gears on the hill cost her the position.  The involuntary single speed left her muscling her way to a 19th place finish.

The Penn State Cycling Team maintained their vice grip on the ECCC leaderboards, holding down 4th place overall in the conference.  As temperatures and experience levels increase throughout the spring season, the Team is set up for a promising month of racing.