Monday, July 7, 2014

We're Back! - 2014 Road Season Recap

Hopefully you've been following us on, but if you haven't, we're back at the blog to catch you up with everything that's been going on, starting with the 2014 racing season.

The team started spring break off with the first race weekend of the season, hosted by Stevens Institute of Technology.  We were (and still are!) super thankful to the families of Alex Breakstone and Dominique Ruszala for taking us into their homes and providing beds, support, and superb meals.  Appearances by Harry Chen, Brian Tino, and Rebekah Morris - alumni of the team - made the deal even sweeter (below).

Most of our boys finished Saturday out solidly mid-pack, with the standouts being Daniel Lazier and Brian Case, who cracked the top 15 of the Men's A and B road races, respectively, and earned some of our first points of the season.  Dominique's effort in the Women's C race was also commendable, as nobody really knew beforehand how competitive that field would turn out to be.  In Sunday's circuit race, Daniel Lazier was again in the points in Men's A, and Alex Breakstone was one place off from the points in Men's B.  Breakstone also nabbed first in his first sprint lap of the season, earning a solid five points.  Dominique was more comfortable Sunday racing in the D field and finished one place off from the points with a P&P.  For having never raced road bikes before, Steven Robare and Ward Prescott had a very respectable weekend in Men's C, showing strong teamwork in the TTT and the circuit race.

Dominique lines up, decked out and ready to race.
Brian, Alex, Dan, and Sam warm up at Stevens.
The next weekend was the Philly Phlyer, and the team was lucky to again have the hospitality of the Tino family.  Well rested and well fed, the team showed up Saturday ready for the TTT and road race.  Alex Breakstone put in work in the Men's B road race to grab sixth in the finishing field sprint (to the elation of family and friends who came out to support the team), and Brian Case flew in a second behind to finish in the points, at fourteenth.  In the Men's C road race, Ward saw his first (of many) mechanicals, resulting in an unfortunate P&P.  Sunday was the season's first four-corner crit - a fast course through Temple University's Philly campus.  It was a tough race, and riders were continuously dropping off the back.  Dan and Brian hung on to finish in the points in the Men's A and B criteriums, respectively.

Steven and Ward work together to hang in the Men's C criterium in Philly.
The third weekend of the season was split, with Bard College hosting a criterium on Saturday and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hosting a TTT and a road race on Sunday.  Alex, Steven, and Dominique missed out on this weekend, but the space was filled in part by David Schell - a freshman who entered in Men's D.  Despite a nice criterium course, the team's performance on Saturday wasn't the best; a hill midway through left all but the best climbers off the back.  The odd mixture of racers from different categories led to no TTT teams being entered on Sunday.  Perhaps more critical was the poor weather and road conditions, which turned RPI's road race into a short ITT.  Lazer finished twelfth in the Men's A ITT for some points.

The following weekend, Sam, Alex, Case, and Ward shipped up to Boston for the MIT XPot, serenaded the whole 6-hour drive by the Bucknell Softball Team's warm-up CD (a jumble of high-tempo pop and terrible country that the team fondly referred to as "an emotional rollercoaster").  As Ward said on the Facebook page, "Any race weekend with the Sprinter Van is a good race weekend!"  He certainly proved that in the Mt. Wachusett Individual Time Trial with a time that placed him eleventh in Men's C and earned him his first points of his collegiate racing career.  This time also beat Sam and Alex's times on the same course and would have placed him mid-pack in Men's B.  Later in the day, Ward came back and killed it in the climbs, staying with the top guys.  He would have landed another scoring result in the criterium if not for a mechanical two laps from the finish (below).  Sunday's road race saw three course changes as a result of awful wet weather, but, in the end, the show did go on.  The team performed well with all three competing riders scoring in the points.  The great Sam Cowans was now in the hunt for Nationals, and Alex and Case didn't feel too bad either with seventh and twelfth place in B's, respectively.

Too much power? Or does Ward just destroy bikes...
Held on West Point's beautiful, Hogwarts-like campus overlooking the Hudson River, the Army Spring Classic saw Lazer, Sam, Alex, Brian, Steven, Dave, and Dominique race in what would turn out to be a great weekend for Bucknell Cycling.  Saturday started off with the legendary Stony Lonesome Hill Climb.  This was anyone's game; the Men's B points started at a time of 12:57.19 while the Men's A points started at 13:24.80.  Dan and Sam felt good and both earned points, while Alex and Steven were left waiting and pacing themselves for a wall that never really came (as the older guys said it would).  All racers finished the long ascent.

"Any race weekend with the Sprinter Van is a good race weekend!"

Case lookin' good in his white Panache skinsuit going up the first section of the hill climb.
That afternoon's circuit race was where the real magic happened.  Springboarding off of last week's performance, Breakstone entered in Men's A alongside Dan and Sam.  Fairly early in the race, Yale's Erik Levinsohn (the race favorite) turned up the heat to pull away from the field, and Lazer was the only man to jump on his wheel and stay with it.  The rest of the race was all about maintaining the gap, and Lazer had the strength and finesse to do it.  Though the field brought the gap down to almost 20 seconds at one point - and despite the formation of multiple chase groups at various points in the race - they couldn't push hard enough or organize well enough.  A monster 40 second gap built up by the end of the race, and Lazer flew in for second place and a whopping 64 points for the team.  Due to his position, he also got three firsts and two seconds in the sprint laps, netting another 21 points.  Dan's performance meant he was featured in both the ECCC's recap and USA Cycling's recap of the race weekend.

And that wasn't all.  Breakstone came out for his first A race looking to taste blood and make a name for himself.  One could say he took no prisoners.  Letting Dan do his thing off the front, Alex man-handled the rest of the field.  He took second in the first sprint lap and beat the rest of the field out (for third overall) in the fourth, fifth, and sixth sprint laps.  Placing seventh overall, Alex took a grand total of 45 points and guaranteed his ticket to Nationals.  To keep the theme alive, Sam charged in one second later to claim fourteenth-place.

A very happy Daniel Lazier taking a celebratory chomp of a Twizzler.

Alex off the front of the Men's A pack.
Sunday morning started off with a hectic TTT; lack of marshals left teams lost, frustrated, and slow (after going miles out of their way).  The later road race was long and featured tons of elevation.  Results Sunday weren't the best, but grilling, tons of G-Mix and Twizzlers, and afternoon sun kept spirits high.  Compliments and awestruck glances at the Sprinter continued to roll in throughout the weekend, too.

David lookin' serious prior to his road race.
The Army weekend crew, with another appearance by Harry Chen.
Week 6 of competition started with an epic drive up north to Dartmouth.  The crew was limited: Sam, Brian, and the reunited C-men, Ward and Steven.  Snow piles still lined the roads for Saturday morning's ITT, which climbed through grey mist and around towering evergreens to a wall of a finish.  The sun came out for the afternoon's four-corner Frat Row Criterium, and Brian entered the Men's A race with Sam.  It was a very fast race, with the lead guys relentlessly pushing the pace.  A small rise up the back straight proved killer for many.  Results for the day were lackluster, but the grilling was superb thanks to Papa K.  Sunday morning was cold and wet for the Men's C road race at UVM, but the A race saw skies clear and temperatures rise as the miles racked up; racers stripped new layers off each time they came around the feed zone.  After a few riders off the front came through the finish, Sam appeared, ascending the final rise with the nastiest painface the ECCC has ever seen.  He finished what he went out there to do and came in eighth overall within a small field sprint.

Week 7 was Penn State's Nittany Cycling Classic.  Saturday morning, the team put on some of their best TTT performances of the season.  On the hilly, fast 9.5 mile course, Dan, Sam, Alex, and Brian's power and form earned them a second-place finish and 92 points in Men's A.  In his first TTT ever, David Schell worked with Ward and Steven in Men's C for a fourth-place result and 18 points.  The C-men's finish saw Ward and Steven break from their pace line, stand up, and absolutely crank the last few hundred meters through the finish.

Later in the day, the team faced the infamous Black Mo' Road Race, and alumni Dan Wood and Kevin Curran made an appearance, keeping spirits high.  Each 21.5 mile lap featured a total of 1500 feet of climbing, much of which occurred over the grueling, 5+ mile ascent of Black Mo' itself.  Lazer finished fifteenth for nine points in the Men's A race, which was three laps.  Black Mo' was hard on everybody, and Ward and Steven were glad just to complete their two laps; it takes a lot to go up Black Mo' once then start another lap, knowing what lies ahead.  David had his helping too in Men's D.

Sunday was Penn State's Frat Row Criterium.  With a fast pace and a tricky chicane out back, this course was anybody's game.  In the Men's A race, strategy and timing were key, especially with seven Penn State racers on hand to make moves and control the field for the home team.  In a strategic move that didn't quite work the way he hoped, Dan showed strength staying off the front of the pack for a while.  All the winning moves happened within the last lap of the race, but Sam was able to hang in and crack the top ten while Dan earned the sixteenth spot.  Perhaps the biggest news of the day was for Case, who, after crashing, denting his bike, and tearing up his shoulder and hip, was able to jump back in the shuffle to claim 20th place - enough to put him in the points and earn him a ticket to Nationals.

Lazer putting some hurt on the Men's A field.

Case, Sam, and Dan in the Frat Row Crit.

So suave Mr. Prescott.

Week 8 finished up the regular season in Rhode Island with the ECCC Championships, presented by Rhode Island School of Design, Brown, and Providence College.  Only Sam, Alex, and Brian attended this weekend, so Bucknell did not field a TTT team Saturday morning.  Later in the day, the boys faced a rainy, muddy road race.  Results weren’t superb.  In Sunday’s criterium, however, Sam was out to race; he was aggressive up until the very end.  Though he ran out of gas for the field sprint, he finished with the pack.  Alex raced using only his front derailleur (as his rear shifter broke), and he and Brian were pulled and placed.

In proper fashion, Bucknell Cycling closed out their season with the USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships (for the first time since 2011).  Alex, Brian, Dan, and Sam all qualified, and thanks to the relatively close proximity of Richmond, V.A. to Lewisburg, all four were able to attend.  The weekend was unfortunately sandwiched by final exams, making three of the four unable to compete in the ITT on Friday and Bucknell unable to enter the TTT that same day.  As the sole representative of the baby blue on Friday, Dan took an impressive 21st on the National D2 stage (and eighth among D2 ECCC riders in that event).

Brian and Alex.

Dan and Sam.
The rest of the team arrived later Friday (traveling, of course, in the Sprinter van) and bunked up at Ward's house.  Joining the team was Brandon Knettel, Lehigh’s sole qualifier and a friend of Bucknell Cycling.  Saturday brought the criterium, hosted in downtown Richmond on a tight, fast, 6-turn course that featured a sizable downhill segment, a quick turn, and then a gradual uphill.  The roads were smooth, but the topography was enough of a challenge in the 100-man race.  The team was out to win, but the size of the field made it difficult for anyone but the front twenty riders to make moves; massive yo-yoing occurred at each turn, especially out of the downhill.  Dan was the best Bucknell finisher at 48th.

Sunday brought a hot, Virginia day and a hyped-up road race around the city of Richmond.  Much of the hype surrounded the fact that this course resembled the course to be used for the 2015 UCI Championships, to be held in Richmond; the city was using these collegiate races as test-runs for one of the most important cycling races in the world.  The six grueling laps featured one particularly gnarly cobblestone climb that attracted crowds of onlookers.  Bucknell went out strong, and luckily the length of the race eliminated many of the problems faced in the criterium.  The race was blazingly fast, however, and Brian, Alex, and Sam did their best to hang on for two laps.  Our resident climber, Dan, kept pushing, looking cool and composed for his first four laps.  Dan lasted an impressive five laps before being dropped, earning him 42nd out of about 100 racers.

With an incredible weekend (and season) of racing in the books, Papa K treated the team to his famous burgers, grilled fresh beside the Sprinter van.  This weekend was an incredible experience for all four of the gentlemen who qualified.  They competed against the best racers in the nation on a truly world-class course.  As all four are returning next season, they hope use the knowledge gained this year to break the top 25, or top 15, in Asheville, N.C..

The 2014 team minus Ward following the standout Men's A performance in Army's Circuit Race.

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